Bob Hawke’s estate auction offered a chance to reflect on a man known equally well for his capacity to skol a pint of beer in record time (he broke a beer drinking Guinness World Record in 1954) and being a past Prime Minister of Australia. The auction took place in a venue that could only be described as aptly representative of our country’s cross-sectional majority – an RSL in inner Sydney. It was an appropriate venue to celebrate the collected objects of one of Australia’s most fondly remembered leaders, as it grounded you in a sense of not taking it all too seriously, a reminder offered by the noise and flashing lights of the pokies room.
Upon arrival there was an immediate sense of the man we were all here for. A crowd of close to 300 Sydney-siders filled the space, leaving standing room only. But there was no joy or excitement in the air. Instead, it was a state of respectful sobriety (yes, strange for an RSL), with people silently flicking through their catalogue or murmuring to their neighbour. There was a recognition that we were not gathered for an auction, but a memorial which offered insights into a man who once held the highest position in our political arena, through the objects he surrounded himself with over his life.
While I was there out of curiosity, I also quietly had my eye on a few lots (most of which were horological in nature and covered by Felix here) that I hoped were within reasonable reach based on their estimates. Oh, how short-lived my hope was. Once bidding got underway, it became very clear very quickly that I needed to either get a bank loan or admit that I was going home empty-handed.
The first few lots were sold, and the mood lifted as the auctioneer joked that the catalogue was selling itself, with items reaching double-digit multiples of their estimates. After one particularly aggressive flurry of bids for a pair of crystal candle sticks (sold for $1440 on an estimate of $200-400), the auctioneer offered the winning gentleman a pair of candles to go with his purchase.
Another highlight that demonstrated either a deep devotion to Bob Hawke, or that the winning bidder knew something no one else in the room did, was the sale of a 34cm tall circular Chinese bookcase, which had an estimate of $300-500 and ended up costing someone $24,000. Someone else paid $6000 for a Hawke’s Lager-branded esky, complete with a 6-pack of Hawke’s Lager to put inside it. There appeared to be a much deeper admiration for Mr Hawke than many had anticipated, expressed by lot after lot hammering for multiples of their predicted prices.
The clock and watch lots were peppered towards the end of the catalogue, and were also highly sought after. While both the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock and the Raymond Weil Fidelio were both withdrawn before the sale, a steel Bulgari watch sold very strongly against its $400-600 estimate.
I did a little market research on the price of a Bulgari BB33SLD before the sale, and arrived at $1200 being a fair price – double the upper estimate. The watch went on to sell for $5040 including fees, once again showing the cult of Hawke was strong both in the room and around the world. There were 600 people reportedly bidding online. A George Nelson ball clock sold for $1680 (est. $400-600), and an unassuming brass carriage clock sold for $1800 (est. $100-200), making it a clean sweep of strong performances by the time-telling objects in the catalogue.
While I left the room that night with only a catalogue in my hand, I took with me an impression of just how well regarded Bob Hawke was. If the watch world takes auction results as a measure of how important a watch is, then the results of the Bob Hawke estate auction should signify clearly that he was an important man.