The maritime, scientific objects and works of art specialist has shifted his west London base from Imperial Road in Fulham to Munster Road also in SW6, a stone’s throw away.
Not only that, he lives around the corner so his commute to work is a mere eight-minute walk (“I’ll improve on that, I’ll try to get it down to five and a half…” says Miller).
The move was enforced – his former unit was about to be redeveloped and the available leases just short term, so after being given three months’ notice the Miller team upped sticks. Just not very far.
Timed is right
“This is ideal for us, very close, a much bigger space for us, much higher ceilings, a much more usable place for us, we hope we can use that to our advantage and maybe expand a little bit”, says Miller.
In fact, he now feels the enforced move has been a blessing in disguise. “I wish I’d done it before I was forced to – it was long overdue”, he adds.
The former head of department at Christie’s South Kensington started his own auction house in 2008 and took over the Imperial Road site four years later. While it has been a perfectly adequate base, the extra space in Munster Road does give extra possibilities.
Although the two large, catalogued sales a year will continue as before (the first at Munster Road is on November 14), Miller hopes to establish timed online sales in between those to suit a different market. “We are turning down or referring quite a lot of single items under, say, the £200 mark which aren’t economic to take on for the catalogue sale. As part of a large group of items you could take them but not as single lots – timed online means we can.”
For the regular auctions Miller has certainly become a keen disciple of the live, webcast format without any room bidders. Having been forced to confront that step – as with all auctioneers – because of Covid restrictions, he now views it as a positive trend.
“In my opinion that was one of the silver linings. Much as I’m a conservative with a small ‘c’ in terms of I like things being done the traditional way, you do have to go with the times and I’m afraid rooms full of people – especially now we’ve got another Covid virus going round and keeping people for 5-6 hours in a room – it is gone.”
He adds: “The demand is minimal for live room sales.” It is mainly for “people who want a day out” and “the serious bidders tend to stay at home”. Not to mention the cost involved to stage a live room sale with security and staff etc, which is worth it for some of the biggest auction houses but not for Miller.
As a collector himself – of 18th century social history ranging from tobacco paraphernalia and pipes to satirical prints by artists such as Gillray – he appreciates that room bidding is no longer an essential for most bidders. “I can’t remember the last time I attended an actual auction”, he adds.
In terms of what trends are evident in his specialist market today, Miller reinforces the view of many similar auctioneers and experts: although strong provenance and a good story behind objects have always been a factor, they have become even more important recently given the right background and proper descriptions.
He says: “I can sell to what to all intents and purposes what would seem a mediocre quality item but if I can attach a good story to it, whether for the object or what is depicted, say why it’s interesting, it will leapfrog in terms of value. A piece of naïve art that might make a few pounds, even, if you explain why its so interesting – it’ll make a few hundred pounds suddenly. That goes against the ‘quality is all’ thing.
“Perhaps that’s always been the way but it seems to be more accentuated now.”
A commemorative centenary bronze of Lord Nelson by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, 1906 (albeit a year later than the Trafalgar centenary), held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, was thought to be the only example cast by Queen Victoria’s talented youngest daughter.
In fact, the James Harradine of Bermondsey firm that supplied the raw materials to her chosen founder, Henry Young & Co, persuaded it to run off a secret second copy before the mould was destroyed. This version was kept by the family until recently re-discovered in an attic where it seems to have languished for most of its existence.
The 2ft 2in (66cm) high bronze is now estimated at £3000-5000 in Charles Miller’s first auction to be staged at his new Munster Road premises on November 14.
Princess Louise (1848-1939), the sixth child of Victoria and Albert, was an artistically gifted young lady and worked in watercolour, marble and bronze. Her full-sized statue of her mother still stands outside Kensington Palace.