Nevertheless, among the latest auctioneers to post upbeat news is the relatively new Hampshire firm Hannam’s (20% buyer’s premium) which is celebrating its best sale yet – £576,000 taken by 74% of the 2200 lots which found buyers at the Selborne rooms on May 4-5.
It is worth noting that the hammer total did not rely on a single five or six-figure star.
The top-seller was a 19th century Russian silver-gilt champlevé enamel casket. Measuring 5½ x 4in (14 x 10cm), the 30oz box featured an enamel panel to the cover depicting a horse rider in a landscape.
Bearing a signature and estimated at £1500-2000, the box sold to an American buyer at £8000.
Two quintessentially English pieces were a Royal-Worcester twin-handled vase and cover and a cast-iron garden bench.
The 9½in (24.5cm) tall bulbous vase was painted with his trademark flying swans by Charles Baldwyn, probably the factory’s outstanding artist from 1874 to 1909. It went to the UK trade comfortably above estimate at £4000.
The 6ft 4in (1.93m) wide bench came with connections to great names – the design attributed to Christopher Dresser and the manufacturer probably Coalbrookdale. It doubled the lower estimate, selling to a UK private buyer at £3000.
“With particular highlights spread across multiple collecting fields, it was perhaps a sign that a successful auction is not always dominated by the Oriental market,” said auctioneer Harry Hannam.
He launched his own operation three years ago, building from eight sales a year to 12, and now moving from two-day to three-day events.
He has done so partly through traditional alliances with local solicitors and probate valuers, but he also sees 2014, despite being at the height of the austerity years, as a good time to have launched a saleroom.
“The life of an auctioneer is dramatically moving into a new technological era,” Hannam says, having himself adapted to the age. “For the May sale we had 2952 approved registered bidders online and 70 phone bidders booked.”
Although, as he says, the sale was not wholly dependent on the Far Eastern market, some of those online bidders were undoubtedly orientated towards it.
Six pieces of Meiji shibayama-inlaid ivory from a private collection were in demand at Hannam’s.
One was an 11in (28cm) high elephant with child musicians in a howdah which went at £7500.
Another was a rare 6in (15.5cm) tall rectangular mantel clock decorated with game birds among foliage and landscapes which took £5000. Both sold within estimates to UK collectors.