Just to recap, in case anyone else was as misled as Dandelion was by my half-baked command of the English language.
I had seen, and hoped to buy, a coffee cup (no saucer) on which had, in the 1770s, been painted a representation of a grey elephant, and on this elephant rode a Chinese man, dressed in traditional robes.
I travelled to the Angel and walked to El and Phil’s flat. Glasses of wine were poured and I told them about my day. I described the coffee cup and said that, with the sale starting at 10.30, I had every hope of arriving for the start and at any rate, would be there by the time the L0west0ft came up. “There’s an estimate of £600-£800 on the cup” I said. “I won’t get it for that – but I’ve a hope at £1,000.”
I tell you this, not because I want you to know how much I was willing to spend, but because of El’s reaction.
She drew a deep breath. “I say!” she exclaimed. “I should run that past Dad first!”
The poor child will never live that one down. Sniffily, I reminded her that a) I was spending my own money and that b) I knew it was well worth it. £1,000 was a realistic, but quite optimistic expectation. Furthermore, c) it was for the Sage’s Christmas present and he didn’t know anything about it.
She had already realised what she had said, and backtracked at once. “I mean, it will give him such pleasure to imagine you bidding. You know what he’s like. And how do you think you are going to keep quiet about this between now and Christmas? You’re bound to tell him anyway – and if you don’t, someone else will.”
This was all true and I relented. I phoned home. I described the coffee cup once more and the Sage replied at once. “You won’t miss it for a bid or two, will you?” A couple of hours later, he rang again. “I think you’d better go up to £1,400.” Commission would, of course, be on top of the bid price.
The next day I left the flat, took the Tube to Covent Garden and walked to India House. I was fourth in line, although within half an hour there was a long line of people behind me. Once the doors opened, I was quickly dealt with and I had time for breakfast before setting off for the auction house. I arrived in good time, fetched my bidding paddle and chose a seat near the back, on the left-hand side near the rows of telephones set up for the phone bidders. I greeted several people I knew, some of whom are regular bidders at our sales.
I noted down bids in my catalogue, thus destroying its resale value. Pfft. If you’ve registered for a phone bid, the clerk calls you a few minutes early, to make sure there isn’t a delay. Two people were phoned for my lot, 254*. I was apprehensive, but when I heard the explanation that there was a mistake in the catalogue and that the picture labelled 253 was for 254 and vice versa I smiled inwardly. Confuse the opposition!
I had decided that I would go to £1400 or £1500, depending whether I was caught on odd or even bids. I started early, at £400, by holding up my paddle firmly. Some people prefer to be discreet, not to let others know who is bidding, but I’d decided that my tactic was to look keen and strong. I nodded at once for £600, for £800 and for £1.000. The phone bidders were silent and the man in the front row shook his head. When the auctioneer banged down his gavel and announced my number, I smiled my appreciation to him.
So, for a total, after tax (not VAT on the commission as it was not from an EU country, but import duty instead) of something like £1225, the Sage had his Christmas present. I waited until the end of the L0west0ft and slipped out to pay. Then I went to phone him, and El. People came out, and chatted to me. They teased me, when they heard why I’d bought it. They were jealous though…
When I arrived home, I asked the Sage if he wanted it at once, or on the day. Nobly, he said he’d wait. When he saw it again, he realised that he’d missed it, in favour of another item (couldn’t afford both). twelve years before. This is the reason he had, until I reminded him, convinced himself that he had sent me to go and bid for it.
Last year, a friend of a friend saw the matching saucer at an antiques market, but didn’t believe it could be L0west0ft (“they didn’t do elephants!”) and so missed it.
If any of you see it, please let me know.
*I think, I haven’t checked