People

There's a greater awareness among people who are buying to be careful

Ian Wisniewski talks with Martin Green, whisky consultant at Bonhams in Edinburgh.
By Ian Wisniewski
IAN What was your career path to Bonhams?MARTIN It was a long journey from being involved in wine sales in the 1980s, which then had whisky included in them, to the first whisky auction taking place with Christie’s in 1989, and supply and demand from the market, both buyers and sellers, drove that on to two sales a year.When Christie’s closed its Scottish operation I moved to another competitor, demand again drove the sales to four times a year, and I’ve been at Bonhams since July, 2008.IAN How many Scotch whisky auctions does Bonhams hold annually?MARTIN We plan to have four in 2009, a sale in March, one in June, we’re planning also to have a section on whisky and possibly whisky related memorabilia in the Scottish sale in August, with another sale later in the year.IAN When sourcing lots for the auction, to what extent do you have to go looking?MARTIN I would say the majority of people come to myself, and that could be through various routes.IAN Presumably you have an extensive network of contacts?MARTIN Indeed.IAN How do you prepare auction estimates?MARTIN It can be current market trends, the financial markets, popularity, rarity, past record. I’ve got to take an awful lot of that into account when providing an estimate.IAN How challenging can it be to verify the authenticity of certain whiskies?MARTIN I don’t think it’s that challenging. There are obvious areas that one would be sceptical about. If anything dubious did appear, and if I wasn’t certain I would certainly not hesitate to reject it.There’s a greater awareness among people who are buying that they might have to be careful, obviously anything that anyone buys they must make sure they get a receipt for. I’ve seen things that are quite obvious fakes, not necessarily terribly expensive but quite shockingly obvious.IAN Another issue with bottles of fake and counterfeit whiskies is that the contents may be harmful or even lethal.MARTIN That would be terribly worrying.IAN How has the number of collectors, and their depth of knowledge evolved since you’ve been in the business?MARTIN I think substantially actually, there are new faces appearing, even at the first sale at Bonhams there were new faces, and I think it’s something which is growing and will probably continue to grow.IAN Are there any countries where you see a particular concentration of collectors?MARTIN I would say it’s pretty widespread, we are seeing the Japanese who weren’t buying for some time, they seem to be coming back. Foreign currencies tend to dictate these trends.IAN Have you noticed any favourite areas among collectors from different countries?MARTIN I think they are all individual, but the Islay malts definitely have a cult following, as does Talisker, Highland Park and such like.IAN Do island malts have additional allure and romance, or is it more the individual distilleries?MARTIN If you were visiting the islands there is definitely romance attached, but I think they do focus on certain distilleries in terms of what they want to buy.IAN How many collectors like to be at the auction, and how many prefer to be discreet?MARTIN A lot of them tend to try to come if they can, because it’s good fun and quite exciting.IAN Presumably some bottlings have risen in value, while others can stay the same or decrease in value?MARTIN Yes, you’re going to see examples of both, it comes back to rarity.A lot of the rare Diageo products bottled for anniversaries were never available at retail, and only people in the industry were able to actually get them, those are the things that are really sought after and which have gone up in value, due to their rarity.IAN Are more recent releases generally more affordable for collectors, so potentially a good starting point?MARTIN I would say so, but it’s down to the term you’re prepared to wait, people are not going to make an instant profit, it comes down to being prepared to treat this as a long-term plan, in my opinion.IAN Do you think Scotch whisky can keep setting auction records?MARTIN Who knows what next year will hold.IAN I suppose it all depends on what comes into the sale rooms,and how much someone is willing to spend.MARTIN Exactly. That is right.