Posted: 06/11/18 (16:43pm)
We had a wonderful weekend in York. What a beautiful and history rich city! We came home and as usual hit the ground running. I was very busy last week, working on restorations and attending a number of auctions, and this is what I want to write about today.
My decision to write about the risks and costs of bidding at auctions is prompted by the number of replicas/fakes sold at auction and by the rising cost of auction fees and delivery charges for online bidders.
Many auction houses in the UK now charge buyers fees in the mid to high 20% range. Some are approaching 30% and the greediest ones have already exceeded that! Between the sellers' and buyers' fees, auctions can rake in around 60-70% of the value of an item without ever having owned it!
Not only can bidding at auctions be expensive. It can be risky too. Auctions make little effort to accurately describe the lots, relying on the bidders to know what it is they are bidding on. If you are going to bid, make sure that you have inspected the lots beforehand. If you can’t be present, request a detailed condition report, asking for additional photos and a description of “any and all damage or faults.”
Be aware that the person giving you the report might not be familiar with the items and may not realise that the item is a replica or that something is bent or missing; that the scabbard is incorrect for that sword or that a blade has been cracked, shortened or re-pointed.
You are always better off asking specific questions and numbering them so that it is easy to see which ones have and have not been answered. A block of text makes it much easier for the auctioneer to bypass questions they would rather not answer.
Make sure that you request the condition report and additional photos well in advance, allowing yourself time to follow up. Often the initial condition report you receive will be generic photographs of the lot/s. Don’t be afraid to write back and press for answers. Make the auction do their job properly – they charge enough!
Again, be aware that the fall back position of an auction house not wanting to divulge information that may discourage a potential bidder, is for them to claim limited knowledge of an item, leaving you non the wiser and putting the ball firmly back in your court.
Even with a detailed condition report, always keep in mind the fact that the auction house may not realise that the item they are selling is “wrong” in some way. It is up to you to discover this.
Auctions are also quite happy to sell replicas/fakes. Every week I see replicas sell as if they were genuine. Earlier this year I witnessed an online buyer make a very costly mistake. They bought a fake M1888 Lee Metford Mk1 Type 1 for around £500!
Last week I watched a replica of a 1799 naval sword sell at auction for more than it cost to buy from the online shop that originally sold it. The sword was wrongly described as a cavalry sword, with no age or pattern identified. The auction house will have known that the sword was a replica – it was only a couple of years old, but they are not required to divulge this information unless specifically asked. A physical inspection of the sword, or failing that, a few minutes online would have told most bidders that it was not genuine, but clearly, the online bidder who bought the sword failed to do their homework. By the time the buyer receives the sword, the auction fees of over 26% and Mailboxes exorbitant delivery charges will mean that they have paid around double the cost of buying the sword from its original retailer.
If you are going to bid at auctions, learn their ways and their lingo. If an auction house neglects to mention a period or pattern, it could be because they don’t know, but it could also be because the item is not genuine. If an auction, uses words like “style” or “type” in an item description, for example, “an Enfield type…” or “World War 1 style…” they are telling you that the item is probably not genuine. Caveat emptor (buyer beware) very much applies. The remote selling laws that give online customers a grace period during which they can return purchases do not apply to auctions and by bidding, you are agreeing that you have inspected the lots and are happy with their condition and authenticity.
Do not be fooled by auction valuations. Generic £30-£50 or £50-£100 estimates on bayonets and swords are in part a fishing trip – attempting to encourage bids, and partly again, lack of knowledge on the part of the auctioneers. You are never going to get that sought after sword or bayonet for those prices!
If you bid at auctions online, the chances are that you will need your purchase delivered to you. This allows the auction to squeeze even more money out of you. Expect to pay 4 or 5 times the actual delivery cost. That is if you are lucky enough to find an auction with in-house shipping. Most auctions now use a company called Mailboxes.
Mailboxes will charge around £100 to arrange for delivery of a parcel that actually only cost around £12 to deliver.
I have just received a quote from Mailboxes for delivery of a sabre and a hunting sword. Mailboxes routinely use Parcelforce to make their deliveries. Parcelforce charge £12.12 to deliver a 2kg parcel and only £1 more for up to 5kg and 160cm in length. Mailboxes have quoted me £99.99 and that’s after applying a discount!
Now, I understand that time is money and someone has to collect the sword from the auction (along with all the other items they are there to collect), wrap the sword in bubble wrap, put it in a box and tape it up before taking it to the post office, but REALLY? £100? That’s just greedy.
Whenever possible, I attend auctions in person, that way I always know exactly what it is I am bidding on, allowing me to guarantee the authenticity of the items I later offer for sale. If I can’t attend in person (which is rare), I at least try to find auctions that are within travelling distance to collect whatever I buy. Given the number of budget airlines, It is now cheaper for me to fly from Edinburgh to London, Paris, Berlin or Brussels to bid at an auction in person than it is for me to pay Mailboxes to arrange delivery!
Posted: 26/10/18 (13:57pm)
The week has flown by, as usual.
