Under the hammer
Going, going, but certainly not gone as antiques are still gaining in popularity. Pierre Grech Pillow helps Sandy Calleja Portelli bid on desirable antiques.
The Obelisk auction house in Attard is a testament to Malta’s glorious past. As I walk through the door, the bustle of Mdina Road fades away. Incense wafts through the 18th-century palazzo beckoning me to browse leisurely through the antiques on display.
As I admire an imposing oil painting, auctioneer Pierre Grech Pillow bounds through the door. No throwback to the past, Grech Pillow definitely belongs to the 21st century and is determined to modernise the local antiques industry.
“We must move beyond the traditional way of doing things to keep our industry relevant to our customers,” says Grech Pillow.
His auction house may have only been around for five years, but Grech Pillow has grown up in the industry as his parents owned an antiques shop.
“I always wanted to be an auctioneer but I waited until my father retired to start up. It would not have been ethical for me to be an auctioneer while he was still in the business.”
The path to becoming an auctioneer is not a short one. Grech Pillow studied with auction houses abroad, eventually obtained his auctioneer’s licence in and has since become a court appointed auctioneer.
In line with Grech Pillow’s vision, Obelisk Auctions is managed along the lines of international auction houses. The iconic podium and gravel are complemented by online and printed catalogues and large screens which display each item under the hammer.
“Each item on auction is expertly valued before being given a lot number and catalogued.
“We organise specialised auctions periodically – besides the antiques and fine arts auctions, the arms and militaria auction has become a regular event with the next one scheduled for December 9. We are often asked to organise auctions of private collections such as the estate of the late Hon. Dr Borg Olivier. It is always an honour when a family trusts you with their loved ones’ prized pieces.”
What future do antiques have in Malta?
“Antiques never die – it is dealers who damage the industry,” says the auctioneer. “The Antiques Dealers Association should be doing more to increase awareness of our rich heritage. At Obelisk when we organise seminars and public talks, we get a huge response from the public but the ought to do more along these lines to educate the public.
“We speak of our history and architecture but we also have a valuable culture of master painters such as Amadeo Preziosi and Rocco Buhagiar. Maltese silverware and antique furniture are also very sought after. Arms and militaria, Melitensia, and Maltese jewellery are all popular with collectors.”
One forthcoming auction sale promises to be a treat for collectors. Set in an apartment within the grandiose Balluta Buildings in St Julian’s, this is a rare opportunity to visit one of Malta’s most sought after dwellings. Although he refuses to name a favourite, Grech Pillow exudes anticipation at the thought of the event. The auction will include Surgeon Major Loris C. Manche’s collection and some private entries. The online catalogue offers a breathtaking preview of pieces by Albert Gleizes, Joseph Cassar, Amadeo Preziosi and Girolomo Gianni being auctioned alongside Maltese and European furniture, silverware and objets d’art – these will be available for viewing from Saturday 13 to the morning of Friday, October 19. The auction itself is scheduled for Friday, October 19, at 4pm and Saturday, October 20, at 2.30pm.
“The wide range of items in this auction is perfect for anyone new to antiques. Although the more valuable items are estimated at thousands of euros, there are some smaller pieces which are valued at around €50 – ideal for testing the waters.”
Can’t decide where to start?
“Buy what you like,” is Grech Pillow’s advice. “There is no need to furnish an entire room in antiques – one item can provide the ideal focus point for your space. When purchasing new items, consider buying tomorrow’s antiques,” he says gesturing to the beautiful sofa we are sitting on.
Obelisk Auctions is looking beyond the auction sale later this month and the forthcoming arms and militaria auction in December. “Some items are more sought after abroad than they are here so we plan to organise two auctions in London and Rome early next year.”
What lies in the future for this passionate auctioneer and his auction house is anyone’s guess.
For more information visit www.obeliskauctions.com.