My Week: Patrick van der Vorst of Value My Stuff

The antiques entrepreneur on providing estimates for everything from Monets to dentures.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 15 Jul 2011
Value My Stuff is an online valuation service - clients send in pictures with as much description about an item as possible, and one of our 55 experts will tell them if it’s worth anything.  Some of our experts will value up to 2,000 objects a month if they specialise in something popular such as British ceramics. Others are highly specialised in areas such as medals or sporting guns and do around 30 a month. Once we had a 1911 golf ball sent in which we estimated as being worth up to £5,000.

Since launching in September 2009 we’ve priced more than 62,000 items – usually about 200 a day. I started the company on my own, although was fortunate to have the backing from two of the Dragons, Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden. I used to be a director at Sotheby’s so I understand the market, and they bring the retail knowledge and advice on how to appeal to the average consumer. I don’t think starting during a recession was a problem – if anything more people want to know the valuation of their assets during a downturn.

A typical day will start at 8am, when I arrive at the office in Westminster. On Monday I have a meeting with our commercial director, who only joined the company recently. We’ll go through the accounts for the previous week and the prospects for the week ahead. Afterwards I might go out for lunch – this week I met with a potential expert in Japanese art. As the site grows we’re constantly looking for new experts who work for us on a freelance basis.

Monday afternoons I spend checking a few valuations myself, especially those that are worth a lot. The most expensive item we’ve valued is a Monet at £1.5m. But no matter how much something might be worth the flat rate of £5.99 per valuation still applies. More unusual items have included one of the very first Irish bank notes, valued at £20,000-£30,000, a medieval chastity belt and a set of early dentures. Leading up to the Royal Wedding we also saw a spike in wedding memorabilia. We valued a piece of wedding cake from Charles and Diana’s nuptials, and cards signed by the couple. They can fetch anything between £50 to £300, depending how personal the message inside is.   

I’m also concentrating on growing the site at the moment. On Thursday I went to a conference organised by UK Trade and Investments which gave advice on launching a website abroad. China in particular appeals to us. The Chinese art market accounts for about 45% of the total art market so it could provide a big client base for our website. I met with someone who’d come over from China on Wednesday to discuss possible options, but at the moment talks are in very early stages.
 
Later in the week I might visit an auction or an antique fair. On Thursday I went to the opening of the Olympia antique fair, one of the biggest in Britain. I try to get out of the office by 7pm, although I’ll do at least another hour of work at home as the website’s peak time is between 4-8pm. I also spend most of the weekends working, because we’re still a relatively young company and you need to put in the hours to make it work. If I do get some down time then I’ll go to a concert or an art exhibition – but I suppose even that’s technically work.

Patrick van der Vorst is the founder of Value My Stuff, an online valuation service.

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