Covers - Britain's leading Autograph Dealer.
talks to Mark at Chaucer Covers about their fifteen plus year-old business
that has evolved with the rise in Internet technology
but still caters for those who prefer more traditional
methods. Dealing as they do mainly in the past, Chaucer are
nevertheless up-to-date with online auctions and voice recognition
technology to keep them at the forefront of the collectables
and autographs market.
Digger: Can you please tell us a little bit about the
background to Chaucer Collectables Mark?
Well, it's been going for about fifteen years.
Digger: So pre-Internet?
Mark: Yes, it evolved from my history of working with some
other collectables companies. It was a mail order company
for all that time and now we're doing a lot more with
online auctions. Both on The Internet and also the traditional mail order as well.
Digger: There are still customers who like the old-fashioned
mail order side?
Mark: We've got a mailing list of about 5,000 people, the
majority of whom are older and not so Internet-savvy.
Digger: I was hoping that it was a cliché about the older
people and The Internet and that us 'wrinklies' were getting
up to speed. The figure I heard the other day was that 8
million people are still not online in the UK.
Mark: I can believe that.
Digger: But I suppose out of the whole population that isn't
too bad. Please tell us about the regular auctions you are running.
Mark: We run an auction every month via a company called The
Saleroom.com where we actually hold the auction live by
microphone rather than live in a room. It's an online auction
only. It has the great advantage that you don't travel all around
the country to bid on four lots and by the time you
get there you find that someone's outbid you. It works very,
very well. We've just completed the auction for November 25th
and there's about 950 lots. We mail a catalogue out and you
can bid, either from the catalogue, or you can go online and
bid. Or you can leave us commission bids to place on your behalf.
Digger: If you do go to a physical auction, although it can be interesting,
sometimes you have to sit through numerous lots
before the ones that interest you come along.
Mark: We have a lot of people who follow the auction all day
long and who dip in and out. For this particular one, I've kept things
in very distinct blocks. In the past we've had some
with whole collections in one go with a mixture of subjects
but this time we're trying to keep it in blocks so people will
know, for example, that aviation is near the beginning. And as
we do about 120 lots an hour they know where they're going to
be at any one time.
Digger: You've got quite a few categories there so would you call yourself a
Mark: Obviously they're all signed and there are very few auctioneers
who specialise in signed memorabilia like us. What we
normally have is fifty or sixty mixed collections at the
beginning, accumulations and bin-end lots and then quite a big
batch of space and aviation photographs and covers. We've got
an Air France Concorde test pilot signed cover for example. Also
a Buzz Aldrin, who, as you know, was the second man on the moon.
Digger: That's a fantastic one. What do you think that might
He charges about £250 a signature at a show so they
normally go for that sort of money.
Digger: So he hadn't done like Neil Armstrong and said he'd
never sign anything again?
Mark: No he sits happily signing at £250 a time, no problem.
The most interesting lot we've got this time is a first for us
- it's an ejection seat from a Blackbird SR71. It's the only
one that's not in a museum.
Digger: Was it actually used?
Mark: No, it was obtained from a scrap yard and they thought it was
from a Starfighter, imported into England. When they
started looking at all the part numbers it became apparent
that it was from an SR71. There's a lot of provenance with it
and we're expecting a lot of interest in that. We haven't a
clue what it might fetch.
Digger: That's the thing with unique items, isn't it?
Mark: I think they're about $3 million each when they are
manufactured but I couldn't say how much a second-hand one
would fetch. It's certainly a quite interesting item.
Digger: That must be a big part of the enjoyment of your job -
the fact that no two days are the same and that you never know
what to expect and you're constantly being surprised, aren't
Mark: We are. And obviously we sell bits of history - we've got
a photo in the next sale of a guy who flew the first ever
rocket plane in 1929 called Julius Hatry. No-one's ever heard
of him. He was German.
Digger: Oh, so they were ahead in the rocket technology even back
Mark: Yes, by a long way. The other space item we've got is an
original watercolour by Michael Collins who went up with
Apollo 11- the command module pilot who's very much into art
at the minute. So we've got a nice watercolour painting from
him. There's an Alan Shepherd item and a Judy Resnick, the
lady astronaut who
sadly died in one of the Shuttle disasters. Then we've got a
selection of navy-signed items - Admirals and so forth.
