Charlie Thomas is working his thirteenth year at the company, with what’s likely to be many more to come, and is involved in every facet of the beguiling auctioneering business. From clinching sales, producing an auction, handling priceless objects and hammering the gavel, Thomas talks us through the day-to-day job as one of Bonhams’ veteran auctioneers.
I get up at 6.45am during the week. After getting myself ready for work I get my two children up (India and Freddy) and do as much as I can with them before I race out the door at 745. Then I jump on the 22 into town.
I live in a Victorian house in Fulham, so we’re quite limited on space, but I do have some antiques. I used to work in furniture before I went into private collections. I love antique furniture: 18th century, mid 18th century and country pieces. We have a few nice pieces but nothing worth nicking! We don’t have much in the garden, but we did redo it last year so maybe it needs something?
When I first get into the office I go through my emails. Most of the time I will have done that on the bus, but I suppose it’s to reply to emails that require more than a couple of words.
Basically, you can split my job into two parts. I’m either trying to get a sale in, or I am working on the sale. With house sales, we sell the contents of the homes. The sale I am currently working is selling the entire contents of the now deceased Count and Countess Martignone from Italy. We’re selling everything from the Milanese apartment and a villa down in Pieve Ligure – an area right in the middle of the Italian Riviera overlooking the sea. Both properties are full of artworks and antiques so we are selling everything as one big collection here in London in September.
The best thing about my job is how varied it is, from dealing with the client, to cataloguing and researching. It’s not just the academic side of things. The whole production of an auction is much bigger than you might imagine. There are allsorts of different aspects, which is one of the reasons my job is so interesting.
I am going to sounds really gushy now, but the other best thing is working with great people. You get to meet really fascinating people and get to know them well. I mean, you can work on a house sale for six months, start to finish, and really get to know the families. You also get to know the collections. Working with these objects themselves makes me feel incredibly lucky. We get to deal with beautiful objects every day. Everyone working at an auction house gets into it because of a love for the arts. So it’s almost like a hobby, you have to have a real passion for it.
The most memorable auction I have ever chaired is easy. A couple of years ago we sold the contents of Lord Glenconner’s St Lucian house. Lord Glenconner was an extraordinary character. He bought Mustique and turned it into this amazing island, and then moved from Mustique to St Lucia. He has a strong connection with royalty too, Princess Margaret for example. And he used to host parties with Mick Jagger on the guest list. He had a very glamorous lifestyle. When he died we were taken on to sell the contents of his home, so it being in St Lucia was a bonus! I got to go out twice. The villa was open to all the elements and had this remarkable collection of art and antiques, all overlooking the Caribbean Sea. That was a great sale.
I used to go to auctions with my father who was a bit of a picture collector. I was completely fascinated by it. But they’ve changed enormously since I was a boy, it’s a very different world now, it’s hugely international. I used to find it fascinating going into the auction room, I love the whole idea that you could scratch your nose and buy a Rembrandt, which is of course complete rubbish. Anyway, I did two weeks work experience at school and that was me decided. I don’t think I’d want to do anything else.
The atmosphere of a live auction is all about anticipation. You’ve got the buyers, who have these looks on their faces showing how desperate they are to buy what they’re after. It’s all very unpredictable. There are four ways you can buy at an auction; you can bid on the Internet, bid over the phone, bid in the room or leave an absentee vote. And for us, well a huge amount of work goes into an auction so we always want them to be a success.
My day’s are filled with meetings; working with different departments, including press and events, and meeting with clients. This afternoon I was cataloguing and writing footnotes, and yesterday I was editing the video we shot of the house in Italy for the auction. So it’s very varied.
I try to finish on time so I can get home and bath my children and put them to bed. It’s always exhausting trying to get my daughter to bed. She’s suddenly hit the terrible twos so bedtime is a real effort.
I love my weekends. I spend time with my children; it’s all about keeping them entertained. At the moment we spend a lot of time with other toddlers doing what other toddlers do.
As told to Romy van den Broeke