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Bidding and buying online will continue through lockdown.

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Many are finding ways to carry on and say they feel more confident than back in March.

Colin Young, managing director at auction house Golding Young & Mawer in Lincolnshire, said: “We are more positive. This time the government has been clearer in terms of what we can do.

“The biggest problem last time was moving items out of the building. In March we closed six offices and furloughed 38 out of 40 staff. We are now all back up and running and have even expanded.

“We are stronger and wiser but also everyone in the sector now knows how fragile their business is. The positives are that we are now more experienced in online-only auctions and how we can still serve our clients. We’ve made a lot of changes since March.”

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Colin Young from Golding Young & Mawer said his firm will continue to operate during lockdown but all premises will be closed to the public.

Young said his firm is facilitating safe collection and delivery of items and because the regulations allow estate agents to remain open for one-to-one home visits and valuations by appointment, Golding Young & Mawer will also continue to offer this service and will not be closing its removals or house clearance divisions.

Many firms are offering valuations via video and will take delivery of consignments via drop-off or post.

Delivery companies are also still trading throughout lockdown because logistics firms are classed as an essential business.

Premises closed to public

The new coronavirus restrictions for England came into force on November 5 and run until at least Wednesday, December 2.

Antiques shops, centres, art galleries, auction houses and fairs and markets all have to close their premises to the public.

The regulations, approved by parliament last week, allow non-essential retail business including auction houses to operate click and collect and delivery services.

Operating online and by phone, and having staff on the premises for collection and delivery, is therefore permitted – a fact confirmed in writing last week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in response to a question submitted by ATG.

Many dealers are organising viewings by appointment in their shops, such as Ludlow’s Rowles Fine Art, and others are holding exhibitions that will run online and in store, like Edenbridge’s Lennox Cato. Some plan to update their window displays regularly to be viewed from outside – Howe London for example.

Dealer Grey Harris in Bristol has an exhibition of metal figures re-enacting the Delhi Durbar in its window and is also offering viewings by appointment.

Tim Bryars of Cecil Court map and book dealership Bryars & Bryars said: “I am dismayed to be shuttered again but this time I am going into the shop to work.

“During the last lockdown I stayed away for three months. This time I will be cataloguing in the shop and we will be offering online deliveries and click and collect.”

Markets and fairs shut

A blow for the sector is the closure of arts and antiques markets and fairs which have had to cease whether indoors or outdoors. A number of organisations have launched digital marketplaces or held virtual fairs such as TEFAF and The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association (PFBA). Museums and galleries have also had to close.

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IACF’s Ardingly antiques market ran on November 3-4, making it the last major fair in England before the new lockdown began last week. Trade was brisk in the autumn sunshine as attendees knew it would be their last event for a month. Although IACF’s next two planned fairs will not be able to go ahead, the organiser is set to hold one of the first events post-lockdown: its Newark fair is scheduled for December 3-4, meaning it opens one day after restrictions are due to lift.

Those firms continuing to trade behind closed doors were quick to promote this fact online. Birmingham auction house Fellows said in an email sent to clients last week that it is “business as usual in our offices, we’re just not open to the general public. Our auctions are all still going ahead as planned and we are accepting consignments into our upcoming auctions in December and January.”

Richard Winterton Auctioneers in Lichfield announced its intention to keep trading via a statement on its website on November 2.

“As our auctions already take place safely online-only and behind closed doors, we are not expecting any change to our sales programme,” it said.

“Since Covid, 100% of our sales have run online-only and have been joined by thousands of bidders from all over the world. Recent online-only auctions rank among the most successful sales we have ever held.”

Colchester auction house Reeman Dansie announced eight specialist timed online sales before Christmas, including ceramics, glass, coins, jewellery, watches, silver, wine and fine art.

A small number of auction houses, however, have decided to postpone live sales until after lockdown in December, including Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood and Woolley & Wallis. The latter will hold a timed online sale from November 19 to December 4 with about 150 lots of jewellery, silver, ceramics and small collectables.

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Parliament agreed the lockdown measures last week.

The new regulations affect England only. Devolved nations of the UK have their own restrictions. In Wales, the national ‘firebreak’ ended on Monday, November 9.

Lobbying to obtain clarification on the UK government’s position had been undertaken by BAMF (the British Art Market Federation), SOFAA (the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers) and Auction Technology Group, owner and publisher of Antiques Trade Gazette.

Anthony Browne, chairman of BAMF, said: “One of the great things about business in general, and the art market is no exception, is it is endlessly inventive. Businesses are adapting to this strange situation.”