Digger: Do you ever get anything from the Axis powers?
Mark: We do and we sold an Adolf Hitler-signed document a
couple of auctions ago.
Digger: What did that go for?
Mark: About £1,000. And we have, over the course of a year,
quite a number of things signed by Luftwaffe pilots and people
who were actually in the war other than the commanders. We do see
Rommel signatures and others quite commonly.
Digger: You see the old boys who were in Spitfires and
Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain at a lot of these events
at Duxford and so on and they sign books, painting photos and
Mark: Yes, we sell a lot of those. We've probably got a couple
of hundred items in this auction which are military-related
and a lot relating to pilots. There's probably 50 or 60 Battle
of Britain pilots in there. Then there's a lot of rare items -
a couple of King Hussein of Jordan signed items, Frank
Whittle, Douglas Bader and Barnes Wallis and quite a number of
Digger: Does the Spitfire designer Mitchell ever come up?
Mark: Yes, we haven't had one ourselves but there are a number
of Mitchell documents around. One of our customers has got one
which he's loathe to part with but I've been trying to twist
his arm. (Digger laughs) Maybe next year.
Digger: What does your AFTAL membership signify Mark?
Mark: AFTAL is a body of people that try and regulate what we
Digger: Self-regulating in a way?
Mark: Yes, we've been part of it since the very beginning and
we've got a good relationship with the people who run it. It's
useful because to become an AFTAL-registered dealer the AFTAL
board have got to have confidence in the quality of the
product that you have and it gives the customers some comfort
that they're dealing with somebody who's reputable.
Digger: That's key, especially with the dreaded eBay.
Mark: Yes, eBay has had a lot of criticism over the years with
the things that are sold on there. They are beginning to
improve it and AFTAL are very much involved with that. At the
end of the day, interestingly, there are a lot of dealers on
eBay, including AFTAL dealers, and there's obviously also a lot of
pure forgeries out there that you just want to avoid because
they rip the public off.
Digger: So AFTAL should give you a warm feeling that the
provenance is guaranteed?
Mark: Yes, we guarantee everything that we do for the lifetime
of it. If someone had a problem with something they could come
back to us and we would refund them. That's part of the normal
trading of ours but also we adhere to the regulations that
AFTAL have as well. Having said that, it's the company behind
the guarantee that gives the client the comfort.
Digger: And the fact that you've been around for fifteen
Yes, absolutely that's a good sign and the fact that we've got
people prepared to give us their collections and put them into
auctions. We pay them promptly and that's also the key to good
Have you noticed how much bigger the nostalgia
and retro thing seems to be getting?
Yes, autographs is an interesting subject and quite a lot of people
arrive at collecting autographs almost as a subsection of what
they were previously doing - collecting stamps or first-day
covers or collecting on a certain celebrity. And then they buy
some autographs and get into it that way by adding something
to their collecting base. But more recently, because of The
Internet and the press coverage of a lot of things, it's become
common that you see pieces of memorabilia sold a fantastic
prices. There is an increasing view that these are potentially
good investments and indeed some of them are if you can get
hold of the right items.
The antiques programmes are a good advert for you as well
because every one seems to mention some kind of collectable or
Sure. Most people collect a number of different things and I'm
often amazed by these people who have stamps and plates and
coins and all sorts of things. There's a hoarding instinct
deeply ingrained of the human genes somewhere.
Is it more males than females who collect?
I would say yes that is the case. In any event, they have an incredible
knowledge of the subject.
They certainly seem to know more than the stars they are collecting.
So what impact has The Internet had on what you're doing and
how has it changed the business?
