From Fat Sows to Fine Art

12 Jan, 2017

With our 150th anniversary fast approaching and the latest stage of our development literally taking shape outside, we thought now would be a good time to reflect on Lacy Scott & Knight's history as an auction house.  

The auction side of the business was established in 1869 by Henry Lacy Scott, and we have been an integral part of historic Bury St Edmunds ever since.  The company was later enlarged to Lacy Scott & Sons, and then further expanded when we merged with Knight's estate agents of Stowmarket in 1997.  We are now one of the largest salerooms in the East of England, and hold a diverse range of specialist and general sales throughout the year.  However, our early history was less Fine Art and more Fat Sows, as befits Auctioneers of a regional market town!

BFP 1892

The first mention of the firm was in the Bury Free Press of 9th July 1869 in the form of an announcement; "Mr Henry Lacy Scott begs to advise as to his setting up in business as an Auctioneer and Valuer, the office being at No.3 Guildhall Street".

 

Within a few years, Henry Lacy Scott founded a livestock market behind the Market Tavern (now Gym Bar) on Risbygate Street in 1874.  It soon became the vibrant heart of the town; bustling with dealers, auctioneers, farmers, and drovers, as well as children who loved to see the farm animals.   Henry, who was also a borough councillor and twice mayor, was joined by his sons Archibald and Reginald around the turn of the century before dying in 1904.  The cattle market gradually expanded, briefly interrupted by WWI in which Reginald served.  In the 1920s & '30s, Archibald's own sons Henry and John (who our two salerooms are named after), joined the firm.

The excitement of market day was immortalised in literature when Adrian Bell (father of MP & journalist Martin) described his visit there while training to be a farmer in the 1920s; 

 "All the while the air was filled with the lowing of cattle, the slithering of hoofs, pigs quarrelling, and bells ringing. The large pigs seemed indifferent to their surroundings, sleeping until the auctioneer came to them and the crowd poked them to sudden panic.  Each, as sold, received an indigo blue hieroglyph upon its back, and was soon once more in deep slumber… Everywhere sticks waved; one of the undertones of the place was the continual tattoo of them pattering upon hides.  Men stood conferring solemnly with their hands upon a bullock's back, as though it were a sacred relic they were swearing by, or raised themselves and stood on the rails to get a comprehensive view of a particular penful." Corduroy, Published 1930. 

Cattle market 

Lacy Scott & Sons were the last remaining livestock auctioneers in the county until the BSE crisis of the late 1990s forced the complete closure of the cattle market.  Despite weathering 'swine fever' back in 1922 and 'fowl plague' in the 1960s, times had changed and the cattle market was no longer seen as such a fundamental part of the town. Luckily, by that time we were already well established as auctioneers of art and antiques, however it is still possible to see remnants of our cattle market history within the current auction centre. 

We were diversifying from early on though; an advertisement in the Bury & Norwich Post for January 1877 states "Lacy Scott will sell by auction at Bury market, a kennel of sporting dogs including Retrievers, Laverack Setters and Wood Spaniels, the property of a gentleman who has given up shooting"! 

We even sold the old Bury St Edmunds workhouse, which was situated on College Street, after its closure in the 1880s.   

workhouse plan

While the Suffolk Free Press of July 1909 included this article, "Messrs Lacy Scott will sell by auction on instructions from Mr E.Starkie Bence at the Angel Hotel in Bury. 200 dozen bottles of rare choice old wine which will include 70 dozen pert from the vintage 1842-1847, 1854-1863 and 1877, 62 dozen fine old Madeira sherry." An early pre-cursor of our annual Wine, Port & Spirits auctions!

We continued to grow and diversify through the turbulent 20th century, despite the wider turmoil of war, economic depression and political unrest. However, there were some issues as seen in this Bury Free Press article from 1940; "Mr. H. Lacy Scott… had short supplies of fat stock, including 171 sheep, 84 pigs, which were taken over by the Ministry of Food. Store pigs sold to 50s. A larger supply of poultry met a good demand". Archibald was made County Chairman under the Ministry of Food during WWII and operated from No.3 Hatter Street, where Lacy Scott & Sons had moved to in 1934.  Both the younger Lacy Scott's, Henry and John, served in the Second World War.

By the 1950s we were also holding farm auctions, and selling chattels and ex-military vehicles, and had expanded the estate agency side of the business.  The 1960s and '70s witnessed a growth in the art and antiques market, as well as general economic prosperity, so we were well placed to make a name for ourselves in this area.  It is no coincidence that many of Lovejoy's adventures were set in and around Bury St Edmunds which had a thriving antiques scene at the time!

It was during the 1970s that we began our now legendary Toys & Models auctions under Peter Crichton (former partner and father of current Fine Art manager Edward Crichton).  The sales began, almost by chance, off the back of a one-off collection of Dinky and Corgi models. This proved so popular, and indicated a rich and previously untapped seam, that we established regular sales which continue to be the largest one-day auction of their kind in the UK.

 The second half of the last century also saw us establish concrete roots in the town with the building of the current Auction Centre on Risbygate Street in 1981 (although at this time we still held offices at 1A Angel Hill).  Prior to this, antiques auctions were held in the Corn Exchange, the Athenaeum (from 1969), on site if selling the farm/house, and at the Angel Hotel.  We also held sales at Everards Hotel which closed in 1987 and is now occupied by Pizza Hut.  

Our last link with the Lacy Scott family was severed in 1994 when John Lacy Scott, the last remaining Lacy Scott partner (who our collectables room is named after) died.  His brother Henry Lacy Scott (of our furniture room fame) having passed away in 1984.  John Lacy Scott's widow Marian (known as Dan) passed away in 2016 at the age of 91.

