Slim pickings at Palace for the junk trade: Alex Renton accompanies an unimpressed house clearance specialist to view the Royal Family's furniture and fittings

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The Independent Online
NOW that Buckingham Palace has opened its doors a little, the really important question can be addressed. If the Queen had to sell up, what would she get?

Tony Vaughton runs a junk shop in Hammersmith, west London, and specialises in house clearances - when a home is repossessed, or someone dies without heirs, he buys the right to clear and sell the contents. After 19 years in the trade, he knows it is important to make a reconnaissance before you tender. The Independent took him on a recce of the state rooms.

As we queued, Mr Vaughton was sizing up the cast-iron gas lamps, for which he said there was a good market. They were a bit big: 'You can't imagine them in your semi-detached in Greenford, but you could make a nice parrot cage out of them.'

Climbing Nash's grand staircase, he admired the gilded balustrade, which cost pounds 3,900 in 1828 - easily stripped out and sold to an architectural warehouse. The portraits impressed him less - 'there's no call for them: it's like looking at someone else's family photo album' - but the gilt carved wood frames could fetch pounds 600 for turning into mirrors.

Mr Vaughton was surprised to see so much Chinese and Sevres porcelain: he felt the Royal Family should have been more patriotic and bought some English ware. The marble statuary did not meet with his approval - 'looks a bit like Kensal Green cemetery' - but it would go well to the antique garden furniture trade.

The throne room was more impressive, with its beautiful marquetry floor - 'impossible to take it up, it's so smooth with all the wear over the years' - and the thrones themselves, fine needlepoint embroidery on ornate gilt, would go straight to America. 'Anything with royal connections goes there. I'd say at least pounds 10,000 apiece.'

The jumble of Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin in the long gallery interested Mr Vaughton less than the four marble fireplaces, each with two angels holding up the mantelshelf: pounds 8,000 each, he reckoned.

As we moved through the State Dining Room and the Green, Blue and White Drawing Rooms, he was searching for the simple pleasure of something plain and stylish - the weight of gilt carving and red plush became exhausting. 'It's a cinema by J Arthur Rank, mid-Seventies,' he said.

With the exception of the Gobelin tapestries and the odd Regency card table, 'too garish to live with' was the verdict. 'Well, I know it's valuable, but I can't imagine who'd want to buy it,' Mr Vaughton kept muttering. It was with some delight that, on the way out, we came across a modern bronze of three horses, presented to the Queen on a visit to Kentucky. It looked like a colour supplement limited edition, but at least it was homely.

'It's what we in the trade call Golders Green taste - glass on everything, lots of gilt, lots of glitz. Everything top quality, but no sense of aesthetic value. Like buying a Rolls-Royce, then putting in gold fittings, white-wall tyres and leopard- skin upholstery. It's sadly lacking in class.'

So what would I get if I brought in, say, one of the red needlepoint sofas? 'I'd make you a derisory offer, you'd ask for more, and we'd agree on pounds 200. It's worth more, but my clientele wouldn't pay more.'

And what would Mr Vaughton take home? 'Well, I like the wood carvings on the doorways, for their skill and delicacy. I'd probably take the Sevres table (presented to George IV by Louis XVIII in 1817), sell it, and buy something really nice.'

(Photograph omitted)

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