Before the auction had even reached a dozen lots, it was clear that Heathrow Terminal 1 was more loved than weary passengers and staff might imagine. Britain's biggest airport was making money for old rope.
Auctioneer Adam Alexander declared lot 11 – a short length of red velvet rope used for cordoning off a VIP area, together with two posts – sold for £900, more than a return air ticket to New Zealand.
Moments earlier, a small sign reading “Gate 7” raised £1,050, or over £1,400 once VAT and the 16 per cent buyer’s premium was paid.
For what is believed the first auction of the contents of a large airport terminal, around 100 bidders gathered at a hotel close to Heathrow Terminal 5. Thousands more were registered to bid online.
Because no one was sure how much demand there would be for the entrails of an obsolete 1960s transport terminal, there were no reserve prices. But as soon as bidding began for Lot 1, a sign reading “Welcome to Terminal 1”, it was clear that the auction would raise hundreds of thousands of pounds.
As Mr Alexander got into his auctioning groove, the value of a piece of signage that would normally have ended up in a skip rose swiftly to £1,200. The buyer was Dennis Toko, a business consultant, who wanted it for his office in Kingston.
Soon afterwards, an online bidder paid £4,750 for a large and utilitarian clock that had hung in the main departures area. A row of four black leather seats from which travellers watched delays tick from minutes into hours sold for £800.
Terminal 1 opened in 1968 as the home of British European Airways, which merged with BOAC in 1973 to form British Airways. It was initially used for domestic and European flights, but in the 21st century handled some intercontinental flights.
The final flight from Terminal 1 departed in June 2015. The terminal has remained more or less intact, and the contents for sale were moved only the day before the auction by the organisers, CA Global Partners.
Before he started taking bids, Mr Alexander confessed: “This is my first airport.
“The magnitude of what we have to deal with on the property has been rather unique."
Juliana Semione, a PhD student from Nottingham, said: “I’m an aviation lover and so I thought it would be great to get a piece of history.
“Heathrow’s always had a spot in my heart, because it’s been a gateway to the world for me. It was the first international airport I flew into, and I’ve used it many times since.
“The women’s restrooms signs are quite cute.”
Mr Alexander refused to be drawn on the prices that might be commanded. “No way to know, on a sale like this,” he said
A check-in desk, complete with scales and conveyor belt, sold for £3,000, while a pair of information desks went for £450 each.
Even a baggage trolley, with the slogan “making every journey better,” was an object of desire, selling for £250.
Almost three hours into the auction, a series of 10 original enamel-on-steel art works by Stefan Knapp, painted in 1959, came up for sale. They were sold for a total of £57,000
In keeping with the hierarchy of air travel, signs for Economy, Business and First Class went for £325, £375 and £600 respectively.
Future sales will be conducted for less portable items such as baggage carousels, escalators, airbridges and body scanners.