A job as a Art valuer / auctioneer

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Martin Reed works as an auctioneer and valuer for a firm of surveyors and auctioneers in a country market town. The firm has regular auctions of all sorts of antiques including pottery, jewellery, paintings and furniture. He specialises in ceramics (china and pottery figures and pots) and furniture.

What does your work involve?

Part of my time is spent going into people's homes to look at their belongings and give valuations. This means I am not sitting at a desk very much, probably less than an hour a day, and I spend a lot of time travelling.

I also have a lot of practical jobs to do at the sales room, such as moving and arranging objects before the sale – that can be hard physical work – and working on the catalogue which is sent out to potential buyers. I write the description of the items for sale and take the photographs which are used as illustrations. These descriptions need to be accurate and truthful.

What do you do on sale days?

I am on the rostrum in the sales room with perhaps 50 people in front of me and the responsibility of selling 200 to 300 lots. You need an outgoing personality and you really have to keep your wits about you – a mistake can be costly and embarrassing. You have to know what is the reserve for the item you are auctioning (the smallest amount the seller will accept), and whether there are bids made in advance. Also, you can get bids coming in on the phone.

What are the working conditions like?

As well as working in the sales room, I may have to climb into lofts and rummage about in garden sheds when looking at items in peoples' homes. The rest of the time is spent in an office within the showrooms and sales room. I work a normal 36-hour week, although there is some evening and weekend work involved when selling or visiting clients to inspect their goods.

Who do you work with?

There are about twenty people in the firm, other valuers like myself, support administrative staff and porters who run the sales room. You might think that people in the auction business are old and crusty but in fact there are a lot of young people in our firm which makes for a lively atmosphere.

What do you find most challenging?

Talking to people who bring in some cherished object to the sales room thinking it might be valuable. Often, the price is a lot lower than they were hoping and I have to explain why. That calls for a lot of tact. Another challenging job is researching the things that are going in to a sale so that I have a clear idea of their worth.

What do you like and dislike about the job?

You can't beat the buzz of the sales room on the day of the auction. The other great experience is to visit someone's house and find a real treasure lurking in a dark corner. There are quite a lot of fairly unglamorous tasks to be done, such as packing and moving items, which can be a bit boring.

Where do you see yourself going next?

With some more studying and experience, I can take professional qualifications to become a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. I can specialise even more, become an expert, and perhaps go to one of the big international auctioneer companies in London.

Martin's route to becoming an Art valuer / auctioneer

  • A levels.
  • Degree in art history and Italian.
  • Work experience at the Tate Gallery in St. Ives and at a Cornish auctioning firm.
  • Joined Jones and Potter as a salesroom porter to get to know the business.

Martin's tips

  • Get some work experience with an auctioneer.
  • Find some antiques you are really interested in and develop your knowledge.
  • Go to auctions and look at and handle objects.

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Art valuer / auctioneer salary information

  • Trainees or junior staff might start on £18,000 or more a year.
  • Senior valuers or dealers can earn £40,000 or more, depending on where they work, their responsibilities and experience.

Becoming an Art valuer / auctioneer

  • Most valuers and art dealers are graduates – usually in art history or a related subject.
  • Experience in related fields – such as art curating, art gallery administration, antique sales, marketing or business – could be useful.
  • Large, established companies like Sotheby's and Christie's run education and training programmes.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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