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Going, going, gone. A guide to buying at a camera auction - Auctions, intimidating or fun? Find out how we got on at our first trip to a Christie's camera auction in London.
Words Tim Goldsmith, Photographs Christie's
Last summer I found myself in central London on the same day as one of Christie's camera auctions. As an avid camera collector and one with a fascination for local auctions, I couldn't resist the temptation of my first visit a major auction house and decided to go along for the afternoon session.
As usual, most Christie's auctions are split into two sessions. The morning session runs from 11.00 to 13.00 and is normally taken up with Leica cameras and accessories, plus Leica copies etc. The afternoon session is for general items, both usable and collectable and starts at 14.00. The auction usually ends at around 16.30pm.
I must admit to feeling a little nervous as I pushed open the door to the South Kensington auction rooms - this is a serious place after all. A place where famous paintings and other works of art have sold for the sort of prices mere mortals can only dream of. I don't mind admitting that I was feeling slightly intimidated at the prospect of being there.
I asked at the enquiry desk where the camera auction was taking place and was told that I should register first at the desk just around the corner. I collected an auction catalogue and, still nervous I approached the registration desk. Here I was immediately put at my ease by the greeting I received from the two receptionists.
'Good afternoon Sir. Have you ever registered with Christie's before, or requested a catalogue?' the first receptionist asked, reaching for her computer mouse.
'Sixty pounds then.' I heard the auctioneer say. 'Are you all done at sixty pounds? Sold then, at sixty pounds.' I was feeling much more confident now, as apparently even I could afford to come to Christie's and buy a painting!
I made my way though to the rear sales room and entered a large, open space lined with glass display cabinets all around the room. As many of these cases were empty I guessed they had held the items from the earlier session since once a lot has been paid for, at the window just outside the room, you are free to take your new purchases away.
Each side of the auctioneer was a large TV screen that showed a digital picture of the lot currently for sale, so you always know exactly where you are. I soon realised that although many of the lots were made up of more than one piece of equipment, usually only a single item was shown on the screen. Although there was a full description in the catalogue you could not really tell the condition of every item just from the pictures. As with any auction the only way to buy in confidence is to leave plenty of time before the sale (which I hadn't) to thoroughly view anything of interest.
The auctioneer was already up to lot number 295, the start of the Medium Format section, when I sat down. Interestingly a good number of these lots were perfectly usable cameras and mostly sold at realistic prices. The stars of this section were lots 322 and 323, the two Linhof Super Technika outfits. These sold for 2,400 and 1,400 against estimates of 700-1,000 and 500-800 respectively.
In fact I failed to get the lot I was really after, a large collection of original makers catalogues mainly from 1910-1920. These finally sold for 520 (estimate 200-400), nevertheless by the end of the auction I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend you pay Christie's a visit.
Follow this link to the Christie's web site with extensive and fully searchable details of both forthcoming auctions and results from this and previous auctions http://www.christies.com.
Comment from Michael Pritchard, Head of Cameras, Director, Christie's South Kensington 'With prices hotter than London's summer, today's auction saw strong prices for 35mm Subminiature and wooden cameras. A Nikon SP realised 5,052, considerably in excess of the pre-sale estimate, while a rare pre-war Minox camera, the classic spy camera, sold for 2,820. We look forward to our next sale which will include further examples across these areas.'
Lot numbers illustrated (from top) 131, 167, 263, 272 & 323.