Friday, 7 December 2012

Menus and their holders can be tasty collectables

Menu-10I’m on a diet, so there’ll be no stuffing myself with turkey, Christmas pudding and brandy butter or lashings of ginger beer this festive season. Thankfully we’ll be on a beach, so the temptation won’t even be there, which is just as well because will power was never my strong point.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t fancy a winter cruise. According to reports that filter back from various other family members who have tried it, most of the time is spent in one or other on-board restaurant. Apparently, we’re told, it’s quite possible to eat right around the clock.

‘Twas ever thus. In 1947, dinner in First Class aboard the Cunard White Star flagship RMS Queen Elizabeth went as follows: for starters, it was oysters on the half shell, followed by clear turtle soup, turbot for the fish course and timable of ham. Main course was roast sirloin of beef accompanied by braised onions, fresh broccoli, globe artichokes and hollandaise sauce. Potatoes were “boiled, roast snow and Parisienne”.

Pudding was a choice of Seville soufflé, charlotte russe or praline parfait, or one could stick with the ices: vanilla, Neapolitan or pistachio. And to finish: fresh fruit, coffee and “Scotch Woodcock”. How do I know? Simple, among my cache of printed ephemera, I have a copy of the menu.

A couple of printed menus sold last week were out of my reach, though. Henry Aldridge and Son, the Devizes auctioneers who lead the world as auctioneers of Titanic memorabilia, secured a bid of £64,000 for the rarer of the two, pictured above. It listed the 24 dishes including roast Surrey capon, fresh lobsters, “Hodge Podge”, roast beef and ox tongue, served at the first luncheon served in First Class on board Titanic on her maiden voyage out of Southampton on April 10, 1912.

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Friday, 30 November 2012

Give festive gifts with historic charm this Christmas

collect-9My mission this week is to help you find Christmas presents for the collectors in your life: for Gran, a nice hand-blown English drinking glass for her egg nog; a first edition classic for Grandpa; an impressive gold necklace or gem-set brooch for Mum; an antique handmade golf club for Dad; and the kids? Well virtually any plaything from the past would be perfect.

But all that’s old hat. Why not buy each of them a Christmas collectable? Let’s face it, there’s plenty of choice and since it’s a festival that’s been going for a while now, celebrating Christmas is not something that’s going to go out of fashion.

The idea was planted in my subconscious the last time I went to Florida for my summer holiday. There’s something distinctly odd about shops that sell only Christmassy kitsch all

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Friday, 23 November 2012

My heart belongs to Chiparus Dolly Sisters

Dolly-3THIS magnificent bronze and ivory figure by the great Romanian-born Art Deco sculptor Demetre Chiparus may not be unique – numerous editions would have been cast – but the two exotic vaudeville dancers it depicts surely were. They were the Dolly Sisters, the original dolly birds, alluringly naughty legends in their own lifetime on both sides of the Atlantic, who drove their fabulously rich suitors mad with desire.

The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, and his close friend Edward “Fruity” Metcalfe were both reported to have had affairs with the identical twins. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst and entrepreneur “Diamond” Jim Brady were captivated, while Harry Selfridge, the widowed American founder of the Oxford Street store, was said to “bat the Dolly sisters back and forth like ping-pong balls” between himself and newspaper tycoon Max Beaverbook.

Selfridge’s indulgence knew no bounds, He squandered millions on the twins who were

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Mourning jewellery–poignant and highly collectable

mourn-10Queen Victoria ruled for almost 64 years, the longest in British history. The last 40 of them were spent in mourning for her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861. And when she declared that mourning nationally should be for “the longest term in modern times”, it became not just a ritual but a fashion. Ironically, dressmakers and jewellers had a field day (as, no doubt, did undertakers).

