Chatting with antique expert Catherine Southon on the art of finding a bargain, parenting and being the Queen for a day


Bargain Hunt fans and antiques’ lovers will love my chat with antique expert and Mumpreneur Catherine Southon on the art of finding a bargain, parenting and being the Queen for a day. 



Q: Catherine, how would you encourage children to learn the art of finding a bargain?

CS: I think it’s important to teach children the value of money as soon as you can – that’s the first hurdle!! I have seen children in Hamlets wrapping their arms around gigantic bears saying ‘Can we get this mum – its only £599!!

Q: What’s your parenting style? 

CS: I think it’s really important to listen, to encourage, be loving and fun but firm when it matters!!


Q: What’s your favourite London landmark and why?

CS: Tate Britain has to be one of my favourites. I spend a lot of time there as a history of are student and now Im enjoying it with my daughter. 

Q: What would you do if you were Queen of Britain?

CS: I would add an extra few hours to everyone’s day, and cook a gourmet dinner for every mum in the country (with champagne!!).


A contemporary Mappin & Webb silver jubilee silver and silver gilt condiment suite, London 1977


Q: You are well-known from various BBC antiques programmes, but you also set up your own auction house five years ago. How did you get into the antiques world?


CS: Having gained a Masters in History of Art, I already had an established interest in the Arts, and my grandfather although I never really knew him, was at auctions every week – so I guess it was in the blood!!


I have been working in the antiques world now for 21 years now! I was fortunate to start my career at Sotheby’s Bond Street as an assistant in various departments, before settling in the Collector’s and Clock & Watches departments. Whilst I was there I was lucky to be surrounded by the very best objects, and witnessed landmark auctions and record breaking prices. I trained as an auctioneer at Sotheby’ and eventually became Head of Scientific Instruments and Marine Works of Art.


During this time I started working as an expert and presenter on four BBC antiques programmes which I still work on today.



Q: What programme do you enjoy most?


CS: Probably The Antiques Road Trip which is enormous fun. On this programme we drive around the country in classic cars trying to find treasures – which I can tell is much more of a challenge than it sounds!!



Q: What do you like most about your job in your auctions?


CS: I love the fact that each day is different and you never know what you are going to see next!! A client comes into one of my valuation day’s with a supermarket bag and unveiled with most wonderful Chinese sculpture I had ever seen – I went on to sell it for £24,000.


I also enjoy the fact that we are always learning. In this job you can never know everything! Furthermore, fashions change, and what was collectable ten years ago has dropped in-value and new trends have evolved. It’s important to keep up-to-date with prices as much as you can.

But nothing beats the drama of a live auction with people fiercely bidding in the audience and the hammer slams down at a record price!


Q: Since setting up your own auction house have you had any special discoveries?


CS: There have been a number of amazing items which we have discovered, and these often happen when you least expect them to. Such as a pair of silver salts in the form of Kangaroo’s which were bought into our office on a cold, wet afternoon – these went on to sell for a staggering £18,000; a Faberge frame from a lady who had absolutely know idea of the value or rarity of the item; and a rare Del Campo painting from a house clearance of a gentleman who didn’t especially rate his picture – which we recognised and sold for a record £24,000.


Q: Are there any regrets on setting up your own auction?


CS: My only problem is that I don’t have enough hours in the day. I would like to spend more time researching and cataloguing like I used to. Now I have to leave the researching  to my expert team – I’m always out on the road.



Q: Do you think auctions are still for everyone?


CS: Absolutely, auctions are not just for collectors. I think anyone setting up home, should always check out some auctions as well. You can pick up some fabulous furniture, paintings and works of art at affordable prices.



Q: Any advice on what to buy for the future?


CS: As experts this is something we are constantly asked, and if I knew I would be buying it all myself!! Its so hard to predict how the market will be in future generations. Who knew thirty years ago that Lowry prints would be making thousands of pounds at auctions yet Georgian furniture would be making so much less.


What I would say if you are looking to buy or start collecting, try and buy the best you possibly can and buy because you love the object not necessarily because you think it is a good investment.


More information on Catherine Southon can be found on her website


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