Why you should always get two auction estimates

March 19 2012

Image of Why you should always get two auction estimates

Picture: Christie's

There is a very sad tale in this week's Antiques Trade Gazette, which, however you look at it, reflects badly on the antiques world. In 2006, Lord Coleridge, needing to raise some funds, asked Sotheby's to look at his heirloom, 'the Coleridge Collar' (above). The Chain was said to have been worn by every Chief Justice of the Common Pleas between 1551-1873. But Sotheby's said it was late 17th Century, not a Tudor original, and valued it at £35,000. Seeing that the Chain was worth less than he had hoped to raise, Lord Coleridge made what he described as the 'traumatic' decision to sell his Devon home, Chanter's House, where his family had lived since the 18th Century. He also included the Chain in the sale to the new owners.

But then, two years later, the new owners sold the Chain, as a Tudor original, at Christie's for £313,250 (inc. premium). Lord Coleridge, understandably miffed, decided to sue Sotheby's. But last week he effectively lost the case, and now has to pay costs of many hundreds of thousands of pounds. From the ATG:

Essentially Lord Coleridge's case was that Sotheby's had taken too little time and care in researching the chain. His legal team set out to prove this with recourse to scientific testing, analysis of manufacturing techniques and prolonged and vigorous cross-examination of witnesses. But the judge's verdict was that all this effectively added nothing to the conclusion reached by Sotheby's expert Elizabeth Mitchell during what he acknowledged was a hurried visit to the Coleridge family home to inspect the collar: namely that there was no record of the chain prior to 1714 and that there was nothing to prove that it was not of post-Restoration manufacture.

This ultimately means that a court has decided the Chain is not certainly Tudor, so where that leaves the new owners, and Christie's, I don't really know. I'm no specialist in this field, but I saw it at the 2008 sale and it seemed to me entirely genuine, and of Tudor origin.

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