Auctions, Antiques & Treen

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‘Everybody collects something,” declared Jim Bischoff during his recent talk to the Bude & District U3A on the subject of: “Antiques, Auctions and Treen’.   Judging by the large attendance at the U3A September monthly meeting at the Parkhouse Centre, Bude, he could well be right.

Mr.Bischoff,  who does valuations for the firm of auctioneers,  Kidson and Trigg, based near Swindon, Wiltshire, quickly gained and  held the attention of his enthusiastic audience as he spoke about the business of auctions, collectibles and his own passion,  treen – meaning simply small domestic items made from wood.  As he talked about the value of various objects he has handled in the course of his job, he frequently drew gasps of astonishment from the U3A members and guests present.

Jim Bischoff was a career school teacher but from the age of about 12 he had an interest in collecting things.  He shared how first it was bus tickets and then, after accompanying his mother to auctions and antique shops, he began to collect coins, stamps and small wooden items, until ‘collecting became a passion’.  On retiring from teaching he offered to help at the local auctioneers and that became ‘not a retirement job, but another job’. Sometimes, on auction days for instance, he may put in a 12-hour day – definitely not what most people expect from retirement!

‘Auction houses sell pretty much everything’, he said, ‘from antiquities, to antiques (items over 100 years old), to wine, china, cars, collectibles and more modern pop culture items.’ ‘People don’t realise the value of what they’ve got’, he added, and went on to tell how a collection of pre -1st World War post cards, old photos and coins revealed several gold sovereigns,  thereby pushing the value of a seemingly worthless collection which would have gone to the tip to £1,500.

Buying at an auction can be either by raising your hand when physically present at the auction, or perhaps via telephone, or even the internet.  Auction houses hold several phone lines open during the bidding, thus enabling buyers from all over the world to participate.  ‘ Using websites and  phone lines means  that anybody can join in and so items are more likely to sell for their true value,’ said Mr. Bischoff.  ‘If you are the seller, the auction house will take its percentage, although many people find this surprising.’

Collecting small wooden objects is Jim Bischoff’s true passion.  Originally, only small wooden items were affordable for a boy with just a bit of pocket money to spend.  He recalled purchasing his first pieces of treen – a wooden toy, and then a small wooden box ‘costing ‘about 2s 3d’.  Now, he says, he has about 400 small wooden boxes with many different designs and engravings on their tops and bottoms.

‘Treen is for the normal person,’ he said, ‘compared to the less affordable, more embellished (inlaid with gold or silver perhaps) things which more well-to-do buyers might want.’  That doesn’t always make it cheap however.  A wassail bowl which sold for £58,000 and a wooden chalice which went for £30,000 were mentioned.  The audience gasped!    Boxwood is the wood most commonly used in the making of wooden items.  Sycamore is another favourite, as is the semi-hardwood, maple.  The Caribbean lignum vitae wood is particularly hard and dense and so is used for such things as cricket balls and  lawn bowls.

Several small wooden items were passed around the audience and everyone was invited to identify the pieces.  The audience did not have much success  in working out what they were looking at, but enjoyed trying!  Included was something that looked like a double egg cup but was in fact a dual jigger (value about £30). There was an odd looking item which turned out to be for powdering kid gloves (value £80); there was a wooden ‘clicker’ which a teacher might use for getting order in class (value £230); there was a strange, spikey object which it seems was a straw splitter used by a maker of straw hats (value around £300), a Scottish snuff box, some lovely bowls and three small boxes  (for stamps perhaps) with intricate designs and valued from £250 upwards.

Finally, Mr. Bischoff produced a rather nice looking walking cane and proceeded to unscrew the handle.  ‘What goes inside?’ he asked.  ‘A sword’, suggested one member of the audience.  Not correct.  No-one guessed that the hollowed out compartment was for an opium pipe!

Time had run out even though Mr. Bischoff and his audience could have kept going, but in answer to a question asking  about policy on sales of ivory, Mr. Bischoff replied that ivory items dating before 1947 were still sold and it was surprising how many older things had pieces of ivory in them – a piano for instance, a Georgian teapot, or a wooden item with ivory pieces inlaid.  Anything post 1947 is not sold.

Earlier the meeting was addressed by Bude U3A chairman, Lynn Biggs.  She welcomed Tony Harper from Bude Age Concern  who spoke about the ‘desperate’ need for the volunteer drivers to get people to hospital.  Anyone with ‘half a day, or just a couple of hours to spare’ and who would like to volunteer, was invited to contact Age Concern.

The Bude U3A AGM will be held at the next monthly meeting on 18th October, at the Parkhouse Centre. U3A.  Members and  the general public are invited to attend although only members can vote.

Anna Crew