Sunday sit-down with… Aurora Durham
We meet the 27-year-old auctioneer blowing the dust off the stereotypes of the antiques industry…
Many of us could be guilty of assuming that the world of auctioneering is only attractive to antiques, so to speak.
But at Ripon auction house Elstob & Elstob, it seems the excitement of bidding is winning over a new generation – in the form of new recruit, 27-year-old administrator Aurora Durham.
Blowing the dust off the antiquated stereotypes surrounding the industry, Aurora has noticed a steady rise in younger customers buying and selling at the auction house – whether it be to furnish their first home, to try their hand at a side-hustle for extra income, or to give themselves a fun upcycling project – and Aurora is keen to welcome more of the younger generation into an industry often seen as a little intimidating.
And why wouldn’t we want to be welcomed in? Auction houses are the perfect balance between a museum and a shop – where age-old treasures aren’t locked away behind glass cabinets, but available to see, hold, admire and even take home. Fast, competitive bidding battles get hearts racing, their second-hand nature means we’re shopping more sustainably, and the pieces we find are guaranteed to be unique.
And, perhaps most importantly of all – especially in this current economic market – they won’t break the bank.
Yep, that’s another myth about the industry that we can cross off our list. Because, while there’s always going to be that one showstopping find (that’ll probably find its way onto Dickinson’s Real Deal at some point), Aurora is keen to stress that, more often than not, antiques actually provide us with a thriftier shopping option – as opposed to the overpriced, shiny new furniture we can find in a lot of interior design stores.
Now studying Environmental Studies at the Open University alongside her job at the auction house, we managed to squeeze into Aurora’s busy schedule to find out what life is really like as one of the youngest women working in an age-old industry…
What do you love about the antiques industry?
I enjoy ‘old things’ – they have a history and, therefore, a character. Plus, they were made in a time with limited technology in comparison to today’s mass manufacturing. These pieces tend to be of better quality; if a piece is 100 years old, it will most likely survive another 100 years.
Also, antique items aren’t considered to be fashionable, but there’s far more room for manoeuvre in finding your own tastes or styles in antique or ‘vintage’ items – whether your taste is Contemporary, Georgian or both!
What is it about antiques that you think is starting to appeal to an increasingly younger generation?
As the economy stands now, second-hand items are far more within the reach of the younger generation than brand new pieces at high prices. For example, when we’re moving into a new home, it’s near impossible for most of us to furnish an entire place with brand new items without getting into debt. Whereas buying second-hand at auction is affordable, items are well made, they can be customised to taste and are replaceable without causing a strain on the environment or your pocket.
The younger generation is also far more aware of the impact mass production and the various kinds of pollution and cheap labour issues that can be associated with it. You see all sorts of apps now for second-hand clothing and accessories, like Vinted or depop, and auction houses are the same for homeware. It’s part of being able to do your bit, reuse and recycle.
There’s an assumption that antiques are out of our price range. How affordable can some pieces be in reality?
Of course some pieces have the potential to go for a fortune. Most of the time, (unless the piece is of a high value to begin with), prices rise when two people are interested and are willing to go higher and higher. But if you’re the only person with real interest, you can get a piece you love at a reasonable price. I’m also a firm believer of if you buy cheap, you buy twice. So, you can initially spend a bit more on a piece that is already aged, but you’ve got confidence it will stand the time of time – because it already has.
For anyone who hasn’t been to an auction house before, what can they expect?
It can seem overwhelming at first. Auction houses are often busting at the seams with pieces, but it’s important to keep an open mind. Look for the potential in things, rather than what’s presented in front of you.
Auction houses usually provide a viewing a few days prior to the sale, although some only offer this service by appointment or between certain times. There are so many ways to bid: in person with a paddle, over the telephone, online, or you can leave commission bids, where you tell the auctioneer the highest price you’re willing to spend and they’ll bid on your behalf. This last option is good if you know you might get carried away with spending!
There’s a lot of information to absorb when buying at auction – buyers commission, internet bidding fees, annotations in the catalogue – so ask questions. We would rather you asked than went in unsure of what’s going on.
What has been your all-time favourite antique find?
So far, my favourite thing (and possibly the least extravagant thing) was a book of French prints of unique and beautiful hot air balloons. I cut the pages out of the books and framed each one. Now I have a stunning feature wall on my stairs which didn’t cost me much but looks as if I spent a fortune. I always like to keep an eye out for antique books with maps or botanical illustrations to frame.
What would you most love to achieve within the antiques industry?
I would love to shift the perception that auction houses are full of dusty old objects and people of a certain demographic. They’re actually a treasure trove, inclusive of all tastes, ages and needs.