I think what it's done is obviously made it easier to communicate
Worldwide rather than just within the UK which is where our
mail order market is primarily. From the auctions point of
view- the last one we had people registered from Hong Kong to Thailand
and New Zealand and all over the world. So it's made the
How have you managed to get yourselves to the number one
Certainly, it's just from experience and from many years of
dealing. I think we're in the fortunate position that some of
the collections we're selling at the next auction are collections
that we sold to people ten years ago. So a lot of material does
come around. And because we are actively buying in the market
and have avenues to sell either via the catalogue or via The
Internet or via the auction, we're very useful to people who might
be trying to shift a collection that might be thousands of
And presumably sometimes they might not know much about what they
We quite often are approached by people who are getting older
and who want to deal with their affairs and we help them sort
their collections out. There's obviously a danger with
autographs. With the best will in the world, you put them into
a local auction house and you don't even know what they
are and they do sometimes fetch quite low prices. Hopefully
I'm the one that buys them (laughs) but it is quite a
specialist field and if you're going to sell specialist items
you're better off going to somebody like ourselves. The one
thing that we do at the auctions - they're primarily designed
for the private investor. So we don't often batch things up.
Other auction houses will do that - in batches of 100 or 200
almost like a trade lot. We're quite happy to have a few more
lots but perhaps items that start at a few pounds rather than
a few hundred pounds. To give everybody the chance to grab
themselves a bargain if they can. We obviously have collections
and residues that we do sell and sometimes if someone wants to
get rid of a box of stuff that's fine. We'd normally go through
it and pick out the individual items that we can get a better
price for and obviously that helps us and the customer as
Who are the biggest collectable names? Marilyn, Elvis and The
Yes, obviously those ones are popular but we specialise in military
and space and first-day covers.
Who and what would you recommend for people to keep an
eye on Mark?
Nowadays I'd certainly be buying anything to do with Margaret
Thatcher - and famous firsts like Roger Bannister and some of
the Formula One drivers like Stirling Moss and people like that.
And obviously any up-and-coming actors, so if you can find the
next Johnny Depp. There's an interest in people like Ronnie
Barker who is popular with photos and covers. And we have a
lot of people interested in military and aviation and names
like Buzz Aldrin and Chuck Yeager and people like that. The
prices of those do tend to increase - they may not leap up but
they steadily increase.
I suppose the material goes around in circles?
Yes, Neil Armstrong is a classic example. That photo of him in
his white spacesuit. A few years ago you could buy those for a
few hundred pounds but I've seen some of our competitors
selling them for £5,000 or £6,000. The prices of those sorts
of things are heading one way, I believe.
Just beware of eBay forgeries.
Indeed, Neil Armstrong is a highly forged signature and you
need to be wary and to make sure that you're buying it from a reputable
So what of the future Mark?
I think the auction is becoming the much bigger part of what
we do. With the economy as it is, we've certainly got people
coming every day wanting to sell their collections and the auction
is a very useful part of what we do. The catalogue is useful
if you have individual better items and maybe better in that
case than taking a risk at auction. But at least we give
people several options of what to do. We've got moiré stuff
coming in than we can process - I think our first auction was
300-400 lots and this latest one is just shy of 1,000.
That's terrific Mark. Onward and upward and we wish Chaucer
Collectables the very best.
to Chaucer Covers, Britain's leading Autograph Dealer.
Whether you are investing in autographs or collecting as
a hobby, you can be confident every signed piece comes
with our lifetime money back guarantee. We are members
of AFTAL - The Autograph Fair Trade Association Limited
and we strongly adhere to the strict guidelines which
the organisation sets out. Along with your order you
will also receive our excellent magazine full of
exciting authentic autographs and memorabilia to order.
- The leading UK mail order retailer of vintage and
contemporary authentic signed sporting and celebrity
memorabilia. Registered dealers with the Autograph
Fair Trade Association AFTAL
- Britain's leading online & mail order
- Having sold over 30000 lots on the internet and
over £3,000,000 of collectables by mail, we have
access to the worlds top dealers, who we have built
relationships with over many years.
- So you can buy with confidence from one of the
best names in the business. Chaucer Covers was set
up to offer collectors a massive range of products
for collectors or as gifts. There is something for
everyone and a range to suit all budgets. We have
1000's of different items from £3 - £5000
including limited edition film cells from £25 to
complete sets of 1966 England Team autographs. We
produce a monthly magazine full of special offers
and incredible collectable items at extremely low
- We can source almost any item you require via our
wants service. Call Steve on 0845 1304094 and let
him know what you are looking for.
- We are always interested in buyer autograph
collections, signed First Day Covers & WW2
Military flown & signed covers
24 Jesmond Street
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