When I tell people that I am an Arts and Antiques Surveyor I often see a look of bewilderment on their faces, which suggests they think I measure chests of drawers for a living and can spot woodworm from fifty paces. It’s fair to say we are in the minority when it comes to RICS members, but that doesn’t mean what we do is any less important or any less fascinating for that matter. The valuations and advice we provide is of great importance not just to our clients but to third parties, and on a larger scale, the economy.
This is a fulfilling career path and rarely are two days the same, but don’t be fooled by what you see on the TV or perceive to be a lifestyle career, reality is far from the realms of glamour. In a provincial saleroom it is hard graft from start to finish. An Arts and Antiques Surveyor will be privileged to work on some great valuations and handle important objects demanding a high level of technical expertise. There will also be more mundane valuation work, often in undesirable surroundings, which should be carried out to the same high standard.
You are likely to spend quite a lot of time on the road meeting clients and some days you might cover a lot miles only to draw a blank. On more successful adventures away from the saleroom you might secure a fantastic collection like this single owner collection of Linthorpe Pottery (pictured below) but reality is you can never predict it and that’s part of the excitement.
The real beauty however, comes from being able to see something through from start to finish; from that initial meeting with the seller to taking the auction. Along the way, you’re seduced by wonderful objects like this wonderful Clarice Cliff vase (sold for £1,300 – pictured below) and intrigued by the stories behind pieces, such as the superb Chinese carved ivory tusk we sold in 2015 (pictured below), having been in the family of a former Norwegian acting consul to Singapore.
It’s the knowledge behind these objects that I think is needed in order to be successful in our industry along with a good head for business. A great number of people think that auction houses have it good when taking a commission from both buyer and seller, but the commission you earn from selling a 1930s walnut four piece bedroom suite for £50 does not cover what it costs to store, carry, catalogue, photograph and deliver. In short, you will be judged as much on what you don’t sell as what you do sell and managing the expectations of sellers is increasingly important.
On the job experience embellished with some academic qualifications will prepare you to undertake the job of an Arts and Antiques Surveyor. RICS offers membership to Arts and Antiques Surveyors but offers little in the way of CPD and you will often have to look elsewhere for relevant events.
As there is no formal requirement to be an RICS member to practice as an auctioneer and valuer, hiring firms tend not to stipulate that candidates should be RICS members. This is a shame because it generally means those who have trained earn the same as those who haven’t. However, experience is quite rightly valued.
For an Arts and Antiques Surveyor with five to ten years experience, a salary of between £30,000 and £40,000 plus bonuses can be expected. Firms in London and the south-east tend to pay higher salaries but the higher costs of living can offset these gains.
In terms of professional growth, most firms have processes in place that enable key members to become partners and there is always the option of going it alone and setting up your own business. While extremely rewarding, the set-up costs can be restrictive.
For a job that may sound like a standard 9 to 5, this one is actually far from it requiring dedication and flexibility. Around the time of a catalogue deadline you can expect to be eating three meals a day at the office and even during quieter periods, when you can leave the office at 5pm, there will still be some additional hours needed due to viewings days, requests to take charity auctions, often on an evening, and group talks.