A copy in original boards of the much admired Kelmscott edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer was among the higher-priced lots of Forum’s Birmingham Assay Office sale, at £32,000.

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Rupert Powell clocked in for Forum Auctions’ sale of the library of the Birmingham Assay Office on March 26 which attracted close to 600 registered bidders.

He said: “I spent over nine hours conducting the bidding, with only one very short break of around 15 minutes.” The sale raised around £750,000 on 450 or so lots. Powell added: “I don’t think that it could have gone better in the rooms.”

He wasn’t the only one putting in a long shift; on April 7 Antony Cribb’s Spring Virtual Arms and Armour sale lasted nine and a quarter hours with Sarah Lewis on the rostrum, taking only five-minute breaks every 100 lots. Comprising 566 lots, the sale concluded at 7.23pm.

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Antony Cribb auctioneer Sarah Lewis.

Among the highlights here was a group of presentation swords.

The hammer total for the sale reached £354,000 which Cribb said is a house record with around 90% of the lots sold and around 20% of the buyers from overseas.

He added that Lewis usually speeds through 160 lots an hour but with all bids coming via the internet, it is a slower process: “People have to realise that the auctioneer can only do around 60 lots an hour for an online auction – each bid takes 2-3 seconds longer.”

The run-up to the auction however, was less than smooth. Cribb had planned the sale for March 24 as a live public auction. But following the government announcements, Cribb packed up items from the hotel venue and returned home. Fellow Berkshire firm Flints Auctions stepped in and enabled him to set up using its technology and purpose-built private saleroom.

Cribb said his business continues to abide by the new government guidelines and laws and, following the sale, collection in person is not permitted – items will be shipped using Parcelforce. His next sale is in August.


Among the highlights of Antony Cribb’s Spring Virtual Arms and Armour on April 7 was a group of presentation swords. Left to right: A Georgian period silver hilted Irish sabre by Osborn & Gunby sold at £4600. An agate hilted sword to Lord Grenville which made £3600. A sword presented to Captain George Silvertop of the Bywell Yeomanry, 1818, by Prosser sold at £6200. A late 18th century or early 19th century sabre by Prosser that took £1900. A Georgian presentation sword of the attorney’s cavalry by Prosser sold at £1200 (all plus 22% buyer’s premium).

The day before Cribb’s sale, on April 6, Wallis & Wallis of Lewes in East Sussex held an online-only toys and models sale. The 493-lot sale had a 95% sell-through rate with a hammer total of £75,000 – proving online-only sales can also achieve strong results in the collectables market. The final lot was offered at around 6.30pm. With an in-house shipping service still in operation, Wallis & Wallis staff will be busy sending out sold lots.

Wallis & Wallis' Glenn Butler said: "It was a long day, but very successful with only 18 lots remaining unsold! Plus the average price overall was up 25% which I would suggest was because so many people were home and able to log on and participate where as normally many would have been working. It was a gamble, but it paid off well."

None, however, could quite match the 12-hour marathon design sale held by Lyon & Turnbull on April 1.


Gavin Strang did almost 12 hours solo on the rostrum for Lyon & Turnbull on April 1.

The major auction houses are also ramping up online-only and timed online sales.

Christie’s announced last week it has been lining up consignments for both private sales and online-only auctions. It said its planned online-only sales schedule until the end of May has grown from an initial $9m to $20m (estimate) and it has more in the pipeline.

Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s global president, added: “We are adapting and I believe in future there will be many more online and private sales at Christie’s after this. We are learning from this experience.”

Christie’s is looking at options regarding different online formats depending on the sector and country.

Some are held as timed online sales with no auctioneer, others have been held with an auctioneer in the room via video to an online audience bidding via its platform and phones.

Sotheby’s has also increased the number of online sales across the globe and launched a digital catalogue for upcoming Contemporary art sales. The online timed sales run from May 4-14 for Contemporary Art and from May 4-15 for its Impressionist & Modern Art. In New York it has reconfigured spirits and wine sales to online-only this month.

Phillips announced a series of themed, cross-category online-only auctions throughout April and May.

Bonhams has plans for online-only sales including its fine Southeast Asian arts sale called Ritual + Culture, which is a timed online sale running from April 3-22.

Its motoring division announced details of its revised UK sales schedule. Auctions will take place on May 30 and July 25. Sellers will consign their cars via Bonhams’ online consignment platform.

The auction house said, depending on the advice from Government at the time, these will be either traditional ‘live sales’ with viewing or ‘closed auctions’ with an auctioneer that will be broadcast via video.

The division is also increasing its private sale capacity.