A connection with Dickens

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A few years ago I was looking over a box of bric-a-brac that a couple brought in for valuation.

One of the items they took out was a framed bank cheque from the prestigious Coutts Bank, dated around 1860 and made out to a firm of solicitors for the sum of £10.

I was blown away by his collection of letters, autographs and memorabilia.

The couple thought it might have a little value, but I was looking at the signature that they hadn’t been able to decipher. I identified it as that of Charles Dickens, having seen a facsimile version of it many times before on the title pages of his books.

The couple were very pleased when we auctioned it for £500.

I will never forget the momentary connection I felt to Dickens when handling the cheque, and it is often this feeling that drives the collector.

When I first visited the home of American music promoter, and star of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here David Gest, I was blown away by his collection of letters, autographs and memorabilia.

David has been collecting since he was a teenager, sharing this passion with friend Michael Jackson. They would often go on autograph hunts together.

Being in the music business had obviously helped David build his collection, and though he has met and worked with some of the biggest names in the business he is still passionate about signed memorabilia.

My favourite item in his collection (though possibly not his) is the wedding certificate he and his then wife Liza Minnelli had signed along with their witnesses, Michael Jackson, Tito Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor!

When seeking autographs in person, chance favours the prepared mind and you have to grab your opportunities when they present themselves.

I was at Fratton Park some years ago when I noticed Alexi Smertin, the Russian captain on loan from Chelsea, sat two rows behind me. But my son, then aged nine, hesitated too long and Smertin left before the game ended.

But less than a year later we bumped into British boy band McFly. We were buying magic tricks in a shop at Downtown Disney, in Orlando Florida, when my son spotted them.

Again, he was a little apprehensive. But I reminded him of Alexi Smertin, handed him a pen and paper and, to his credit, over he walked.The band members were very obliging and even posed for a picture.

Antiques expert John appears on TV shows including Cash In The Attic and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and also runs Nesbits auction house in Southsea. E-mail auctions@nesbits.co.uk or call (023) 9229 5568.