Toby Cleave at the rostrum.

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A few weeks ago Toby Cleave, 24, contacted us after making his rostrum debut at west Midlands auction house Warwick & Warwick assisting with its Philatelic sale.

He says: “This was a career defining moment as I crossed the threshold from the agricultural to the collectable.”

Having started auctioneering at the age of 19 in livestock, his first auction was at Bagshaws’ Darley Moor Collective Sale and he later worked for Kivells in Devon in its dairy department.

“Having grown up on the family dairy farm, auctions have been a mainstay and a passion throughout my life,” he says. “Whether it be buying or selling cattle at a young age or attending Harper Adams University with a view to becoming an auctioneer.

“Many hours were spent watching, listening and emulating those on the rostrum, practising my chant wherever I could - much to the annoyance of some of my friends.”

Cleave joined Warwick & Warwick in July for “more experience on the rostrum and selling a different type of merchandise”. He says: “It’s good to make a change sometimes.

The work and office environment is also a lot cleaner than the market!”

Different approach

But switching from the hustle and bustle of outside livestock marts to the more refined art and antiques saleroom is something Cleave is still adjusting to.

He explains: “While it was mentioned to me in the days leading up to the sale that stylistically antiques and collectables auctions sound very different from the cattle rings or sale fields I previously cut my teeth on, I was confident in my ability as I took gavel in hand.

“The crowd was a little more sparse than I was used to, the bustling ringside replaced by the clerk, a telephone bidder and a camera livestreaming to the world.

“So off I went rattling through the 80 lots in just under an hour, I slipped back into the old routine with phrasings and quips picked up over my years on the sheep pens and machinery fields.”

So how did his new colleagues react?

“The clerk was smiling throughout and the secretary on the phones struggled to hold it together at times on the verge of laughter and I felt quite pleased with my work. But there were two common themes in the feedback I was given following the sale: too fast and too loud and one client even queried whether we were selling stamps or cows!”

Cleave is now taking on the comments and working on his patter. “What I had not considered was the time bidders may take to look at the images or the catalogue during the sale, the softer tone that allows them to think with better clarity,” he says. “A bustling livestock market needs to be loud so it holds your attention with many attendees treating it as much as a social gathering than a place of business.

“So the lack of crowd when selling to the internet especially means that those aspects are not required and while a routine is necessary in order to conduct the sale, the software allows bidders to see what the current and asking bids are at any time.

“I’m happy to report that after some tweaks were made the feedback has been much more positive following the latest Collectables sale and I am looking forward to continuing my career in the antiques and collectibles auction sector.”

Put your stamp on it

What is Cleave’s highlight so far since making the switch?

“The varied nature of the firm’s sales means that there’s always something interesting being sold,” he says. “The model railway auctions are entertaining but in terms of notable items the Mauritius Stamp collection that sold for £8000 (£2000 above estimate) in the October Philatelic Auction is my biggest highlight so far.”

We wish Toby every success with his art and antiques career.