An interview with an auctioneer

Julian Thomson, Managing Director of Anderson and Garland Auctioneers, recently featured on a popular local podcast, ‘My Friends in the North!’

In this podcast by Newcastle entrepreneur Sarah Waddington, Julian discusses how he got involved in the auction trade, the benefits of selling at auction and more on the auction industry.

Sarah: How and when did the auction trade become your choice of career?

Julian: Probably I was in the right place at the right time, more by luck than design. I’ve been in the business since I was 16. I got a moderate amount of O levels and was just sort of searching around for things to do – when I did my O levels, back in the day, but don’t want to give my age away there!

So I saw an advert in a local paper and just took the job, just for a few months at the time, but it just so happened that I was delighted to fall into a job that I absolutely loved, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Sarah: And the rest is history!

Julian: The rest as they say is history, indeed.

Sarah: Fantastic! Let’s talk about the auction trade. It’s not an obvious choice as a job, really. Do you worry about succession planning? Where do you find your pipeline of talent? You’ve got quite a big team here. What did you and your colleagues study and how do you find people?

Julian: We’ve got a big team; we’ve got a very specialist team. Most of my colleagues and me tend to fall into this business really. Although I’m a qualified art and antiques surveyor, you don’t have to be qualified in this business. It’s useful but it’s not essential. I have a colleague who came from an art degree at Sunderland, and other colleagues like myself have really just worked their way up. We tend to come in young, at 16, 17. Learning is very much on the job in this business, there’s very little you can just learn in the classroom, it’s all about handling the items and seeing them. Especially as I did in my early career, and I know some of my colleagues who sort of latch on to a really good specialist who is very generous with his knowledge. And that’s how we learn. And it’s just years and years of that.

Sarah: And I guess if it doesn’t suit someone, they move out pretty quickly.

Julian: Yep, absolutely.

Sarah: Okay. So, for those who might be new to it, tell us about auctioneering and how it’s different than buying and selling goods elsewhere. Has it changed much over the years?

Julian:  It has from when I started. I mean, vendors come to us with either a single item, a collection or a whole house to clear.

Basically, our strengths are that we can walk into a house and we can pinpoint A. what is of value and B. what is not of value. We can then expertly catalogue the items that are of value. Thirdly, we know where all the major dealers, collectors and enthusiasts are right around the world so we can access that market. So, in effect, we can get a lot more than if you were to sell the items on your own. People employ us to get the highest prices for their goods, because we can access those sort of specialist markets around the globe really.  

Sarah: Yeah, so I guess you’re not just taking it somewhere or putting it on eBay or wherever it might be and hoping for the best, something might list and then not sell.

Julian: Yes, that’s right. So we will take say a Moorcroft vase or a George III armchair or whatever and we can expertly catalogue it, give a condition report and put that out on the market.

Sarah: So, you give a full description, you take a picture, assign a lot number.

Julian: Yes, so we are offering a guarantee. On some sites you don’t get that.

So that is basically what we’re about and nowadays of course with the internet – certainly in the last five or ten years – it’s made a huge difference.

Sarah: It’s been revolutionised here since when I first started working with you! That came in afterwards. Now with access to buyers in China and  places around the world, it’s astonishing.

Julian: It is, it is. Live bidding came in around the mid noughties, circa 2006, 2007, and it has revolutionised. We can put something up online and it immediately pings up on someone’s Google search or one of the websites we use to market. It’s gotten to stage now where about 70-80% of the goods are either bought or under bid online now.

Sarah: I would say that if you haven’t been to an auction, I would really urge listeners to go and watch because it is something else watching you all in action, up on the podium, on the phone and online! The pace of it as well – it’s a great day out!

Julian: It is a great day out, it’s exciting seeing lots of different bids coming in.

Sarah: You must be exhausted at the end.

Julian: Yes, we like to put on a bit of a show!

Sarah: And there’s always great humour along the way!


‘My Friends in the North’ is a twenty-minute podcast featuring influential organisational leaders from around the North of England. Hear the rest of Julian’s interview to discover details of our record-breaking sales, why we as auctioneers are dedicated to giving back to our local economy, how Brexit could impact the auction industry and Julian’s favourite places to visit around Northumberland.

Listen to the full podcast.




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