“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” I said, looking quizzically at my friend Rosie. She shrugged. “You girls looking for the auction house?” called a postman behind us, “You’re ringing on the wrong door. It’s round the back, past the Kwik Fit.”
Macgregors Auction House is one of the few relatively undiscovered treasures hidden in St Andrews. It’s unlikely location down Largo Road, behind the St Andrews Post Office, means only the most intrepid bargain hunters have found their way there. This auction house has no website, no online listing; it works mainly by word-of-mouth. I chose to use the good old-fashioned telephone, and ring the phone number I found at the bottom of Yell.com to find out its opening times.
Having never been to an auction myself, I pictured lots of people piled into rows of cushioned seats, a tweed-clad man with a moustache banging a wooden hammer around and a lot of yelling. I wasn’t far off; the tweed-clad man was there in the shape of the owner and auctioneer, Ian Urie, alongside his wife Sandra, who keeps him in check and answers the phone to telephone bidders. They sit together under a portrait of the founder himself, John Macgregor, who set-up the auction house in 1857.
The auction house is open every fortnight and is a joint-business with Macgregors Funeral Directors (prompting the name, the Dead Man's Auction House, amongst some). Wednesday is preview day, where buyers get to wander through mounds of furniture, crockery, fridges and pianos, with eyes peeled and pencils poised to note down those all-important lot numbers. You don’t need to register; you are free to wander as you please. We found some pristine china tea sets, a shining HMV gramophone, a 1920s clock, old postcards, hundreds of wine glasses (perfect for clumsy dishwashers, like me). We then moved on to the bigger stuff; entire dining room table and chair sets, fridges, microwaves, Rococo style wardrobes and gilded mirrors.
Thursday and Friday are auction days, with selling starting at 10.30am and going on… well, until they are finished. With over 1,500 lots to get through, you can imagine how long the process takes. The starting bids are often absurdly low. We saw five pianos go by for £1 each; clearly no one wants the hassle of trying to get one of those home. Whole sets of framed watercolours, paintings, desks, armchairs; all for £1. Most decent items sell for around £10-20, which is still a bargain if you’re looking to furnish a student flat or source props for a play.
Spotting the regulars is easy, we catch sight of a group of middle-aged men who’ve cleverly come prepared with warm jackets and cups of coffee. They joke and jostle with one another as the auctioneer peers over his glasses and yells numbers in their direction. A guy in tracksuit holds up each lot as it’s announced. I nervously poke my arm up in the air to bid on a rug; the regulars merely give a sharp nod of their head to indicate their interest. I keep my hand up; the competition gives in at £10. Little do I realise, I’ve actually bought two rugs, not one.
There’s a friendly community atmosphere; everyone seems to know each other and boiled sweets are provided up front for all bidders. My friend was bidding on a wooden framed mirror that had caught her eye, and the other bidder stopped bidding and let her have it “because she’s a student.” We walked away with our winnings feeling rather pleased with ourselves. A satisfying day’s work and a lot more entertaining than just clicking around on eBay.
Macgregors Auction House is holding an auction this week, starting with the preview day on Wednesday 7th March (9am-4.30pm) and selling on Thursday 8th and Friday 9th March (open from 9am, bidding starts at 10.30am). Future auctions are every fortnight from these dates.
To find the auction house, go to the Royal Mail Post Office on Largo Road, follow the buildings round to the right until you see a Kwik Fit. Turn left and keep following the road all the way round the back of the buildings. The entrance to Macgregors is almost directly behind the Post Office.