In these days of viruses and bankruptcies, it’s a refreshing change to come across a business still hammering the heights. That’s literally the case as John, an entrepreneurial Welshman, bangs his gavel every Saturday from 11 am at the mammoth site on Chaiyapruek 1 Road, Jomtien. The weekly general auction covers just about anything you can think of except vehicles and property: they have their own separate procedures.
Buying by auction dates back to classical antiquity. In the Roman empire, soldiers used to sell war booty and slaves to the highest bidder. Indeed, Cleopatra may well have committed suicide rather than risk forcibly being dragged in a cage to Italy to be auctioned in humiliation. Auctions in Thailand date back further than you may think. Embassies in Bangkok and Thai banks throughout the country were selling stuff in the early 1990s – for example vehicles and condos whose owners had either died or couldn’t keep up with the payments. Or both.
But the first auction house in Pattaya was Collingbourne’s, 10 plus years ago. As John has said on YouTube, “I just hit the button and the business took off.” Here you find antiques, collectibles, furniture, decor, paintings, fridges, hair dryers, toys, pottery and computer stuff. And that’s just the start. You register and then either bid on a Saturday morning by raising your hand or use the online facility with its public screen on display at the auction house. Payment is prompt and the paperwork bureaucracy is efficiently run. Don’t forget the VAT though.
There are many sources for the items which fill up the saleroom and adjoining space at Collingbourne’s. House, bar and restaurant clearances provide a local base. But you will also find English silverware, Norwegian collectibles and Indonesian jewelry as new stuff arrives from abroad in ship containers. Some of the more attractive pieces are even bought and resold in Thailand or overseas. The people who turn up on Saturday mornings are certainly a mixed bag – amateurs, professionals and the permanently curious. One guy told us that checking out Collingbourne’s is his main hobby. Even golf is second choice, he said.
Not everything at the auction house looks gorgeous. There are weeds amongst the flowers, such as broken electrical ovens, huge and bleak bedroom furniture and a fridge that looks to be beyond all redemption. Of course, you never know. There are also many items you’d never expect to see in Thailand such as a rusty German world war one helmet, a French officer’s uniform from the Second Empire and some Third Reich militaria. They certainly look genuine but it’s up to you. Not to mention fascinating objets d’art, big and small, from all of the world’s continents. Except Antarctica.
All auctions favour the well-informed and Collingbourne’s is no exception. Bargains are there a-plenty but the more you know about the individual categories the more likely you are to scoop the real deal. Yet the real secret of Collingbourne’s success is surely its informality which is infectious and helped by the friendly efficiency of the staff. Not to mention John’s open personality and humour when holding his gavel. The experience is totally unlike going to the stuffy Sotheby’s or Christie’s in London. In other words, going to the Pattaya auction is good fun. And it’s meant to be.