They say you must suffer for your art. Usually this applies to the artists, not the buyers. Yet more than 1,300 art lovers braved the cold for hours in London yesterday morning to queue for the chance to snap up affordable original artwork at the Royal College of Art's Secret postcard sale.
Some had camped out for days by the RCA, opposite the Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, lured by the opportunity to purchase a small work by the likes of Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, the animator Nick Park, the photographer David Bailey or the fashion designer Manolo Blahnik for just £45. The Independent on Sunday joined the queue for a cultural bargain.
The "secret" to the annual sale is that buyers do not know which of the 1,119 artists involved – who include RCA students – has created each of the 2,900 postcards, displayed anonymously and signed on the reverse, until after they have handed over their cash. However, the postcards had been on display for a week beforehand, giving punters the chance to make an educated guess.
The first buyer through the door, one of 50 people who won advanced entry to the sale through a raffle, seemed to know what he was buying. James Pardey, 43, a seasoned sale visitor from Putney, London, peeled off the blue sticker on the envelope housing his postcards to inspect his first purchase. With shaking hands, he revealed a series of green and red squiggles on a white background.
"I think that's the Yoko [Ono]," said the graphic designer, who had also camped outside the exhibition since Thursday in case he had not won in the raffle. He nervously turned over the card to reveal he was right. "That was my number one choice and I am hugely pleased about it." His other three selections were two pencil drawings by Emin and a Perry portrait in coloured pen: not bad for £180.
"For me this is all about owning great art," he said. "I don't know how much they would be worth but to me they are priceless. I wouldn't consider selling them. I knew what I was looking for but you can never be certain."
The college hopes to raise more than £130,000 from the sale, now in its 18th year, to help support art students with grants and bursaries.
Those in the queue outside who had not succeeded in the raffle had made varying sacrifices for their art. Michael Tregear, 63, of London, the house manager at Armoury House, which hosts corporate events at the Honourable Artillery Company, had camped since Sunday to secure his spot as second in the queue and had only left his tent during the day to go to work.
Helen Rudeforth, 47, a deputy headteacher from Hampton in Arden, the West Midlands, was a first-timer working her way through the Time Out book 1000 Things to do in London: the RCA sale is number 63. But the experience was making the amateur French horn player late for a practice session with her wind octet in Banbury. "It's touch and go," she said. "A bit of a knife edge round here." But it was worth being late as, after a four-hour wait, she rushed off to catch her train clutching four brightly coloured artworks.
Take a chance in the postcard lottery
The Independent on Sunday's 'secret' purchase was a vibrant postcard by the established abstract landscape painter Cecilia Vargas, who studied at the RCA at the same time as Tracey Emin. For your chance to win this artwork, email your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on Friday 2 December.