I have been trying to get to grips with updating the website and adding SSL certification. I haven't managed.
I bought the SSL certificate (my knowledge of exactly what that is remains limited) because a kind lady over the telephone scared the living daylights out of me by telling me that unless I had one, Google et al would soon start to discourage people from visiting the website.
Now I am by no means an easy sell and telesales reps usually get short shrift from me but the lady was very sincere, and it was I who phoned her, not the other way around, so as well as renewing my web hosting (which was what I had initially phoned about), I further stumped up for certification, that until then I had never heard about.
As soon as I had finished chatting to her, I checked with my web guru, and he concurred. Apparently, even though it is not actually necessary, the powers that be are starting to view websites with SSL certification more favourably than those without. This is especially the case when it comes to ranking websites on search engines.
Ok, so great. I had renewed my domain names and hosting, now to add my SSL certification...
… Apparently first I have to generate a CSR certificate - whatever that is...
… I'm still trying...
… I gave up.
I phoned my web guy. He's coming on Monday.
When it is finally done, no-one will see or notice anything new or different about my website. But Google will love me. They had better do. What a fiasco!
Ok, so the weekend is upon us. Last Sunday, Sue and I spent the day in the walled town of Berwick-on-Tweed. I had arranged to meet a guy and to buy two sword canes - which I duly did, then Sue and I went for a nice lunch after which we walked along the town's defensive wall. It is a very picturesque town and well worth a visit.
The sword canes I bought are great. Again, once I have given them a clean and photographed them, I will add them to the website.
I also bought a couple of bayonets at auction, also soon to be added. When not at auction or scrambling my brain trying to decipher computer tech speak, I have been working on customer restorations. I have just finished re-gripping a Georgian Naval hanger and tidying up the scabbard. It is a lovely sword - I wish I owned it. I have yet to show it to the customer but I think he will be very happy with the result.
This weekend we are off to York. Sue has been working long hours all week, out before 9am and not home until after 9pm every day, so I decided to surprise her with a weekend away.
I have booked what I hope will be a nice hotel in the city, walking distance from the Shambles, and we are going to spend the next two days absorbing the history, culture and atmosphere of York.
I am really looking forward to visiting the Jorvik Viking Centre and the Castle Museum and have, with minimal grumbling agreed to go on the Chocolate Experience tour. We leave later this afternoon.
Hope you all have a great weekend too.
Posted: 22/10/18 (16:27pm)
On the 21st October, 1805, the Royal Navy, commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson met and defeated the French navy at Cape Trafalgar. Since the late summer of 1805, Napoleon had been amassing an army on France's coast, preparing for the invasion of England. Victory at Trafalgar cost Nelson and many others their lives but stopped Napoleon's invasion plans (and allowed the English monarch and aristocracy to breath a little easier).
With the anniversary of Britain's most celebrated naval victory upon us, you can imagine my excitement at having the chance to purchase a Trafalgar period midshipman's fighting sword.
The first thing that struck me was how small it was. It was clearly made for a child. The total length of the sword is 615mm, with the blade being just 500mm long. It really brought home to me the fact that midshipmen were often just children, boys of around 12 years old.
Despite the youth and diminutive stature of the owner, the sword was clearly made to be an effective weapon and was sharpened for action. It made me wonder whether the owner had experienced the deafening, deck splintering horror of a naval broadside? He probably did. The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a busy time for the Royal Navy.
Whether the child grew to be a man, or to captain his own vessel we can never know.
The sword's hilt is of the pattern officially adopted by the Royal Navy in 1805. Prior to 1805, the Royal Navy had no regulation pattern of sword for its officers. This style of hilt was in use by both land and sea forces before 1805, one of the best know examples being the British 1796 light cavalry sabre and pre-regulation examples of Royal Navy fighting swords with this style of hilt are also to be found.
The curved blade of this midshipmans sword indicates that it is one such example, and help date it to between the end of the 18th century and soon after 1805. The newly adopted 1805 regulation pattern sword having a straight blade.
Below are a couple of photos of the sword. I will take more detailed and close-up images when I eventually add it to the website. But for now, I am going to enjoy owning it and give a silent nod to those brave men and boys of Nelson's Royal Navy.
Posted: 18/10/18 (9:46am)
Something has been weighing on my mind for some time now. I have thought about commenting on it, but each time I am about to, I decide not to for fear of alienating people.
Today I have decided that it is time I said something. I don't want to come across as unhelpful and my comments are certainly not a criticism of anyone in particular.
Every week I receive requests for identifications and valuations of swords, knives and bayonets and I am always happy to help. I know a bit about edged weaponry and am learning more every day. Over the years I have spent countless hours reading, studying and researching the patterns, origins, periods and values of edged weaponry and I continue to do so. I have acquired an extensive library of research materials at some considerable cost.
The volume of requests has risen over the years, and about a year ago it got to the point that I was having to spend quite a few hours every week responding to people's requests. Even when I know instantly what an item is, it still takes time to write to the person and give them the information. Invariably they write back with more questions.
