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Jeffrey Archer's Auctioneering Tips - and How He Came to Own Lord Nelson's Table

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Many charities in the UK are £42 million richer thanks to the auctioneering skills of Jeffrey Archer.

Yesterday he shared his tips with an audience keen to learn how to get money from the rich. In the last 30 years, Jeffrey's "hobby" has become auctioneering, and with more than 1,000 under his belt, he clearly excels at it.

I can see why he loves it so much too. Jeffrey is a natural entertainer and socialite, very witty and amusing, and was happy to hang around for a lengthy time at the end of his presentation to answer questions from those who swarmed around him. Nobody was rushed and he was affable to all.

I was wearing my Headway hat on this occasion and couldn't resist putting in a pitch to Jeffrey afterwards; disappointingly, he is fully booked for the next three years. 

Jeffrey's fundraising dates back to his childhood days as a scout in Weston super Mare when he raised £3 and ten shillings during bob-a-job week as an 11-year-old, which must have seemed a fortune at the time.

If you want to know how to get money from the rich, I hope you enjoy these highlights from his presentation:

Jeffrey advises that the three vital things to get right are the venue, the lots and the people in the room! But beware, this is what can happen if the mix isn't right:

"I once did an auction at Lambeth Palace in aid of Christian Aid; well, you can't get a much better venue than Lambeth Palace. The problem was, the only people who turned up were bishops and their wives, and we only raised £1,400.

"Only a mile away in Battersea a few weeks later, I did an auction in a tent where Lawrence Dallaglio had arranged for his victorious England rugby team to attend to raise money for rugby charities, and we raised £600,000 pounds. It isn't the venue which is most important.

"The lots for Lambeth Palace were rubbish. The lots for Lawrence Dallaglio were amazing. For example, he had the whole team up on the stage and had a seat in the centre and you could sit with the winning England team and have your photo taken for £1,000; seventy-three people had their photo taken with the winning England team. I also sold an England shirt signed by the entire England team for £20,000 to Mel Smith, and later sold another shirt the same vintage, also signed by the team a few weeks ago for £700.

"So we come to the third point, and the most important, who is in the room. That actually decides it.

"I once sold a piece of Paul McCartney sheet music £12,000, then later a signed John Lennon sheet of music some months later for £72,000. It depends who is in the room and how much they bid. You can sell rubbish to the rich, but you can't sell wonderful things to the poor.

"My record at the low level is that I sold a signed Elvis Presley photograph in a St John's Church fete for £3. Someone (not me) sold a football with our winning World Cup team, all 11 players signed it, and it made £40 in Truro. I could have signed it for £20,000 at a dinner in Wembley."

This is my favourite anecdote because Lord Nelson is my hero. It's another cautionary tale.

"The president of the Royal College of Surgeons asked me to raise money for the Royal College of Surgeons, obviously a very worthwhile cause, and he came to see me on his own. He was a former president and he was a very distinguished man, and he sat down with me and told me the items. I told him in all truth that this is too good. He wanted to hold the auction in his back garden on a Saturday afternoon - not a great venue. He wanted to invite a few of his friends, not clever.

So I said to him, 'Why don't we put it in one of my major auctions that I do every year,  the biggest one I do every year, Make a Wish, we raise a quarter of a million every year and I will split it with you 50-50.

"One of  items he had was one of the tables that had been on HMS Victory, it was Nelson's table. Frankly, at the right auction, anyone would sell Nelson's table.

"I turned up in the middle of some sleepy village in Surrey, I go to the back garden, there are 30 people standing on the lawn, and I know I am in for a disaster.

"I come to the table. This is not only an historic piece of merchandise, it is also beautiful. So I thought, I will open the bidding.  If you are an auctioneer, the rules are clear, you should never bid. I bid £5,000 by opening the bid and saying, 'The bid is with me', and the next bid is £6,000. I said, ' I will bid 7, I will bid 7. Anybody 8? Anybody 8?'

"I own that table. And I have left it to the Imperial War Museum in my will because I think that even in 30 years of auctioneering it is disgraceful that I have got it.

"Here is the worst part. I go up to the president afterwards and say, 'I did say so sir, why don't we put it into the Make a Wish auction and we will sell it and you take half. He said, 'No, I'll take the £7,000.'"

I'm speechless!

Jeffrey also told us about an another purchase, a picture of Margaret Thatcher wearing a hat and long dress at a Conservative Party conference with a chair being held back by Ted Heath.

"I wasn't sure if he was going to pull it another inch. That's in my loo and I paid £50 for it."

Another amusing story relates to a group of boisterous Irishmen, and woe betide those who misbehave when Jeffrey is taking bids.

"A couple of years ago I did an auction for Wooden Spoon, which works with rugby players to help children, I do 30 auctions a year and will do this one for the rest of my life.

"They did a dinner to honour the Wallace brothers, three Irish men who all played for Ireland and all played for Lions. They were three of the most delightful men I have met, big rugby forwards and were sitting there with their mother and father at the centre table.

"I had a table of ten drunken Irishmen nearby and they were very noisy. They were talking and chatting when I was taking bids and I told them I had had enough, but they wouldn't take any notice. I then pointed to one of them and said, 'You in the front, up.  You are fined £1,000 for the charity for your disgraceful noisy behaviour.' He took a wallet out, produced £1,000 and handed it across.

"Another man behind him leapt up and said, 'You are picking on my friend Jeffrey, why aren't you picking on me?' He took his wallet out and gave me £1,000, and then the whole table got up and gave me £1,000 each, so you can never tell in an auction where it is going to go."

Jeffrey recommends that great items to auction are exotic holidays to Barbados or Kenya including flights, and with a car to the airport and back both ends as millionaires are too lazy to make their own transport arrangements to the airport.

There is also a huge demand for tickets to desirable events, such as Wimbledon or FA Cup Finals, and particularly the Olympic opening ceremony; Jeffrey recently auctioned a pair of tickets for this sought after ceremony for £22,000. Celebrity chefs cooking in your home is very popular too, and someone paid a fortune for Anton Mosimann to cook for 10. The super chef brought his own butler and wine waiter with him, as well as the food and wine, and did the washing up too - all for £32,000.

A final word of warning, don't offer auction bids which nobody wants. At a charity event held by a Greek trillionaire, nobody bid for a dream trip around the Greek islands in a beautiful yacht; the women told Jeffrey afterwards that they all had bigger yachts of their own! It seems you can't please everyone.

By the way, Jeffrey doesn't charge commission for doing this, he asks for either a £10,000 fee or a parking space - but says he has never taken the £10,000 yet in 30 years!

There are around 600,000 millionaires in the UK, I think Jeffrey must have met most of them at his auctions!!!