So, while it may be a bid morbid, this week’s missive is all about collecting memoriam or mourning jewellery. Time was when such pieces commemorating the death of a loved one were treasured and passed down through the generations, but after the carnage of two world wars, relatives were often only too relieved to rid themselves of anything relating to death. The secondhand market became flooded with the stuff and only now is it being appreciated by a new generation of collectors.

It was the upper classes who made the most of mourning, a widow naturally bearing the burden more than most, although her children suffered too. Special bonnets, heavy “weeping veils” of black crepe, and gowns – her “widow’s weeds” – covered her almost entirely, which the rules demanded should be worn for at least a year and an a day and sometimes as long as four years after a loved one’s death. The universal colour was, of course, black.

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Friday, 9 November 2012

Chocks away! What better way to spend rainy days than collecting first editions of Biggles’ adventures

Biggles-4I am grateful to Roger Harris to sell for  his assistance in writing this post.  Roger is the publisher of and, both of which I recommend highly.

HOW I hate the rain. Every time we plan to  go somewhere or do something, it pours. Even  Bonfire Night was a washout. There was a time, though, when I prayed for rain: I hated double sport lessons. If it was wet, they were spent in the library, where Biggles books were my refuge.

Roger Harris is another Biggles fan but with different, more painful, memories than my own. As a great admirer of the pilot-adventurer immortalised by author Captain W.E. Johns, Roger collected around 60 of the books but then sold them all for the grand sum of £12. That was in 1979. “Twenty five years later it would cost me in the region of £12,000 to buy them all back,” he told me ruefully.

Biggles-2At first he could afford to buy only pre-1942 first editions without their original dust wrappers. He now owns a first edition copy of every Biggles book published since 1942, all in their original, unclipped dust wrappers showing their original price. It took him 10 years to find a first edition of the first Biggles book “The Camels are Coming”.

I didn’t dare ask him what they set him back, but having watched a first edition copy of “Biggles Flies South”, published in 1938 sell for a sky-high £1,000 in a

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Friday, 2 November 2012

The potted history of collectable Victorian pot lids

potlid-1oWho among readers of this weekly missive collects Staffordshire pot lids? Clearly no one who was at a sale I watched the other day because not one of 16 lots of the things, mostly with two lids in each lot, found a buyer prepared to pay the - generally - £80-120 per lot that the auctioneer was expecting.

Let’s assume the reserves were on the low estimate. Is £40 too much to pay for a colourful, ready-made (and often ready-framed) little work of art that once had collectors falling over themselves to own? Answer: a resounding yes. Fashions change and just like the Clarice Cliff vase that I know cost its owner £450 and she let go in the same sale for £260, it’s very easy to get caught out and left to count the cost.

Which I suppose means that now is the time to buy Staffordshire pot lids. They will probably never be cheaper. Read on and perhaps by the end, you’ll know what you’re looking for.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

Sotheby’s to sell the George Daniels Horological Collection, greatest watchmaker of 20th century

back coverI’m not sure what George Daniels would have made of the iPhone. Apart from making voice calls and texts, for as little outlay as free, or 99 pence at worst, it’s possible to have the thing tell you the time or the weather anywhere in the world, the air temperature in Wirral and even when high tide will be tomorrow in Rhyl, constantly recalibrating itself to take into account leap years and phases of the moon. He’d probably have bought one just to take apart to see how it was made.

Dr Daniels, who died at his home on the Isle of Man in October last year, had that kind of inquisitive mind. When he was five, he opened up the back of a broken watch to reveal its complex mechanism of wheels and cogs, shedding a light on a new universe, which he said transformed his life.

On November 6, Sotheby’s will sell the personal collection of watches and clocks George built over a lifetime devoted to horology: unique timepieces George made himself, together with fine and important antique clocks and watches by makers who inspired him. They are expected to raise £3.8 to 5.8 million.

Proceeds from this landmark sale will be added to the £11 million raised for his collection of vintage cars, sold last June. The funds will go to the George Daniels Educational Trust, set up by him to further the higher education of pupils studying horology, engineering,

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