by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Promptly at 7:00 p.m. as prearranged I seated myself in a wing chair in the lobby of the Château Laurier Hotel, picked up the house telephone and requested the telephonist to connect me to Mr. D… the gemologist from the Toronto auction house. Mr. D… answered the call immediately and told me that he was in suite 684. I then proceeded up the elevator and down the wide, hushed corridor to the suite. I carried the Italian leather bag in which were stowed the articles I brought for consideration. It pleased me that his suite was part of the Fairmont Gold collection, the so-called “hotel within a hotel” having its own check-in on the fourth floor and a private lounge for evening cocktails and morning breakfast with white linen and silver service. The pomp of the venue assuaged the faintly nefarious element of our congress.
When Mr. D… opened the door of his suite to welcome me I wasn’t surprised (as one often is when meeting someone for the first time) to compare his face to his voice since I had already seen his image in a video on his web site. Unlike some representations, his video was recent enough to bear a meaningful likeness to him. Mr. D… was conservatively dressed in a nondescript suit and tie. We shook hands and he welcomed me into the large, somber suite bathed in subdued yellow light. He wasted no time getting settled for the scrutiny which followed. He had set up a desk with a chair on each side. On the desk were callipers presumably for measuring gems and a compact portable scale for weighing jewellery. There was also the ubiquitous padded jeweller’s tray in the middle of the desk. Behind him was a computer which he informed me was connected to his Toronto office so he didn’t have to re-enter the inventory when he returned home. There was also a portable printer.
I began unloading the contents of my valise after ashamedly remarking that I felt like a carpetbagger. It was however apparent that he had seen it all before and he said as much. This was the first hint I had of the distracted and somewhat routine nature of our interview.
There was a method in my madness as I handed him items of increasing weight from the hidden contents of my container. The crescendo culminated in the presentation of an 18K gold piece which weighed in the neighbourhood of one pound. Upon receiving it he uttered “Wow!” and I knew then I had his interest. It seemed that his thirty years of experience in the business hadn’t prepared him for the article. He later remarked he had seldom seen such impressive gentleman’s jewellery. While I had come equipped with original documentary evidence of the price and details of almost every item, his consideration of that material was mostly confined to the carat content and weight of the articles. As for the value, he clearly assessed it without the benefit of mine or anyone else’s opinion. It was almost humiliating to see such a cavalier approach to the appraisal of the objects, the scrupulousness of which had once absorbed me.
In habitual manner he trotted out what I am certain were the stock warnings given to all prospective consignors about the limited value of auctioned items. He obviously considered this a necessary caveat before moving forward. When I acknowledged the need to provide his audience with a reasonable starting price if one were to consummate a sale, he warmed to the proceedings and began to handle each of the items more judiciously in preparation for putting the fine points onto his computer. He apologized for turning his back upon me as he set about recording the information. I was invited to look at the auction catalogues set at the corner of his desk. I did this while at the same time engaging him in trivial conversation. He derailed himself when he asked if I were familiar with a certain jeweller in Ottawa. When I said I knew the chap but was not impressed with him, Mr. D… commenced a less than flattering account of a recent negotiation he had had with him. His condemnation became so agitated that he ended by saying he didn’t want to talk about him anymore whereupon I reminded him that it was he who had raised the subject in the first place.
Mr. D… resumed his duties at the computer, and at last printed a summary of the items and the estimated appraised value. He demonstrated that his catalogues contained essentially two sections, one for the high-end objects, the other for the low-end objects. He assured me that all of the items which I had offered would be illustrated in the high-end part of the catalogue, though he cautioned that if the item did not sell I would be facing a graphics charge. Mr. D… also advised against a reserve bid since it was his experience (and apparently that of his colleagues at Southeby’s where he had once worked) that more attention is attracted when there is no reserve bid. In my uncultured view of these matters I considered a reserve bid merely one more limitation upon the sale of a piece, which of course is completely contrary to the point of the undertaking so I accepted his direction.
Once the consignment agreement was signed the consultation was speedily wound up. We wished one another luck in our respective endeavours, I picked up the now empty leather bag and pushed off.
Unloading my collection was an exercise not without its gravity. There was however no sense of deprivation. Instead I viewed the business as a practical step of conversion when those things no longer riveted my interest. I don’t suppose I shall ever completely abandon my enthusiasm for jewellery, but it is important that what remains are family heirlooms, pocket watches inherited from my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. Sporting those items has more legitimacy than the more conspicuous items which I consigned for sale.
Months later – coincidentally on the celebration of my mother’s birthday – we watched the live auction on the internet from the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. All ten lots sold.