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Mastery of the challenging but essential art of engaging with bidders helped one young auctioneer win the coveted NAVA ‘Novice Auctioneer of the Year’ award last week.

How to auction a hydraulic rough-terrain forklift, a vintage red telephone box (minus phone) and a football pitch with a sitting tenant – all in the space of 20 minutes? Yes, indeed: NAVA’s annual competition for novice auctioneers, complete with five tricky lots to sell in front of experienced gavel masters, is not for the faint-hearted.

But compete they did on Wednesday, October 9, in an event that pits property, fine art and livestock auctioneers against one another, each with less than a year’s experience on the rostrum.

This year’s shoot-out, part of NAVA’s annual Forum and again co-sponsored by ATG parent Auction Technology Group, was held at Chateau Impney Hotel in Droitwich.

The winner was chosen by a panel of expert judges, after a performance in front of experienced auctioneers playing the role of sometimes awkward bidders.

A shortlist of three contestants then had to host a charity auction in front of a live audience, with real bids for lots and all money raised going to homeless charity Centrepoint.

In the end, the 2019 award (and the elegant silver Clive Emson Auctioneers Rose Bowl) was awarded to David Henwood of Clive Emson Auctioneers, for his ability to engage with bidders.

Difficult decision

Richard Lewis, chief operating officer at Auction Technology Group and one of three judges, said: “It was a difficult decision and the quality of all of the contestants was excellent. David consistently showed that not only was he proficient at all aspects of auctioneering, but he could also inspire the room to bid more.

“That ability for the live auctioneer to connect with bidders, whether they’re in the room or online, is a pivotal ingredient to successful auctions,” Lewis added.

Runners up were Marino Costi from Philip Arnold Auctions and Christopher Theocharides from SDL Auctions.

Fine art competitors

Fine art auctioneers new to the profession, from Dreweatts, Halls Fine Art and Somerset auctioneers Cooper and Tanner, competed with their property equivalents for the award.

At 19 years old, Jack Austerberry of Halls was the youngest of this year’s contestants.

His competition included Rachel Boothroyd of Cooper and Tanner, and a duo from Dreweatts: Mark Robertson, the Newbury-based auctioneer’s wine specialist and Will Turkington, a junior specialist in Dreweatts’ Furniture, Rugs & Carpets department.

Each candidate had to auction five lots, as the audience tested them with realistic but tricky questions.

As well as gaining vital experience, CPD points and exposure, all entrants received free accommodation at the hotel on the night and attendance at the NAVA conference the next day, courtesy of the event’s sponsors.

‘Object before internet’

The skills of fine art auctioneering were under the microscope during a panel debate the next day at the NAVA conference.

Jack Austerberry’s senior Halls colleague, director Jeremy Lamond, summed up good valuations as being “all about the object in front of you”.

He acknowledged that for younger auctioneers in particular, “it’s very tempting to first go to the internet to look at what the last similar object made,” adding that it was “surprising how many auctioneers look at the internet before the object”.

Lamond counselled that fine art auctioneers also need to “know what you don’t know – and don’t comment on an object until you do know”.