Anyone in the UK with a keen interest in collectibles will have been tuning in to Channel 4’s Four Rooms over the past several weeks to see four dealers making a range – sometimes a very wide range – of offers on all manner of art, memorabilia and, well, odd stuff.
The rules are simple. Each dealer makes the owner an offer in the privacy of their own room if the owner gets round to visiting them. They can haggle, but they can’t get the next dealer’s offer without turning down the current one.
There are contracts ensuring there’s no backtracking after the show – at least for some time.
I must admit, I’m a little bit obsessed with the show to the point at which I’ve started to annoy people by talking about this, that and the other that’s turned up on there.
The large stuffed turtle, for example, the Francis Bacon work mutilated by Bacon himself, the Concorde nose cone, the signed Diana Christmas cards and the gold dentures. All good for guessing what the final price will be.
The Four Rooms experts
What does baffle me though is how little the owners often seem to know about the value of their own items, and the tactics they use.
The standard seems to be: turn up with no idea what the thing’s worth. Make a vague guess at who looks interested. Go to whoever didn’t look interested and turn their offer down flat whatever it is, and then only accept a lot more than that from another dealer.
In the case of the Gilbert and George gin bottle, the owner saved Gordon Watson to last and then didn’t go to see him anyway. He was fuming as he’d have happily paid them much more.
Here are a few ideas for anyone thinking of going on there:
1. Maybe look up what similar items have sold for at auction etc before showing up. Auction results can be weird one-offs, but it’s a start.
2. Failing that, at least try not to look baffled when a dealer mentions some past sales. It’s roughly the equivalent of playing poker for money, showing everyone your hand and saying ‘Am I likely to win here?’
3. Know your dealer. Emma Hawkins hasn’t made many offers over $50,000 but has often made quite fair offers below that. If you have art or an antique which you know has a market, Gordon Watson is a good bet.
If it’s more speculative, try Jeff Salmon (but don’t accept his first offer!). He’s worth a shot for film and music memorabilia too. For oddities and curiosities, try Emma. Oh and of course Andrew Lamberty bought Concorde’s nose cone (and sold it at a profit…)
4. If you think someone will make you a great offer, see them first. At least if you’re wrong (and you know what a good offer is) you have three dealers who might surprise you.
5. Turn up equally prepared to take the first offer, or reject all four.
It’s great to see Four Rooms encouraging TV audiences to enjoy collectibles …. it’s definitely got me hooked!
Four Rooms experts image: Channel 4