Tim Smith has just celebrated 40 years as an auctioneer. It’s been fun, he tells Roz Whistance.

A flick of an eyelid. The twitch of a finger. Hands cupped over mouths to conceal urgent phone-calls. This is the world of the sale room, and after 40 years as an auctioneer and valuer, Tim Smith’s enthusiasm for the world of antiques is far from diminishing.

“It’s a bug! The more you learn in the world of antiques, the more you want to know,” says Tim. Of course, if your 40th anniversary is marked by the most prestigious sale of your career, you are pretty likely to feel buoyed up. In August Tim brought his gavel down on a rare long-case clock which sold for a record breaking £240,000. Realising the price for his client was not only a huge feather in his own cap, but also highlighted the Isle of Wight as equal to any of the London auction rooms.

“The sale room was packed – there was a lot of world wide interest,” Tim explains. “A representative from a major clock retailer in Winchester, on behalf of a client, was in the room, and a collector from the Isle of Man was bidding by phone.”

The very fact his clients chose to sell the clock through Tim, rather than go to a major London room, says everything about Tim’s values in business. “They said I’d always been loyal over the years, so when I reached the price I did – especially as it had been entered in a London sale a few years ago and failed to reach its guide price – my clients and I were delighted with the final result.”

Tim puts his success down to those old-fashioned values of trust and loyalty. “I treat all of my clients in the same way. Whether they’ve got a one pound item or a ten thousand pounds treasure, I spend the same time with them. I explain to them why their piece is good and why it’s not good. At least the person who only had something worth a pound – which therefore wasn’t  worthy of being putting into a sale –  will hopefully recommend me to others. I’m old school: when I give my word to a client that I will offer them my experience to the full, I do. Many excellent business relationships have been built over the years with this as the basis.”

Tim joined the firm, then known as “Way Riddett & Co”, as an assistant cashier, but found he became more and more involved in the history of the items for sale. He caught the bug, the thrill of the chase, the investigation and the findings. Eventually, he found himself on the rostrum at his first auction. “I felt completely at home. When I finished, my boss came up to me and said ‘A new auctioneer has been born today’!”

Meeting Tim you might think it would have been a difficult birth. A slim, quietly spoken man with glasses, he doesn’t strike you as an entertainer. As he speaks about his job his open passion for every aspect of it is almost surprising from one seemingly so self-contained. But on the rostrum he is another man altogether, deftly fending off wisecracks and ad-libbing a response, rattling off the rising bids while apparently seeing a movement from the back of his head. It all makes for a lot of fun in the sale room.

“I don’t like auctioneers sitting there just counting. You have to be fluent, flowing, make a joke in between. You might see someone in the corner of your eye right in the middle of the bidding, and you say ‘be with you in a minute!’ They’re laughing their heads off, thinking how did he know, I haven’t even moved?’ “

That old cliché about scratching your head in the sale room and hearing the words “Sold to that lady!” is dangerously close to reality, but Tim says while he might jokingly take a bid from someone fanning themselves with the catalogue a bit of occasional teasing all helps undo the idea that an auctioneer is stuffy, and the sale room is alien.

It is, however, occasionally magical. Never knowing what the day will bring causes Tim to be effervescently excited about work each day. He describes one of his first sales, during the 1970s, which included the contents from a Ryde residence which realised over £50,000 a value greater than the house itself!  He also remembers being called to a house by a youth who had been left the contents: “I’d been searching through the house and unfortunately found nothing. Finally he said there was a bit of junk in the last bedroom. There I discovered various gold items, and an interesting sword. I did my investigation and found there were only 55 like it known in the world. It raised £16,000 for the young man.”

It is also a world that is baffling. Once, Tim discovered a Royal Doulton figure which was only one of two known to exist. It was sold by telephone bidding to a mainland buyer – who despite paying £4,000 for it, asked Tim just to send it by just ordinary post. He concluded that she must be the owner of the other figure, and if only one existed and this got destroyed, the value of hers would soar….

What seems remarkable is that in all those years Tim has never been caught out by a piece. His terrier-like approach to research has always paid off, and he has become an expert. But to be an expert in so many fields – furniture, china, glass, deadstock (the opposite of livestock, farm machinery) – is quite a feat. “There are always telltale signs: a Victorian chest with walnut veneer and pine carcass is the cheaper model, a similar Georgian piece is heavier with an oak carcass. That’s just the start of the investigation.”

To celebrate his 40 years, a friend suggested an auction. Tim and his wife Sue invited over 130 friends and long-standing clients, including a former auctioneer colleague from Devon, to join the period costume themed event earlier in July. Thanks also to a very good artist friend from Derby who especially commissioned a picture of a local steam age scene with personalised cameos (topping the bill by realising £440) and other generous donations from clients and restaurants, 140 lots were auctioned. Donations of £1,500 from Lloyds TSB and Barclays Bank followed, raising a total of over £7,500 for the IoW MS Society and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. “There was food and drink aplenty, and lots and lots of laughs, everyone entered into the spirit and had a really enjoyable evening. That’s what an auction should be all about, whether it’s serious or for charity.”

“The fun has been removed from too many jobs.” Tim concludes. “I’m lucky – antiques are my life and I’ve got a job I love to bits.”