Auctioneer finds £2m treasure trove of vintage brass

KNOCK, KNOCK ... Brian Cairns with a vintage door knocker from the Penzance collection.
KNOCK, KNOCK ... Brian Cairns with a vintage door knocker from the Penzance collection.

A HUGE haul of vintage brass said to be valued in the region of £2m – and hidden away from the world for 40 years – has been unearthed and acquired by a South Tyneside auction house owner.

Acting on a tip-off, Brian Cairns, of Jarrow Auction Rooms, travelled to Penzance in Cornwall recently where a collection of 655,000 ornate and rare brass household items had been left in storage for decades.

Brian Cairns has picked up thousands of brass items such as this one from a shop in Cornwall that was mothballed for more than 30 years.

Brian Cairns has picked up thousands of brass items such as this one from a shop in Cornwall that was mothballed for more than 30 years.

The haul, a staggering 12 tonnes in weight, included thousands of brass door knobs and knockers, handles, light switches, ornate wall brackets, chandeliers and bowler hat stands, all dating back at least 65 years.

Many were made by the now long-defunct Italian company Vialli Columbo.

The extraordinary collection had been mothballed by a Cornish millionaire in 1975 after his beloved wife, who oversaw their trade centre business, died.

And in the decades since it had remained hidden from view – until South Shields-born Mr Cairns heard it was for sale.

When I walked into the mothballed premises in Penzance nothing had been touched since it was closed up all those years ago.

Brian Cairns, Jarrow Auction Rooms

He struck a cut-price deal with its owner, who just wanted it off his hands because of the memories associated with it, and brought the collection back to Tyneside.

But even transporting the goods back to the region proved a mammoth task.

The auction house boss hired two seven-and-a-half tonne lorries to carry the brass and the journey took two days to complete because, due to the weight, the vehicles were only able to travel between 10 and 30 miles per hour.

Now a sale of the eclectic items is to be held at Jarrow Auction Rooms – the former Park Methodist Church, in Bede Burn Road – this Sunday from 11am, with a viewing being held tomorrow, from 11am to 6pm.

Another of the vintage brass items from a shop in Cornwall which has been untouched since it closed its doors 30 years ago.

Another of the vintage brass items from a shop in Cornwall which has been untouched since it closed its doors 30 years ago.

Mr Cairns, 55, of Baring Street, South Shields, admits the haul is easily the biggest and most lucrative find of his career.

He’s already been offered twice the price he paid for the collection but has no intention of selling.

Mr Cairns said: “When I walked into the mothballed premises in Penzance nothing had been touched since it was closed up all those years ago.

“It really was an eerie experience. There was still money in the till, I think there were some old 50 pence pieces, and there was a newspaper which had been left open on the desk. It was like stepping back in time.

Thousands of door knobs and handles are among the items in the extraordinary collection.

Thousands of door knobs and handles are among the items in the extraordinary collection.

“I was a kid in a sweet shop. There were boxes and boxes everywhere you looked.

“After his wife died the owner just didn’t want to go back in the premises again.

“I can’t go into what I paid for it, but it was a cracking deal when you consider its value.

“These items are at least 55 years old and there are dealers all over the world trying to get hold of them. This really is a coup for Jarrow.”

The vast majority of the brass is now in storage but there will be 150 lots available for sale this weekend, in addition to another 150 non-brass lots.

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul