Auction Insights with Nigel Kirk

Top tips on what to look out for at car boot sales

21st October 2016

Car boot sales are booming but as the season is drawing to its close are there still hidden treasures to be found?

The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’, but your chances of finding them would be greatly improved if you follow my advice.  The golden rule has to be to keep an open mind and try to focus on only inherently interesting things. The less obvious and more mundane these appear to the seller as well as to the casual observer the greater your bargain will be.

This is the best way you can out-smart the competition in the internet age because anyone can ‘Google’ something that catches their eye and immediately snap up what they think is a bargain.  Here are a handful of examples of items that just might slip through, unnoticed by all by you!

  1. RAF officer’s uniform including leather flying boots.  Would you ‘rate’ such militaria at a car boot sale?  It fetched £4,400 in a Mellors & Kirk auction earlier this year.
  2. Boba Fett Star Wars figure.  Only 9.5cm high, a modern plastic toy that packs a punch.  The current record price paid at auction is £26,000 which beat the previous record of £15,000.
  3. Never judge a book by the cover.  A signature or connection to the author can turn a worthless book into a valuable one.  Even without a signature early editions of a famous author’s books are valuable.  Churchill’s River War of 1899 should make over £500 in a Mellors & Kirk auction next month.
  4. Tribal art is highly sought-after and Britain’s colonial history means much is still to emerge from house clearances.  This ironwood war club (Dromudromu) from Fiji was sold for £9,000 by Mellors & Kirk
  5. Asian, specifically Chinese, ceramics and sculpture represent some of the biggest prizes to be found, but watch out for fakes.  This yellow cup and cover dating from the 19th century was just one of a group of similar objects in a Mellors & Kirk sale, it alone made £45,000 at the auction.

Having bagged your bargain take a few precautions.  Keep a receipt book and get the seller to sign it, especially if you think you have got something that is very valuable.  Make a note of the seller’s car number plate and if you are suspicious either do not get involved in the first place or go straight to the police.  Don’t forget to take cash and enough bubble wrap.

At the Saturday valuation mornings at The Auction House people arrive with car boots full of china, glass, jewellery, silver, in fact everything from gramophones to their grandma (I jest) that they want rid of.  Many tell me they think “it’s not worth much” and having made sure, happily go on their way to a car boot sale.  Mellors & Kirk and other auctioneers provide a free valuation and identification service of all antique, vintage and collectable items that an owner wishes to sell.

You will be very unlikely to pick up a Ming vase or a Stradivarius violin at a car boot sale in 2017 but you know what statisticians say about the odds of tossing a coin or rolling a dice… Therein lies the secret that the keeps people returning, like all treasure hunters.  But do remember that if an item seems too good to be true then it will be, especially if for example it is a Rolex watch from a dodgy trader at a car boot sale.  Other visitors to Mellors & Kirk occasionally arrive with a broad grin clutching a ‘find’ from a car boot sale that they are hoping to put under the hammer and turn a profit.

The British have taken car boot sales if not their hearts, then to their wallets.  It is the 21st century version of the traditional English fair or market. Their golden age extended from the Medieval period up to the 19th century and Nottingham’s market and Goose Fair were some of the biggest and best.  Sunday was then reserved for church or chapel attendance but the car boot phenomenon now draws a vastly higher percentage of the population week after week. 

Lest readers should think this sounds like a sermon I wish you good hunting if buying and hope I’ve given you pause for thought if selling.  Since you (haven’t) asked, will you see me there? Probably not, after a week of looking at other people’s old stuff I like Sunday off! 

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