"Whether it’s the contents of a historic house or the collection of a movie star like Lauren Bacall, we love to go behind the scenes and this is exactly what house sales allow." Charlie Thomas is Director of House Sales and Private Collections at Bonhams. Charlie is currently working with us on the exciting Lorfords X Bonhams online sale, which is now live!
Q: It has been a tumultuous year or so for the antiques industry. What changes, due to the pandemic, do you think are here to stay?
The use of technology in the auction industry has advanced at a pace we have never seen before. Before the pandemic, we didn’t have an app and we could never have imagined selling to an empty room of just screens. The pandemic has made us look at how we interact with clients and we are better for it.
Q: What is your favourite furniture period? Why?
I love 18th Century country furniture. For me, antiques must be practical and comfortable as well as beautiful. 18th Century furniture ticks a lot of those boxes - plus with children and dogs, it has to be forgiving to damage, which luckily… it is!
Q: What drew you to antiques in the first place? How did you get started in your career?
It was auctions that first attracted me to this industry. I love every aspect of the job, from valuing and cataloguing to interacting with the sellers and buyers. Then, of course, the thrill of the auction itself! I joined the Bonhams furniture department as a junior cataloguer in 2002 and I haven’t looked back since.
House sales unearth all sorts of amazing treasures. A few highlights are the cache of letters between Lord Harlech (David Ormsby-Gore) and Jackie Kennedy. We found the letters in a Government dispatch box from the Bonhams sale of Lord Harlech’s estate.
Q: Do house sales require a degree of sensitivity? Is there an emotional dimension?
Yes. It’s a big decision to sell the contents of a house, whether the collection has been collected over many generations or just one, every object means something and tells a story, which is also why they are so popular.
Q: One piece of advice for someone new to attending auctions?
Don’t be afraid to come along and ask questions. Auction houses are nothing like the intimidating environments that many people expect. We are here to make the experience as easy as possible for the seller and the buyer. Also, we aren’t museums, and we encourage potential buyers to handle objects, learn and hopefully fall in love!
English late 18th and 19th Century painted pieces are becoming very popular and their prices are creeping up.
Q: What is the most fascinating object that has passed through your hands?
So many! House sales unearth all sorts of amazing treasures. A few highlights are the cache of letters between Lord Harlech (David Ormsby-Gore) and Jackie Kennedy. We found the letters in a Government dispatch box from the Bonhams sale of Lord Harlech’s estate. Another highlight was the emerald pendant belonging to Tipu Sultan we found in the Lord Glenconner Collection. Most recently it's got to be the amazing carved 16th Century armorial panels we found in Dunrobin Castle's attics. These came from the Queen Regent's House in Edinburgh.
Q: You were recently involved in The Dunrobin Attic Sale, a highly anticipated event that didn't disappoint. Why are house sales so important to this industry?
The story and history behind the houses, the vendor, and the objects are fascinating and this is a huge draw for potential bidders. Whether it’s the contents of a historic house or the collection of a movie star like Lauren Bacall, we love to go behind the scenes and this is exactly what house sales allow.
Q: What period or style do you feel is having a moment right now?
I'm seeing a huge increase in demand for painted furniture. Swedish furniture is most associated with being painted, but English late 18th and 19th Century painted pieces are becoming very popular and their prices are creeping up.
Q: What is the most exciting piece in the upcoming Lorfords X Bonhams sale, in your opinion?
I think I’m most excited about the amount of Howard & Sons furniture featured in this sale. I’ve always dreamt of owning a Howard armchair to sink into whilst spending all day reading the papers. This sale has some AMAZING examples, and the best bit is that they have all been reupholstered so they are ready to go straight from saleroom to home.
Q: If you could choose a Lorfords piece that's not in the sale for your own home, what would it be?
Good question! Possibly all the remaining duck decoys!
Q: What object makes your house your home?
For me, it’s my George III bookcase. I’ve filled it with everything I love, including a collection of Japanese ivories, works of art, fossils, and pottery made by my children. It’s a bit of a Wunderkammer….
Q: As we emerge from lockdown, what are you most looking forward to?
I want to say hugs, but…. Skiing!
Q: Who is your dream dinner party guest?
Alive: if Toby wasn’t free, then it would have to be Sir David Attenborough. Dead: it's Sir Winston Churchill.
Q: Tell us something we would be surprised to know about you?
I’m very horsey!