£60 camera sells for £20,000 at Bury St Edmunds auction

Television antiques expert Paul Laidlaw with the rare French camera which fetched £20,000 at Lacy, S

Television antiques expert Paul Laidlaw with the rare French camera which fetched £20,000 at Lacy, Scott & Knight Auctioneers, Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

A rare camera which caught the eye of a television antiques expert sold for £20,000 at a Suffolk auction.

Paul Laidlaw, an expert on long running BBC One television show Antiques Road Trip, bought the camera for £60.

But when it later went under the hammer at Lacy, Scott & Knight Auctioneers in Bury St Edmunds it fetched a staggering £20,000 - a profit of £19,940.

The antique French camera, dating from 1861 and housed in a mahogany case containing its original photographic plate viewer, was bought by the antiques expert while shopping in a furniture mart in Margate.

The significance of the find became clear when camera experts confirmed it was a Chambre Automatique De Bertsch, an instrument recognised as the world’s first sub-miniature camera invented by Paris photographer, inventor and optician Auguste Adolphe Bertsch.

It caused a flurry of excitement among phone bidders from all over the world when it went up for auction at the Bury auction house with the auctioneer inviting bids in thousand pound increments.

The camera finally sold to a private collector in Switzerland, making an incredible £19,940 profit - smashing the auction house record and making by far the biggest profit in the history of the television show.

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Paul Laidlaw said: “Not only Antiques Road Trip, but the whole antiques profession can be distilled down to treasure hunting. Everyone’s looking for the Ming vase amongst the dreary Victorian Willow pattern dinnerware, or the Stradivarius amongst the old ex-school violins. In this instance, I identified what had been clearly overlooked by all who’d come before me.

“In truth it was such a strange beast I can see why others had likely dismissed it as either part of something else, or just some odd piece of laboratory apparatus. It took me a minute to dismiss these possibilities and pin it down as a miniature camera.

“At the time I suggested it was an extremely early sub-miniature camera of circa 1861. What I didn’t realise is that it’s considered the first sub-miniature camera - though I was pretty much spot on with the date.

“Post filming I did a little research and immediately realised I’d bought something spectacularly rare, however, I couldn’t find records of any examples having been sold. I kid you not, I didn’t know whether it would sell for £2000 or £100,000 - and neither did the auctioneer - though I considered either to be possible.’’

Ed Crichton, at Lacy Scott & Knight Auctioneers, said: “Everyone at Lacy Scott & Knight loved hosting the road trip. The cameras created a real buzz in the saleroom, and to achieve a house record for a General sale was so exciting for all in the room.”

Profits made on Antiques Road Trip go to Children in Need. To date, over £70,000 has been donated to Children in Need from Antiques Road Trip and its celebrity version, Celebrity Antiques Road Trip.

Antiques Road Trip, which is made by STV Productions, returns on Monday September 25 at 16.30 on BBC One. Mr Laidlaw’s record breaking auction sale will air on Friday September 29.

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