Snow fell steadily on to the shoulders of a scruffy queue of people outside the Dyson building in Battersea, south London, at 9am. They muttered anxiously among themselves and clasped cups of coffee to warm their hands.
Upwards of 1,000 people braved the snow yesterday for this year's Royal College of Art (RCA) "Secret" sale, where art lovers can buy original pieces of postcard-sized art by acclaimed and up-and-coming artists for £45 a pop.
However, there's a catch – the artist's name is revealed only once the work has been bought – encouraging buyers to base their choice on the art itself rather than a name attached to it. In this 20th-anniversary year, the main attractions were photographs by David Bailey and works by painter Paula Rego, and Wallace and Gromit's creator Nick Park.
The sale is, perhaps, unique in the crowd it attracts: families and middle-aged folk make up the bulk of the queue outside the RCA. There is not a single asymmetric art student haircut in sight. The curator, Wilhelmina Bunn, said: "The main thing is that people don't feel intimidated at the gallery. The works range from abstract, challenging pieces to more straightforward crafts, so there's something for everyone".
Dennis Doherty of Battersea, who has been coming for 18 years, camped overnight to buy one of the 2,700 postcards. "It was the most horrible night with non-stop rain and snow," he said. "I'm also a little disappointed with the range of artists this year, and am gutted I didn't manage to buy one of the pieces I had my eye on."
Similar sentiments were voiced by other prospective buyers, along with complaints about the lack of tea-making facilities and concerns over the organisation of the queue.
But students Tess and Charlotte were delighted with their postcards, and are already planning a strategy for next year. "This time round was more of a learning curve, so we've got to be more organised and get here earlier next year," they said.
Finally, after two hours of queuing, The Independent on Sunday got its chance to buy a work – a piece by Reading-based artist Kate Corde. We joined the throng of mostly satisfied punters back on the cold streets.