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Aided by the bumper £1.9m autumn catalogue sale reported on pages 15 and 25 of this issue, total sales at Tennants from January to December 2004 were £9.46m (not including buyer’s premium), substantially more than the hammer total of £8.44m posted in 2003 that had also been a record year. That makes The Auction Centre, Leyburn the largest-grossing saleroom outside London.

Up 15 per cent on the previous year are Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury who surpassed the highs of 2003 with £7.37m. Chairman and managing director Paul Viney was full of praise for his staff and a team of specialists that pulled off several major coups including a £1.1m house sale at Ashley Manor, near Stockbridge, Hampshire and a recent single lot private treaty sale negotiated by John Axford of the ceramics department for £150,000.
Helped by Jack Vettriano and a Morris tapestry sold at £180,000, Lyon & Turnbull of Edinburgh announced figures for the year of £6.77m (well up from £5.12m in 2003), while Sworder’s also had their best ever year with sales tipping over £4m for the first time.

The Stansted Mountfitchet firm, who showed a small increase on 2003, handled a number of lucrative consignments in the past 12 months – a highlight was the Caraco collection of English delft – but, in contrast with previous years, did not have a single lot that passed the £20,000 barrier. Reducing the number of fully catalogued lots and upping the size and standard of the general sales has been their reaction to a marketplace where the emphasis is upon quality.

Gorringes did have a single windfall to boost their 2004 total. The sale of a 17th century pietra dura table top for £260,000 from their Bexhill-on-Sea rooms in December was the most expensive piece of furniture sold outside London last year and helped their year-end figures to £8.2m. The Lewes branch contributed over 50 per cent of the total although the ten per cent increase in the number of lots handled by Gorringes – that helped offset moribund prices in some areas of the market – have seen extra business channelled through the ‘second string’ Garden Street saleroom.

However, with a full year of Dreweatt Neate sales under their belt and the contribution of sales conducted by Neales since the acquisition in mid-November, the Fine Art Auction Group are now the dominant single force in the provincial saleroom scene.

Combined sales across their saleroom network for 2004 were £12.8m, a pleasing result for what TFAAG described as a relatively tough year for the market in general. Figures for 2003 were ‘extrapolated’ at £12.2m following mid-year acquisitions of the Bristol Auction Rooms and Dreweatt Neate.

Although Donnington Priory had the individual showpiece lots last year – a £250,000 micromosaic table by Michaelangelo Barberi and a £240,000 Kashmir sapphire and diamond necklace among them – the biggest improvement in overall performance was seen in the middle market, or items with a value of between £500 and £20,000.

Tougher conditions were seen in the sub-£500 bracket although a new realism in reserves and estimates ensured a low unsold rate achieved across all salerooms that carry the Dreweatt Neate name. Plans for 2005 include identifying further possible acquisition targets.

One auctioneer not impacted by the soft market for some traditional antiques are Teeside toy specialists Vectis. They too enjoyed their best ever year, selling £6m of juvenilia in what chairman Bryan Goodall called “a very buoyant market… with no signs of slowing down”.

Investment purchasing was one factor driving last year’s turnover that was up from £5m in 2003 – for example prices of Dinky toys grew in double figures during the year – while the first live Internet auctions were deemed a success. An additional $600,000 of sales were made from the company’s USA base in York, Pennsylvania.