Jay Blades on his best auction find
The furniture restorer and designer reflects on his best-ever auction buy, and hints at where you might find your own bargains to bid on
'Right, so, I’m at this auction in Wolverhampton, and there’s a lot that’s made up of three boring white bedside cabinets and an ordinary-looking plywood chair. But I know that chair is treasure; it’s an original Robin Day Hillestak. The auctioneer opens the bidding at £3.50.
While thinking to myself, ‘Are you for real?’ I calmly raise my hand. Someone else bids £4, then I’m in for £4.50 – and I’m expecting this to rocket at any moment – but it continues to go up by 50p at a time! At £7, the lady I’m bidding against says, ‘No.’ ‘£7 once, £7 twice...’ – surely someone’s going to jump in and bid me out of the water any second now – ‘Sold!’ and the auctioneer’s hammer goes down.
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Seven pounds for an original Robin Day stacking chair. It’s worth about £400! That’s the kind of auction I love. Where there’s a load of fishing rods, some broken golf clubs and then an iconic chair in among everything. I love the joy of finding those hidden gems. They are the types of auctions that you see advertised on social media – the ones that are just small, one-person set-ups.
If they are doing house clearances, they are worth checking out. Anyone that does house clearances and has an auction associated with it, they can sometimes turn up the real gems. And they don’t necessarily know what they’ve got. They don’t know about Robin Day, or Ernest Race, and if you can identify it, and you can get it, then that’s the real value of your passion for antiques and good design.
There’s this other auction that I love going to – and I’m keeping the details of this one under my hat because it’s so good – and it’s the best I’ve ever been to. I missed it last time and boy, did I miss out. There was original Gordon Russell furniture that had come from a nunnery. Some pieces were marked with things like ‘1 out of 10’ – my friend got a sideboard for under a fiver!
I never sold that chair; it’s one of the few items that I’ve kept. Who can say they’ve bought a Robin Day chair for £7! And that lady I was bidding against? She actually wanted the cabinets! I was happy to give them to her.'