Our History

Our History

left to right: Clifford Dunbar Sloane, Dunbar Russell Sloane (Snr) & Andrew Dunbar Sloane.

Dunbar Sloane has been a family owned and operated auction house for over 100 years since 1919. Andrew Dunbar Sloane was a chemist with a shop on Lambton Quay, but with the outbreak of war and at the age of 37 he sailed to Turkey on the hospital ship Maheno to Turkey in July 1915. The Mehano made five visits to ANZAC beach under steady gunfire to retrieve the wounded.

The Evening Post later reported he had also been gassed at Gallipoli. This forced a change of career: in those days chemist shops mixed many of their own chemicals with resultant unpleasant fumes. On his return he opted to switch careers promptly converting his shop to an auctioneering and land agency business. He became a registered land valuer in 1924.

The Evening Post described him in an article at the time as “the erstwhile chemist Dunbar Sloane, a not inconsiderable figure in Wellington’s commercial life, who now wields an auctioneer’s hammer in place of the pestle. “Land is what he now knocks down, after first cracking it up.” Newspaper advertisements from the period show the firm was also active in auctioning properties and land sales in the lower North Island.In 1931 they staged an “enormous” sale in Levin of “unclaimed cargo of ladies’ high-class wear, 2- and 3-piece costumes.” Dunbar Sloane said they had already staged a similar auction in Wellington “that the residents are taking full advantage of.”

In November 1938 The Evening Post reported Dunbar Sloane had begun a series of sales from a major collection of antiques formed by the late “Mr Linley” A highlight was a mahogany Sheraton table which it said was “reputed to have been brought ashore by Captain Hobson on which was signed the Treaty of Waitangi.”This fetched 20 pounds. During these years the company continued to hold special catalogued auctions, a notable one being of “the Wilson sale of objects of art, Persian and Chinese carpets” in July 1949. Andrew Dunbar Sloane died in England in 1955.

Dunbar Jr & Dunbar Snr hosting an auction at Waring Taylor St

Management of the firm had already passed to his son, Clifford Dunbar Sloane. His nephew Paul Neal – who also became a well-known auctioneer with the firm – described him as a “wonderful auctioneer” who had acted as a mentor to him. His uncle had taught him not to get too nervous “but to get your patter going!”

In the immediate post world war II years under his management the firm thrived helped by the tonnes of army surplus gear the government was selling. It dominated the Wellington auction business and by 1970 had two busy auction rooms operating, including one on Dixon Street.

Shortly before his death in 1972 he called in, looking extremely unwell, during a crowded auction there. Paul Williams interrupted the sale from the rostrum to pay him a handsome tribute for his contributions to the auction world.

The key to success in the auctioneering business is finding things the public wants to buy and successfully promoting them.

His son, Dunbar Russell Sloane, on taking control cemented the company’s position to become a major forcenationally in selling top line fine art, antiques and other items, and competing successfully against vigorouscompetitors in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Dunbar Russell Sloane was a risk taker. In the 1960s he had managed to convince his father – who was extremely dubious - to resume staging specialist art sales. In a newspaper interview in 2017, shortly before he died, he recalled his father’s reluctance. “He was worried about losing 3000 to 4000 pounds turnover a week while that sale was set up as we needed special lighting. But in our first sale we took about 18,000 pounds. It was amazing.”

Dunbar Sloane’s Auction House on Lambton Quay c.1920s

The key to success in the auctioneering business is finding things the public wants to buy and successfully promoting them. Dunbar Russell Sloane regularly visited many parts of the country scouring and appraising items for sale, as continues now in the fourth generation. He also bought stock overseas on frequent buying trips. A keen collector himself he often bought back unusual items that his cousin Paul Neal considered would be difficult to sell, including on one occasion gymnastic equipment from the Queen Mary.

-Terry Hall