Businesses all over the world are having to adapt to new ways of working.

Charles Miller Ltd, an auction house specialising in maritime and scientific models, instruments and fine art is no exception.

I interviewed Charles to find out how everyone at Charles Miller Ltd is gearing up for their first ever online only auction.

Charles Miller Ltd – Unshaken

My first ever sale was called “Phoenix”

“I give each sale a code name. The code name is always a naval ship name from the date of the sale. 

I ran the Maritime department at Christies until they decided to close it. My company was founded out of the ashes and my first sale was held on 17th July 2008. Would you believe, on that day, something happened to an HMS “Phoenix“!

The original date for this sale was 28th April and the code name chosen because something happened to an HMS “Unshaken”. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the sale to be postponed to 7th July but we kept the code name for the sale.

We hope ‘Unshaken’ is an appropriate name for this sale!”

What does the ‘sale room’ look like this year?

“We will be doing the sale from our unit (rather than the auction room) which is crammed full of sale items. We can’t display the Lots very nicely but we can pull most objects out very quickly. So I can find things easily when customers come for viewings.”

Charles shows us around his lockdown ‘sale room’ and talks through some of the fascinating stories behind a few of the Lots available in the sale

This is Charles

Viewing the Lots – Pictures speak a 1000 words

The catalogue for the sale is online 

The catalogue is a fully searchable PDF. You can search by Lot number or key word. (Put CTRL F and your search term at the bottom of the page)

“I have uploaded over 2500 additional images and reckon on supplying more than 5000 images for the sale. All of which will be on my website, and the bidding platforms.

There is a lot of data and information available about each Lot and it means that Condition Reports are becoming more and more obsolete. It’s much better to see photographs and make up your own mind.”

The sale is viewing now by appointment so you can come and say hello!

Call +44 (0) 207 806 5530 to make an appointment to view Lots in person at the unit in Fulham (SW6 2AG)

Is there a ‘reminder’ system for Lots that customers are interested in bidding for on the day?

“Yes, you can be notified of anything you’re interested in by registering via our website. Choose a key word or lot number and you’ll be told automatically about Lots we have coming up that match your search criteria. Once you are registered, you can bid for Lots as well on our site.

On the other platforms you can also check a box and you will hear a bell when the lot your interested in coming up.”

“It’s best to set the reminder for 2 or 3 Lots before the one you’re interested in as this will give you time to get to the computer and get ready to bid.

We decided to start the sale at 10am as there are 332 Lots in this sale. In the old days we could get through around 100 Lots an hour in the auction room. Internet bidding made it slower with around 75 Lots an hour.

I think this sale might run at around 50 Lots an hour.”

Other bidding platforms

UKAuctioneers.com – this service offers a choice of either paying a one-off £3.95 flat fee for the sale and no further charges; or 3% of the hammer price. Charles Miller Ltd will refund successful buyers who bid via the £3.95 flat fee.

TheSaleroom.com – charges 5% of the hammer price

– charges 3% of the hammer price

Absentee or Commission bids

“You can leave Absentee bids by filling a form out on www.charlesmillerltd.com (you can do that on the other websites too but they’ll charge you 3-5%) … whereas we don’t charge.

You can also send an email to enquiries@charlesmillerltd.com with the relevant information for the absentee bid if this is easier.”

“We aim to do our best for both the vendor and the buyer

With Commission or Absentee bids we use what we need to use and no more. We aim to do our best for both the vendor and the buyer.

So, for example, if we have a commission bid of £50,000 for a Lot which was valued between £18,000 and £25,000 I would start the bidding at approximately half way down the low estimate and try and sell for as close to that as possible – but obviously if the bidding takes off then I would only use what was required. Bids normally are in 10% increments.

Estimates for the Lots in this particular sale range from £50 up to £25,000.“

How will customers get hold of Lots that they have successfully purchased?

“Customers can collect their Lots by appointment and if its not breakable stuff we can post small things from our offices so it doesn’t cost too much. 

For the larger objects we have identified two or three carriers who come by and pick up stuff. Although we aren’t sure what the government is doing with quarantine at the moment… that’s a bridge we will cross when we come to it! So we should be able to cover most of it.”

What should we look out for in this sale?

“I haven’t got a clue what will take off in this sale really! We have a lot of really lovely stuff. I have tried to highlight a few things in the video.

“The period copy of HMS “Lutine” bell is very nice although it nearly killed me to put it up!

The original ship sank with a fortune in gold. It resides at Lloyd’s and is rung once for each ship that sinks, and twice for good news. It has a beautiful sound”

Listen to the Lutine Bell – Lot 44
Lot 212
finely carved in giltwood in the form of a full- length maiden clad in wind-swept billowing gown with detachable arms, one raised, and standing on a sandy base with seashells and limpets, mounted on a later green-painted stand — 54in. (137cm.) high

”The royal yacht bell from HMS Alexandra is lovely. Titanic brochures, they’re rarities, especially the 3rd class which is the only one known. A beautiful painting by Cossé (lot 50) which is on the front cover of the catalogue.  We have some lovely things… the figure head from Great Exhibition of 1851 (lot 87) but by coincidence the Ramsgate Hoveller (lot 11) also from the Great Exhibition which was set up by Prince Albert in 1851.”

A lovely coincidence

The maquette figurehead of James Watt is interesting as it’s by Hellyer but also in the catalogue the image is facing the ship that it was on! This is just a lovely coincidence – they have been submitted to this sale by different owners.

Usually theres something that catches the light in each sale…

Its been 11 years since I sold the Flag of Trafalgar for a world record amount. 

Over the years we have had paintings, objects and figureheads which may be world record breakers. We have had paintings by the Roux family which broke all records. We have had other weird and wonderful instruments – Captain Marryat who is the author of Children in the New Forest, and of course builders models including one for the Mauritania which sold for £130K. And prisoner of war models which have made £40-50K”

Charles Miller Ltd, Sale Number 25. Code word “Unshaken” is taking place from 10am on 7th July 2020.

Register now for free to be able to bid for any of the lots in the sale.

You can see live sale action on the day via any of the three web platforms.

You won’t be able to bid but you can watch live sale action without registering.

Save the date, sit back and enjoy participating in the first online only auction by Charles Miller Ltd from the comfort of your home!

Please share this story if you know someone who enjoys maritime history and scientific instruments, art and many other curiosities

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  1. Excellent tour – most impressive

    1. It really is, Charles really knows his subject and it is hard to pack it all in to one blog!

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