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As expected, Woolley & Wallis climbed towards the summit of the regional table with hammer sales of £11.65m. This compares to £6.7m in 2008 and £8.15m in 2007.

Much of the aggregate was the result of a single £5m sale of Asian works of art that included the Qianlong jade water buffalo sold for £3.4m, a massive new landmark for any work of art sold outside London. However, it was also a strong year in other specialist departments.

Salisbury Salerooms’ chairman Paul Viney told ATG that, for the first time, five disciplines had turned over in excess of £1m.

From January to December 2009, Tennants of Leyburn posted record total hammer sales just shy of £10.1m, compared to £8.8m in 2008. The firm’s previous high was sales of precisely £10m in 2007.

Adam Schoon, in charge of the North Yorkshire saleroom’s catalogued events, attributed a profitable year to the resurgence in the firm’s general sales, significant referrals from London salerooms and the niche contribution of natural history specimens.

While, showing remarkable consistency, the record figures were achieved without a six-figure lot, sales of big game trophies at Tennants totalled a remarkable £1.25m in 2009.

Despite the closure of the former Neales of Nottingham saleroom in February, Dreweatts’ three South of England rooms totalled a premium-inclusive £15.52m (they declined to issue a hammer total). Their equivalent figure last year was £16.5m, and £18.3m in 2007.

Their top lot of 2009 was also the most expensive piece of furniture sold outside London, a Chippendale mahogany library chair sold as part of their 250th anniversary sale for £110,000.

Following the informal alliance struck with Bloomsbury Auctions in September, Dreweatts were also keen to publish a headline figure of £35m (again including buyer’s premium) for sales across the two companies. With sales held in London, New York and Rome, Bloomsbury globally turned over £19.5m.

This year Bonhams – whose regional sales are now conducted only at salerooms in Knowle, Oxford, Chester and Edinburgh and at the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds – declined to give specific details of regional sales in 2009.

They did, however, issue a hammer figure of £45.7m that includes the value of all lots that were sourced in the UK regions and sold throughout the group at salerooms regionally, in London and around the world. The figure includes car and motorcycle sales.

In 2008 they sold art and antiques in their regional salerooms for a premium-inclusive figure of £24.7m.

On a more general note, many auctioneers remain optimistic that the market for traditional art and antiques, already subject to a decade of seismic change, is relatively well placed to survive the economic gloom forecast for 2010.

Certainly the unprecedented demand for Chinese works of art at all levels of the market promises to plug the gaps in an otherwise moribund market for general chattels.

Some spectacular individual sales have been the difference between a satisfactory and a good 2009 for many of the UK’s smaller auctioneers.

Among those fortunate to post house record sums in this field were: Crows of Dorking (£200,000 for a Yongzheng vase in December); Martel Maides of Guernsey (£1.3m for three Yongzheng famille rose bowls in November); Byrne’s of Chester (£190,000 for a Qianlong bronze and cloisonné champion cup in November) and Plymouth Auction Rooms (£170,000 for a pair of 18th century Export famille rose pheasants in November).

The credit crisis did not have an adverse effect on trading at Duke’s of Dorchester. Turnover was broadly in line with 2008 at £4.5m. Their record year was 2007, when the auctioneers posted sales of £7.5m, aided by the £1.7m from two rediscovered panels from Fra Angelico’s celebrated 1438-40 high altarpiece for the Church of San Marco.

From January to December 2009, Duke’s Grove operation conducting general sales enjoyed its best year in four years, a result – says partner Guy Schwinge – of a resurgence of interest in “brown” furniture valued at less than £500. The Dorchester salerooms already have a strong sale scheduled for 2010. The February 11 catalogue will include a suite of four Kakiemon vases c.1680, oak furniture formerly in the collection at the Dower House, Woodsome, Lees, West Yorkshire and Arts and Crafts furniture from the collection of the late Mary Spencer-Watson of Dunshay Manor, Dorset.

Edinburgh-based Lyon & Turnbull were not alone among the major provincial salerooms in seeing sales figures fall significantly in the period. Their premium-inclusive total of £9.6m is a substantial drop from the £14.1m hammer achieved in 2009 when the company conducted the £4.6m dispersal of the Chen collection. The figure includes a substantial private treaty sale.

By Roland Arkell