Hugh Edmeades
Hugh Edmeades will stand down from his full time job at Christie's at the end of the month to become an independent freelance auctioneer, while retaining his title of international auctioneer for Christie's. Image courtesy of Gary@SMD Photography.

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Edmeades, 60, took his first auction in 1984 and has presided over esteemed sales including HRH the late Princess Margaret's, the Elizabeth Taylor Collection, the estate of the late Margaret Thatcher and the auction at the gala dinner to mark Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday. 

The skilled gavel-wielder will stand down from his full time job at Christie's at the end of the month to become an independent freelance auctioneer, while retaining his title of international auctioneer for Christie's.

This doesn't mean he is slowing down however. He will continue his auctioneering for charities and teaching his trade as well as hoping to find the time to play more golf and spend time with his family. 

Book Plans

He also has plans for a book and has a cartoonist lined up to illustrate his memoirs with the aid of his extensive notes of every one of his 2,300 auctions, selling more than 300,000 lots for a total of £2.3bn over the years, he has plenty of material. 

Edmeades has witnessed huge change in the industry over the length of his career. He joined Christie's South Kensington in 1978, becoming head of the furniture department in 1984 and chairman in 2000, maintaining it as the busiest saleroom in Europe.

He says it was this "conveyor belt of sales" that helped him hone his skills on the rostrum. 

He adds: "I conducted at least one sale a week. Now it is difficult for new auctioneers to get the experience as there are fewer auctions, so fewer opportunities to practice. The more you do the better you are."

As someone who has run a one day course at Christie's for auctioneers, he has plenty of advice for those starting out and will continue to work training people in the art.

Circus master

He likens being an auctioneer to being a game show host or circus master.

He says: “It is a serious business but you have to make it fun and entertaining to keep people interested throughout the evening, even if they are only really interested in one lot. You must be entertaining above all else.”

Edmeades, who is just back from taking the Asian art sales in New York, will officially leave Christie's as a full-time employee on September 30. But the very next day he will be flying to Hong Kong to take an auction for Christie’s. His last sale as a member of staff will be the estate of art critic and one time Christie's employee Brian Sewell on September 27.

Looking back at Edmeades career, a highlight was the sale of a 15th century Chinese Imperial embroidered thangka in Hong Kong in November 2014 which sold for £28.9m, the world record for any Chinese work of art sold by an international auction house.

One of his fondest memories was the gala dinner for Mandela's 90th birthday. The auction he took raised £4.2m for the Mandela foundation and Edmeades described the guests as a "who's who" from around the world.

In total over his career he has taken more than 700 charity auctions, helping to raise £80m. He plans to continue, and perhaps even exceed the 50 charity auctions he takes each year.