Is it trash or is it treasure? Local auctioneer gives his tips on buying and selling

Peter McKenzie
Peter McKenzie

There’s a number of reasons why you may need to sell precious artworks, antiques and objects. And if you ask Peter McKenzie, managing director of McKenzies Auctioneers and Valuers, he’ll tell you they’re known as the seven reasons for sale.

“Nearly every item that comes to us is due to one of seven reasons: deceased estate, debt, divorce, downsizing, decluttering, dementia or disillusion,” says Peter. “It can be a sad and difficult process for many people so it’s important to be patient and thoughtful when dealing with someone’s treasured possessions.”

The process can also lead people into the realms of a trash or treasure hunt, as what you think is worth a mint can sadly be worth a pittance. But, on the flip side, you may just have a highly prized, and highly priced, object sitting right under your nose – or in the back shed.

So, before you cart boxes off to your local second hand shop or load them into a skip, take a closer look at what you have and do a bit of research. 

Peter, who’s sold more than 20,000 artworks since he started his business 33 years ago and 600 objects alone in one recent auction, says it never ceases to amaze him what things are discovered. 

“Just recently we sold a moulded glass inkwell for a world record price of $34,000. Mind you it was a Lalique inkwell and extremely rare but here it was in our Perth auction. The buyer was from Monaco. Our catalogue goes online so buyers from all over the world are able to bid. Gone are the days when we were selling just to the local market; it’s global now and this can lead to higher prices due to a larger buyer base and we’ve had items sell for as high as $500,000.”

So what’s in and what’s out in the auction market? Peter says there’s been a distinct move away from the dark timber, heavy-looking antique furniture that often filled our homes.

“The newer and younger generation of buyers are more interested in quality Scandinavian furniture from the ‘60s and ‘70s than Victorian style pieces. They want a lighter, less cluttered home environment so the market for older antique furniture and collectable objects is definitely narrowing. That can be very disappointing for people who’ve hung onto heirloom furniture thinking they’ll make a fortune when it comes to selling it.”

Peter also says that the decorative and elaborate dinner sets of decades ago are also no longer in demand. With changes in dining habits and the advent of the dishwasher there’s little or no demand for delicate china dinner sets that include everything from a gravy boat, entree plates to teeny tiny tea cups.

Interestingly though, some things that are increasing in favour. Vintage surfboards by well-known shapers, or boards previously owned by surfing champions, is one of them. A recent special collection of surfboards was snapped up amidst fierce bidding with one board alone fetching $14,000.

“Luxury items are also in demand and they’re becoming the new collectables. Things like designer handbags, watches and even guitars,” Peter says. “The key is to look for items made by revered makers. If something is well made by one of the best makers in that field then it’s likely to be collectable. And, that means it’s likely to sell for a good price.”

Jewellery is also still in demand and again pieces are more valuable if they’re made by significant jewellers and feature quality metals and/or precious stones. 

“We have a certified valuer onsite so we’re able to tell people fairly quickly what items are worth. Sadly there are a lot of imitation stones, but sometimes we do literally find a diamond in the rough. We’ve been part of some remarkable stories where people have expected to make just a few thousand dollars and ended up with tens of thousands instead. Basically you don’t know if something was a good buy until you sell it.”

Peter adds that the best way to start the valuing process is to look for signatures, brand names, imprints and maker’s marks. You can then search the internet for similar items and email photographs to a quality auction house, like Peter’s, for their opinion.