Over the years Lacy Scott & Knight has achieved a number of record-breaking and notable prices, including setting a UK provincial auction record in 1999 when we sold a pair of Sevres vases for £500,000. This record has since been broken numerous times by other provincial auctioneers as the power of the internet has allowed us to compete with major London auction houses. Recent prices of note include £130,000 achieved for a Chinese Qianlong Period carved zitan Ruyi sceptre, £41,000 for a Marklin model of Holborn station, £23,000 for a Samuel Cooper portrait miniature, and a Chinese cloisonné champlevé enamel bowl, which sold for £72,000.

sevres vases    Zitan Ruyi Sceptre

We have also been lucky enough to sell some incredibly interesting and newsworthy items - not least of which was a 19th century shawl which has since helped to prove the identity of Jack the Ripper (allegedly)! The bloodstained shawl was brought into us in 2007 by a descendant of an East End policeman who had a macabre family story to pass on.  DNA testing after the auction linked the shawl to canonical victim No.4 Catherine Eddowes, and a Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski who was confined to an asylum soon after the murders.

   Ripper Shawl .5k 

 

Another remarkable find which hit the news was a barn full of modern classic cars which had lain untouched for at least two decades.  I think it's fair to say that Edward Crichton, who was shown the cars during a routine house contents valuation, looks back on that day as his career highlight!  The 10 cars which included rare Bentleys, Maserati's and De Tomaso's ensured our busiest sale day ever and achieved almost £200,000.Barn Find

Other notable collections have included the John Clibbon tinplate toys collection, the personal collection and studio works of legendary surrealist photographer Angus McBean, and a stunning collection of Andrew Grima bespoke jewellery.

 

Since the turn of the century, there have been many changes at the Auction Centre, both structurally and procedurally.  The most obvious of which is the way that the internet has affected our business.  We were early adopters of live bidding and now have a global clientele, which is growing with every auction.   Happily, thanks to our town centre location with car park (no pig pens now!) and policy of always being open for drop-in valuations, we still have an exceedingly vibrant saleroom - something which many auction houses have lost as the internet has become the hub of the business.  

From producing only printed catalogues, with a small selection of choice items illustrated in black and white, we now illustrate every lot in the Fine Art & C20th Design sales printed catalogues, and every single lot in every auction is illustrated online.  Every auction is also now available for live bidding, which has been surprisingly popular - particularly for local buyers who are happy to pay the 3% surcharge in exchange for not having to spend a day at an auction (which could be seen as insulting!).  Since 2010 we have had a presence on social media and also produce regular e-newsletters and keyword notifications. Off the back of the growth of internet sales, we decided to introduce a postage department in 2014 which has proved very successful.

1970s catalogue  mixed covers

With the downturn in the brown furniture market, we decided to raise our game in this field. Prior to 2008 we sold lesser furniture from an outhouse which was a hangover from the cattle market era, we demolished this building and no longer accept items with a perceived auction value of below £20.

Specialisation in auctions has been another change in the 21st century.  We have responded by introducing regular Twentieth Century Design, Wine, Port & Spirits, and Coins, Medals & Militaria auctions to our calendar.  This trend may continue into specific online-only auctions of small desirable items such as watches etc. 

In recent years, we have had to react to external forces which have included the introduction of Artists Resale Right in 2006, ongoing CITES restrictions regarding ivory, horn and rosewood, and the most recent Distance Selling Regulations introduced in 2014.   Further legal reforms are expected, particularly in regards to the trade in ivory which is currently being debated.  There may also be stricter regulations regarding antique firearms due to recent concerns about how easily they can be recommissioned. 

Market trends have also affected our business recently, not least the explosion in the Asian art market. Some of our biggest prices in recent years have been for Chinese works of art, this has led us to introduce a specific 'Asian Art' section in our Fine Art auctions.  The growth in popularity of Twentieth Century Design items has also led to a new auction on the calendar (introduced 2011).  These items are less 'antique' and more 'vintage', and appeal to a slightly younger clientele who are more internet and style savvy.  As illustrated, the terminology itself is changing - retro and vintage have become interchangeable with antique with a slightly nuanced distinction, while interiors and decorative arts replace objet and collectables.

  

Looking to the future, we are in the process of building an extension to provide more office and reception space, as well as hospitality and storage areas.  This should be completed in the spring of 2017, with a grand opening to coincide with our June Fine Art auction.  Our calendar is also likely to be revamped with more specialist auctions and week-day sales.   We are also looking to add a new member to our team in the office.

extension

We also hope to continue having close links within the town, which has been our home for almost 150 years.  Over the years, we have been privileged to be associated with several local charities and institutions.  We regularly host auctions for East Anglia Children's Hospices and the Sir Bobby Robson Breakthrough Auction & Ball, as well as West Suffolk Hospital amongst others.  We have also helped to support Moyse's Hall museum in the town with their successful Lego model exhibition, and were the chosen auctioneers to sell the 'wolves' from the popular 2015 Bury Wolf Trail. 

Moyses LegoBobbys Ballwolf 1

We expect our online and overseas clientele to grow, as the internet becomes ever more ubiquitous.  Our most recent auctions were attended online by bidders in mainland Europe, Asia, North & South America and Australia. This may also lead in time to clients being able to bid, pay and arrange postage via our website - although we would be sorry to lose the personal contact. 

The last decade has been particularly tumultuous, especially as it seems that so little had changed in our industry for the previous century!  We've manged to keep in time with the modifications and even be ahead of the curve in some areas. With this in mind, we're looking forward to what the future may bring….

 mixed media

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