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Is it a ship, a mansion or a bakkie minus ‘vroom’? Fantastic, weird lots on local auction blocks

South African auctioneering scuttlebutt says a higher than usual quota of weird and wonderful has found its way under the hammer over the past year, along with a bushel of downright odd lots (including some scuttlebutts, which were sold too).

Bidding was fierce across the stranger catalogue items offered by auction houses affiliated with the SA Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA), according to its public relations director Joff van Reenen. These comprised a vast ocean-going tanker, a treasure trove of memorabilia from the hit TV series Black Sails, a mayoral mansion, a mechanically-challenged bakkie, a hot Hollywood sale that raised a whack for charity and a new business venture which scores of investors were keen to buy.

While the tanker and property lots earned the biggest bucks for their sellers, the Black Sails sets sale was one of the biggest crowd-pullers of the year.

Angela Duncan of Alf Duncan Auctioneers in Cape Town says the sale took place at the film studios just outside Somerset West in July 2017 and everything was for sale – except the actual ships.

“Nautical novelties under the hammer included canons and rigs, bells, belfries, binnacles, anchors, flags, gangplanks and galley equipment, not to mention the scuttlebutts,” says Duncan.

Liquidity Services’ auctioneer Casper Rossouw cannot be blamed if, every time he ventures out for rural sales, he is plagued by visions of missing mechanical bits.

He explains: “I auctioned a farm and its contents. A bar fridge was up for sale and a farmer asked me if it worked. I responded, ‘Yes. Listen to how silently it runs’, because it was clearly not plugged in. Unfortunately during dispatch I noticed it had no motor. I felt bad for the guy, but it was a sold lot.

“A few months later the same man attended another auction. Afterwards I asked about the fridge and if he was happy. He said he was happy and asked if I knew how to lower the thermostat because he wanted it colder. I had no response.”

Rossouw’s second “mechanical moment” also happened in the sticks.

“A bidder bought two bakkies. After the auction he told his staff he’d drive one to his farm, nearly 200km away and they should load his other purchases on the second, then follow him.

“The guys loaded everything, but the bakkie wouldn’t start. Their first thought was flat battery, so they popped the bonnet, only to find the vehicle was minus an engine. “The take-away lesson from this is always view before sticking up your hand to bid.”

Ariella Kuper, managing director and co-founder of online auctioneers Clear Asset, landed a bumper lot when the company was tasked with selling an oil tanker in December which had been under judicial arrest in Durban Harbour for 18 months.

Kuper says the auction attracted interest from bidders as geographically divergent as Asia and Nigeria and it took 45 minutes for a Chinese buyer’s bid to see hammer fall at $12million (R142m).

Van Reenen, whose dual hats cover his roles as SAIA’s director of public relations, and director and lead auctioneer at specialist property sales house High Street Auctions, has pulled off two auction firsts in the past year – both in the Tshwane metro. That’s not counting his celebrity-centric charms exercised on behalf of Nkosi’s Haven that coaxed R1.2m out of bidders for photos taken by Hollywood star Antonio Banderas.

Van Reenen’s most headline-grabbing coup was making local auction history by knocking down a city’s official mayoral residence in less than two minutes.

“Tshwane’s mayoral mansion in Muckleneuk fetched R5.1m after spirited bidding at our final sale of the year, and Mayor Solly Msimanga was there on the day to see it go.”

Actor Antonio Banderas brandishes a silver gavel gifted to him by SAIA’s director of public relations and director and lead auctioneer at High Street Auctions, after a charity auction for
Nkosi’s Haven last year that raised R1.2 million for photos taken by Banderas. Picture: SAIA

The property, which Msimanga refused to occupy, was a scandal-plagued asset register entry that had been subject to a corruption probe relating to the previous administration’s R12m renovation.

Says Van Reenen: “Possibly the most heart-warming thing about this sale is that the proceeds of one house will put roofs over the heads of more than 40 families.”

Another of Van Reenen’s lots over the past year that garnered many column inches was the country’s first auction of a (completely unoccupied) 8.5-hectare cemetery in the Greater Tshwane metro.

Van Reenen says the sheer variety of goods sold at auction last year, valued at hundreds of billions of rand, shows the success of the model for buyers and sellers.

“Auctions are globally regarded as the most transparent sales method, and a win-win for both sides of the table. A fair value is ascribed by the market on the day rather than pegged artificially high by specific industries involved in trade of those goods.

“I often describe it as sales on steroids because of the speed at which auction houses can make liquid assets that sellers no longer regard as core.”

Van Reenen says it is critical to conduct business only with reputable auction houses that are registered, legally compliant and subscribe to an industry code of ethics. A full list of SAIA-accredited auctioneers can be found at

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