By Erica Simpson
Special to The Toronto Sun
A "lifetime apprenticeship" is how Stephen Ranger describes his job as an appraiser and auctioneer. Ranger, who has worked at Ritchies Auctioneers & Appraisers for the past 18 years, is the company's senior vice-president. But he hasn't always been at the top of the ladder.
Stephen Ranger, senior vice-president of Ritchies Auctioneers and Appraisers.
Ranger began working at Ritchies as a floor porter. His curiosity and personal drive got the better of him, however, and he soon found himself directing the rug department.
"I immersed myself in the world of rugs," Ranger says, speaking about the beginning of his career.
This immersion process propelled him to spend his summers in London, England at the Victoria and Albert Museum, learning about the complex field of fine rugs. There, Ranger saw thousands of pieces and read as many books as he could get his hands on.
He talks about the need to keep up to date in the auction business, and says this only happens through self-teaching and an innate interest in the pieces. What drives Ranger's curiosity? For Ranger, it is "the stories behind the objects themselves."
Curiosity and stamina are two invaluable characteristics in the auction business. Ranger's days are fast-paced, long, and often involve being at several different locations.
He usually starts his mornings at a client's house appraising objects they are interested in selling. After the initial appraisal, Ranger will send in the appropriate specialist.
"I feel extremely privileged to work with a staff who is deeply committed to their fields of expertise," he says.
After finishing his appraisals, he heads to the office at 288 King St. E. to answer clients' questions by phone, on anything from dining rooms to wine cellars.
Ranger describes a recent high point in his career when Ritchies hosted the Vintages Auction of Finest & Rarest Wines last November -- the first of its kind in Ontario. The event raised $2.4 million.
He's also participated in the Important Canadian Art Auction, an event co-sponsored by Ritchies and Sotheby's Canada.
At the art auction, Ranger auctioned off the most expensive piece of Canadian art to date: Paul Kane's Scene In The Northwest-Portrait, which sold for a record breaking $5 million.
But Ranger says it's not all about the high bids and the record-breaking sales. He's equally passionate about the clients themselves.
"I have a symbiotic relationship with my employer," Ranger says. "I'm always looking out for their best interests."
Ranger says it's his responsibility to provide customers with accurate information so he can efficiently market their products. This sometimes means following intuition and having a good sense of humour.
In one instance, a woman in the audience started bidding for a ring at the same time as her husband, who was bidding by telephone. When Ranger realized what was happening, he said to the woman, "Madame, you do not want this ring."
Taken aback, she replied, "Yes, I do."
Despite feeling sheepish, Ranger replied, "Trust me, you really don't."
Two weeks later, Ranger got a thank-you note in the mail from the woman saying she loved her new birthday present.
"Everyday is different at Ritchies," he chuckles.
Ranger also enjoys offering his skills to community causes. He volunteers his time at about 20 different charity events a year.
Most recently he participated in the annual Art For Heart Auction for AIDS research, where he acted as the auctioneer.
"After a bite to eat of dinner at home, I often head right out again to do a (charity) auction."
Being and auctioneer demands high energy, patience and attention to detail. These are not daunting tasks for Stephen Ranger; he thrives on them. Not surprising from the man who worked his way up the ladder from floor porter to senior-vice president.
(Erica Simpson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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