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What happens to the family heirlooms?

We all long to discover a forgotten masterpiece in the attic. Most families unwittingly gather vast amounts of objects and curios that have been handed down from one generation to another and without doubt every piece tells its own story. But are they worth anything?

Charles Graham Campbell is a valuer/appraiser for auctioneers Bonhams and he has the fascinating job of going into people’s homes and distinguishing the fine art from the fake.
Here Charles answers our questions about the things that we leave behind and putting a price on family heirlooms.

Q: Bonhams has conducted a sale of property from Stobhall, the home of Viscount Strathallan, what treasures did you find here?
A: This was fascinating and part of the joy of being an auctioneer. The Drummond family history is filled with war and romance. From daughters who married future kings to valour on the battle field at Culloden; from diplomatic service to the intelligence corps, this was a family that enjoyed privilege and endured suffering, who travelled the world and who played an important part in national events.
The current Viscount’s grandfather was quite a collector and we had the great honour to auction in excess of 350 lots including rare Chines ceramics and works of art, silver, furniture, pictures, porcelain and textiles. There were also some important pieces relating to the Jacobite cause, including a rare Delft bowl decorated with the portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a sword said to have been lost at Culloden Field in 1746.
The combination of the personal stories and a vast array of unusual pieces made this a tremendous sale to work on.

Q: Stobhall must be quite exceptional as not all the homes you visit in your job are on quite such a grand scale. What other interesting discoveries have you made?
A: We visit many different households. Not so long ago we discovered a painting of a dog in the home of a gentleman who had recently deceased. The family suspected that it might be valuable. However, the potential was significantly increased when we found the pedigree book of the dog in the picture. The book and the picture together gave us the story of a much loved family pet and both went to auction in New York, where it raised much more than was expected – and ultimately returned to Scotland!

Q: The role of auctioneer is quite a historic one, but how has the work of auctioneers changed over the years?
A: Historically, there were auction houses in every town and often it was an extension of the role of livestock auctioneers!  Bonhams, itself was first founded in 1793 and we now have more than 70 specialist departments dealing with everything from motor cars, through to sporting guns, jewellery through to Asian art. So there have certainly been some big changes over the years.
The level of knowledge an auction house can gather is phenomenal. Once a work of art could be ‘attributed to’ a particular artist or style, however, now with the resources we have almost every piece can be properly ascribed. For the same reason, auction houses are themselves rightly under greater scrutiny. We are continually growing our knowledge as we have to be accountable to our clients and get valuations right.
The other big change is the internet. It makes every auction global. We can have bidders on the phone or on an internet connection taking part in our auctions on Queen Street from all over the world. At the same time, the net to find a potential buyer, particularly for specialist items, can be cast much, much further than it once was.
Q: Your role is also so much more than ‘auctioneer’ – tell us a little more about the services and working alongside Pagan Osborne.
A: The services we offer are quite comprehensive. We will often be called upon by lawyers such as Pagan Osborne to do inheritance tax or probate valuations on a person’s death, where the government requires all items over a £500 ‘price tag’ to be listed.

On some occasions it is our task to identify items that have been listed in Wills simply with a description such as ‘the table I always write on’ or ‘the cat vase’, which turns us into detective. Then there are market and insurance valuations which might be needed by Pagan Osborne clients for family division, inheritance tax planning, capital gains tax, to consider selling or perhaps when a person goes into a home and their chattels needs to be inventoried. 

If you are named as Executor in a Will, fulfilling your responsibility to settle the deceased’s estate can be a daunting, complex and stressful task. As experts in all aspects of Scottish executry law, we can provide whatever support you may need to fulfil your duties as an executor. This includes compiling a detailed inventory and valuation of the estate, settling any debts, distributing the assets and completing all the necessary forms required by the Sheriff Court and HM Revenue and Customs.
It can be complicated, especially if there are any unexpected claims against the estate or if a Court appoints you as an executor in the absence of a valid Will. The simple answer is to leave everything to the professionals at Pagan Osborne.


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0131 624 6820 for Edinburgh or 01334 475001 for Fife to discuss your needs.

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