Born in 1930 Jim – ‘Colly’ to many friends and colleagues – left school aged 14 to begin a 56-year career in the auction business.
He started as an office junior at Debenham, Storr & Sons in Covent Garden. The company had been conducting auctions since 1813, although Jim told ATG many years later he “didn’t even know it was an auction house when I turned up for the job”.
A wartime shortage of manpower and a good head for numbers, which would later serve him well as an auctioneer, ensured swift promotion and he had clerked his first sale by the age of 15.
Jim remained at Debenhams – with a break for National Service in the Royal Army Pay Corps, where he was promoted to sergeant – for the next 30 years. He went to night school to study for his gemmological qualifications and was head of the jewellery and silver department in 1975 when the company, then called Debenham Coe and established in the Old Brompton Road, was sold and became Christie’s South Kensington.
“Jim had great respect for the trade and they reciprocated
Antiques Roadshow inspiration
Jim was appointed a CSK director in 1976 and deputy chairman in 1987. In his early years with the new company, he was the driving force behind its innovative ‘auction probes’ around the country. These were valuation days when the public brought their antiques for assessment by CSK specialists – a business-getting strategy which subsequently caught the eye of the BBC and gave rise to Antiques Roadshow.
Jim joined the Roadshow early on and made regular appearances as a jewellery and silver specialist for a quarter century.
At its busiest, CSK held several auctions a day and Jim was regularly on the rostrum. He regarded 125 lots an hour as a gentle pace and could happily go at twice that speed for a pawnbrokers’ auction or if the sale looked like ending after 4pm, of which he disapproved.
He put his long experience to good use when training Christie’s auctioneers, who faced practice sessions where Jim would cheerfully ‘wrong foot’ them in preparation for facing the bidding public.
When I took my first auction – with him crouched beside me in the rostrum with a tandem ‘book’ – I was faced with perhaps the politest gathering of silver dealers an auction house had ever seen. I later discovered that Dad had spoken with them before the sale. He knew many of them since they started in business and quite a few of their fathers as well. He always had great respect for the trade and they reciprocated.
Jim retired from CSK in 2000 but many of the auctioneers he trained over the years still wield a gavel at one auction house or another, which pleased him greatly.
By Jamie Collingridge