When I am asked to identify an item that I am unfamiliar with, it can take hours of research to pin it down. Even when my identification is instant, it is only because of the hours I have put in over the years and the money I have spent on reference books.
Because of this I decided that, like most dealers, I would have to make a charge for the service. I looked at what my competitors were charging and decided to ask the same fee of £10. But, unlike other websites, I offer to give up to three identifications/valuations for this amount.
I amended my contact page to advise people of this change, making it very clear that I was now having to charge for this service. Despite this, only one person has ever paid. Everyone else chooses to ignore this when contacting me asking for items to be identified. Knowing that there is a fee, they still expect me to identify their sword or bayonet for free. In many cases they don't even ask politely. Many emails begin without a greeting, just a demand, "I want to know..." Similarly, once answered, at least half of the people don't even have the courtesy to say "Thank you."
I have tried respectfully pointing out that there is a fee for this service and each time that I have done so, have received a reply refusing to pay. Why is it that people consider their own time too valuable to spend on research but expect me to give my time for free?
Having a Facebook page is also a double edged sword - if you'll excuse the pun. People seem to expect their items to be identified and often they have several items. They somehow feel I owe them my time and knowledge.
Everyone works, and whether they are on an hourly rate or yearly salary they get paid for their time and skills. Isn't my time just as valuable? Don't I deserve to be paid for my work?
I have never refused a request for help identifying an item, nor will I, but I hope that after writing this blog, people might consider that the fee I ask is reasonable and they might agree that expecting me to work for free is unfair. Failing that, I hope that they will at least ask nicely, greet me at the start of their email and say please and thank you.
Posted: 10/10/18 (9:38am)
Still no response from the community pastor that I wrote to trying to get in touch with a relative of Colonel Hugh Finlayson. Rather disappointing and a little surprising that a man of the cloth hasn't acknowledged my email or been willing to assist. Oh well, at least I know that I tried to do the decent thing and reunite the sword with the family of the original owner.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I can send a sword home and I try to do it whenever possible. But sometimes it doesnt work out.
In 2016, I bought a late Victorian Royal Navy Officer's sword and as it was made by the Wilkinson Sword Company, with a bespoke order serial number, I bought a copy of the original ledger entry and discovered that the sword had belonged to Victor Lindsey Arbuthnot Campbell.
Campbell was First Officer on board the Arctic exploration ship, the "Terra Nova" and was leader of the Northern Party on Robert Falcon Scott's (Scott of the Antarctic) I'll fated Antarctic expedition (1910-1913). While Scott lead his party to their deaths, Campbell, after surviving months of the Arctic winter in a snow cave, brought most of his men safely home. After the death of Scott, Campbell was Britain's foremost Antarctic explorer and went on to have an illustrious naval career winning a DSO in 1915 while commanding the forward battery at Gallipoli and adding a bar to it in 1916 as commander of "Drake" battery. Campbell also served in World War ll.
Having discovered the sword's pedigree, I contacted a number of museums including that of the Royal Naval College and the British Antarctic Survey and offered them the sword for exactly what I had paid for it, with all provenance and receipts. I felt strongly that the sword should stay in the UK and be on display for all to see. It was a national treasure and should be treated as such.
None of the museums or organisations that I contacted were interested in the sword. I felt rather let down, but again, I knew I had done all that I could to keep the sword in the UK and make it available to all.
I listed the sword for sale and it sold two days later. It sold for over six times what I had paid for it. A four figure sum.
The sword now resides in a private collection in America. I am sure that its new owner cherishes it and shows it proudly to all his friends and acquaintances and I made very good money on it. But few if any people from the UK will ever see it and be awed by the courage, resolve and resourcefulness of the man who owned it and the men he led.
Other attempts to rehome family swords have had much happier results and in some cases the swords are now on public display, such as the sword belonging to William Home-Robertson, which is now on display below his life size portrait in Paxton House, Berwickshire.
Posted: 01/10/18 (15:56pm)
It has been a busy week. I was at an auction in Carlisle on Friday, and came home with seven lots that I am really pleased with. They're all quite scarce and one or two are rare.
My favourites are:
German S98/05 saw back by a rare double maker, Gebruder Hartkopf of Solingen & Walter & Co. Of Muhlhausen.
Walter & Co. Were machinists, so presumably made the blade, which was then finished and assembled into the completed bayonet by Gebruder Hartkopf. This makes the already scarce saw back version of the S98/05 quite rare indeed.
British first pattern P1907 hooked quillon by Mole of Birmingham. The bayonet is unit marked to the "Devil's Own" Connaught Rangers.
German early production Demag, crank handle bayonet/trench knife and last but certainly not least, an Royal Yugoslavian Army M1939 officer's dagger.
All will be available on the website in due course, along with the other items I bought. The first of which is a Lee Metford P1888 Mk1 Type II bayonet in fantastic condition.
Rather disappointingly, I have not received a response to the emails I sent trying to make contact with a relative of Col. Finlayson. It had been my hope that I could return the sword to his family but as I have drawn a blank, I will be offering the sword for sale on the website. I'll wait a few more weeks before I do so.