Issue 229
Winter 2023/2024

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Mar 5, 2024

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 229
Winter 2023/2024 (6.85MB)

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A country auction house

Jim Railton, seen below, is an auctioneer with a theatrical background, who tells Nick Jones he is just in the 'recycling business.'

WE'RE SITTING outside Railtons saleroom in Wooler, surrounded by garden ornaments, Belfast sinks, bicycles, and panelled doors. Coming up to its tenth anniversary, it was the bus station. Now it's one of a handful of independent country town auction houses.

Jim Railton came to auctioneering by way of Scottish Opera, theatre in Ulverston, and helping establish Northumberland Theatre Company, working in schools before taking on the Playhouse in Alnwick.

Then came time as a valuer with Phillips auctioneers where Jim learnt on the job, including time in their Bond Street salerooms. With his patch running between Leeds and Edinburgh, he spotted a gap in the market and the opportunity to work for himself.

Taking on a farmhouse near Alnwick with plenty of barns, he undertook house-clearances and set up sales in appealing, spacious venues, like Chillingham and Brancepeth castles. Escalating transport costs led to his current base in Wooler where, as you'd expect, a Railtons sale has all the drama, panache and excitement of good theatre.

Jim fishes a 'piscatorial' out of his pocket. It's a delicate angler's spinner, made in Switzerland. Rare, certainly, and of potential high value to the right buyer.

Putting auctions on-line has made a huge difference, dramatically increasing the size and sometimes the value of the market. Getting the call to undertake a clearance gets the adrenalin going – you never know what you'll find! One such moment was a painting by Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw, best known for nocturnes, cityscape, and atmospheric dockside scenes.

It made more than £ 100,000, possibly a better price than a London auction-house, because of provenance, local connections and other intangible qualities that give cachet. Jim explains that the story behind the piece can make all the difference – who owned it, where it came from.

Over the years he's developed a sense for the unusual and potentially valuable. If he doesn't have the specialist knowledge himself, and he usually has, he knows who does.

That said, he claims, modestly, that he's just in the recycling business. Not an easy calling, as I realise when, walking into the saleroom, we're confronted by piles of paraphernalia, like flotsam and jetsam washed up by the tide, waiting to be identified, valued, photographed and catalogued ahead of the next sale.

Over a thousand lots, freighted with memory, use, and hopefully, value. Lovingly made, bought, cared for and used. Soon they'll have appreciative new owners.

If not, 'disposal'. Don't ask!


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