On a chilly Saturday morning, bidders stream in at the Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, Nairobi. With their chequebooks in hand, they are looking to buy antique home specialty utensils that once were (and might still be) useful in household tasks.
The auction has attracted buyers seeking to find regal kitchen and home products as well as timeless silverware dining sets. Today, a carefully curated collection of a 30-piece cutlery set that can be used by about 10 people at a dinner table is the showstopper and the owner wants no less than Sh250,000 for it.
Bidding starts at Sh180,000 and the owners of Antique Auctioneers who sell the merchandise at a commission hope that they will sell for what the owner had reserved since the set is originally valued for close to Sh300,000.
Wamoja Chilson of Antique Auctions said that the price of the cutlery is not just set by the seller but is arrived at after extensive assessment.
Rare cutlery auctions are few in Kenya, but there are people who are holding onto precious dainty tea cups, finely chiselled forks and knives, collections of tea pots, sterling silver serving platters that can fetch good prices.
For instance, a set of eight royal crown derby porcelain parcel-gilt plates from 1902, was estimated to sell for Sh500,000 to Sh700,000 at a UK auction house.In response to a question by the BDLife, one of the antique specialist said multiple considerations have to be made before setting a price for selected items.
“It depends on the year of production, who made the products and where it was made. Provenance or the place of origin or earliest known history of the products also determines how we price the merchandise,” he said.
If you have an old item which was handed down through the family for several generations, then that is its provenance. If you have an object which was a gift from a famous person, again, that is its provenance. Provenance is important in identifying genuine items from forgeries, he said.
The specialists have to have years’ experience to enable them to tell a fake by just looking at the antiquated merchandise he said.The key is to find flatware that’s actually silver and real silver will typically look tarnished but can easily be polished. Authentic silver will also make a ringing sound if you tap it.Mr Chilson said most collectors are looking for items in good condition for their age. Reasonable wear-and-tear is expected when considering older items, but the nearer your goods are to perfect, the more likely it is that they will find a buyer.
“Some people buy the products to use while others buy to showcase. We do not ask many questions,” he said.This auction is open to the public every two months, bidders come scouting for collections of antique silver, with everything from cutlery, candlesticks, art oddities, tea caddies and condiment bottle caps available — for a price.Why buyAs the auction comes to a close, bidders do not go past Sh180,000 for the silverware and the owner wants no less than what he had reserved the items for.
One buyer however is keen on buying the cutlery and is happy to fork out Sh250,000 and they walk away with the set of silverware.
Apart from the Karen auction that draws collectors and lovers of fine cutlery who want to impress their guests, Kenyans are also shopping for cheaper secondhand antique kitchenware from flea markets or from expatriates leaving the country as they look to bring their mothers' or grandmothers' perfect taste to their homes.
The main reason why Kenyans buy investments of passion such as art, cutlery, watches or fine jewellery, according to the latest Knight Frank Wealth Report, is for status among peers, followed by joy of ownership and safe haven for capital.