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Inkeeping with the origins of the firm in its current guise – formed in 1998 when five directors defected from Phillips to join forces with chairman Sir Angus Grossart of the Noble Grossart merchant bank – L&T’s new London representative is another former employee of Christopher Weston. James James-Crook was head of Modern and Irish pictures at Phillips and later their director of overseas operations before falling victim to the many cuts made in the late 1990s.

Business-getting for L&T in the West Country will be Robin Barlow, a well-known name in the auction world who spent 28 years at Bearne’s before recent retirement and is a former chairman of the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers. Initially both will operate from home, travelling to visit clients.

The Newcastle upon Tyne ‘office’ will be run as a satellite operation from Edinburgh with input from Jesmond fine art dealers Corrymella Scott and Hilary Hampton.

Announcing the plan to the Antiques Trade Gazette last week (introductory drinks parties for potential clients are planned for target areas in the coming weeks), vice chairman Paul Roberts described the new regional posts as “fulfilling a need” seen over the past two years as more and more of L&T’s business has come from outside Scotland.

“We have carefully chosen the regions in England that we will be operating in. Both the south west and north east of England have an independent streak and are poorly served by London-based salerooms. It is a very unusual move and sets an historical precedent. No Scottish auction house has ever ventured south of the border.”

Mr Roberts, who played a key role in the Phillips business before its first takeover by venture capitalists 3i, has seen turnover at L&T increase by 500 per cent over the last four years. The group put £1.8m of antiques and fine art under the hammer in their embryonic year in 1998-99 but this year expect sales for the end of October 2003 to top £5m with a turnover of £10m-plus envisaged as part of a five-year plan.

Canny marketing and headline lots such as the £135,000 ‘Captain Cook’ cane have helped the company penetrate the public consciousness but at a time of flux for the major houses most inroads have been made in the so-called middle market.

It’s a philosophy recently championed by the Fine Art Auction Group although L&T have no desire to create a network of regional salerooms in the old Phillips mould.

While they are not ruling out sales of major collections there are no plans for additional salerooms. “The vision,” says Paul Roberts, “has always been to create an international auction firm for Scotland.”