St Albans auctioneer banging the gavel of change

PUBLISHED: 18:42 21 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:41 06 May 2010

Chris with the Routemaster bus he considers his proudest possession

Chris with the Routemaster bus he considers his proudest possession

THE OLD way of doing business at St Albans Auction Centre may soon be going, going, gone! Auctioneer Chris Small, who first provided the city with its own auction centre around 20 years ago is now investigating in high-tech wizardry which could have peopl

Chris in auction action

THE OLD way of doing business at St Albans Auction Centre may soon be going, going, gone!

Auctioneer Chris Small, who first provided the city with its own auction centre around 20 years ago is now investigating in high-tech wizardry which could have people at the Valley Road centre bidding against people from all over the country.

Chris, 45, who lives in Harpenden with his wife Amanda and their two children James, 12, and Katy, eight, said: "I visited an auction room in Manchester recently where that was happening and it was fascinating to see how it worked. I am already looking into it and it won't be too long before we are up and running."

Determined

If Chris says it will happen, you can be sure it will. The former pupil of Francis Bacon School in St Albans who was brought up in Marford Road, Wheathampstead, is not a man to be trifled with.

As a young man of 28 he was already managing a Sainsbury's store in London when he decided St Albans needed its first auction room.

He started off renting the old post office premises in Holywell Hill - now a Comfort hotel - but then bought his own site in Lattimore Road.

Its fame spread and he was forced to move to his present larger premises around four years ago.

He loves what he does and works six days a week. When he's not banging his gavel on a Saturday or the occasional Sunday, he is conducting valuations and arranging for homes to be cleared and contents auctioned off to the highest bidder.

His favourite part of the job is undoubtedly the people he comes in contact with and the variety.

He said: "What I enjoy most is people's faces when they either get the object they have set their heart on or when their property goes for a sum they never dreamt it would fetch."

Recently a delighted lady made £2,500 from the sale of some gold jewellery after being offered a mere £200 from some unscrupulous dealers claiming to pay by weight.

The most he has ever raised for a piece of jewellery recently was a diamond-encrusted Tag Heuer watch which cost £29,000 brand new but fetched £9,000 at the auction.

But the bigger items like motor vehicles frequently fetch up to around £10,000.

Chris said: "The people who make the money are the ones who've done their homework.

"They've studied the catalogue we print out or put on line and arrived early to view the items they are interested in. The firm takes 15 per cent of whatever the sale makes.

"A groundworker who recently lost his job his now making a living by selling glassware. He has exploited his hobby of visiting auctions and selling stuff on eBay to build up a good working knowledge of his chosen objects."

The lots for sale come from lost or confiscated property from airports, end of lines from catalogues or from the houses cleared by Chris and his four loyal members of staff - and of course from ordinary members of the public who want to make money or more space in their homes.

Fashion trends mean china used to represent two thirds of his business when he started but now he says it is electronic gadgets which have proved the most popular lots.

Finding the items for sale is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack. One third floor flat he had to clear in St John's Wood proved to be the home of a compulsive hoarder and was stacked from floor to ceiling with everything the woman had ever bought in her life.

Chris said: "We literally couldn't get in the door but we were instructed to find some share certificates that were in there somewhere so we had to sift through everything very carefully."

Sometimes valuing possessions that belonged to a bereaved person's partner can be very emotional and has to be handled sensitively.

"You have to remember it might be worthless to you but might mean an awful lot to the bereaved person", said Chris.

In his tiny amount of spare time Chris has two main hobbies which he cherishes. He runs a Cub group in Harpenden which he took over when his son was eight and no-one else could be found to take it over.

Routemaster

One of the treats he offers the girls and boys is a ride on his 1966 red London double-decker Routemaster bus - his proudest possession.

He waxes lyrical about its, "iconic status as a symbol of all that is great about this country, its aesthetically pleasing with curves in all the right places."

He also has a Triumph Stag 1972 sports car which his son James thinks is "cooler" than the bus.

Both vehicles have been lovingly restored by Chris and a member of his staff.

So he combines his great love of the past with the classic vehicles but will soon be travelling into the future technologically speaking, taking his successful business to new heights.

Chris' website address is www.hertsauctions.com

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