Thursday, 29 September 2005

Ringing up profit - antique telephones make a fascinating collection

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Tele 16

It's been a while since I mentioned the young apprentices, largely because they've virtually flown the nest. However, thanks to the wonders of computer technology, they remain in touch.

Given the right gizmos, it's possible to phone them wherever they are in the world and it never ceases to amaze me that I can speak to them for hours entirely for free.

The fact was not lost on the suits behind that great car boot sale in the ether that is eBay. They recently snapped up the company I use to make those calls which goes by the unlikely name of Skype.

The price? A gigantic $2.6 billion (yes, billion) in a mixture of cash and shares. Bonus payments of a further $1.5 billion will be made if Skype hits certain targets.

Auction industry commentators are now in overdrive trying to work out eBay's strategy. Whatever it may be, it's probably safe to assume part of the gameplan is to allow buyers and sellers to talk to each other directly and so increase sales.

All this would have been science fiction when the telephones illustrated here were in use and I mention the fact purely to illustrate that "antiques" get younger every day. It's presumably only a matter of time before collecting old computers becomes mainstream.

Collecting vintage and veteran telephones is already a well established hobby, as an auction sale next week will prove.

On offer will be one man's lifetime collection and nationwide, if not worldwide, interest is expected from collectors eager to add that elusive model number, maker or innovative design to their own collections.

Jim Walsh caught the collecting bug as a seven-year-old. His father was a switchboard operator at Liverpool's old Lancaster House telephone exchange in Tithebarn Street and Jim would go to meet him from work just to see the collection of the old phones displayed in glass cabinets there.

When staff got to hear of Jim's fascination, they ended up giving him one of the phones to take home.

Over the next 50 years Jim built up a collection that traces the history of telecommunications from the late 1800s to the present day. It was so comprehensive, it filled an entire room at Jim's home in Wallasey.

Tragically in January this year Jim, who ran a sub-Post Office in the Meadows, Maghull, died from a brain tumour at the age of 57, and now the collection is to be sold.
The Jim Walsh Collection of vintage and veteran telephones will be sold as part of the antique and collectors' sale at Liverpool fine art auctioneers Outhwaite & Litherland next Wednesday (October 5). Viewing is on Monday from 9:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Tuesday until 6:30 p.m. The saleroom is situated at the Kingsway Galleries, Fontenoy Street, Liverpool. For further information, telephone 0151 236 6561.
Liverpool-born Eddie Birch is a walking encyclopaedia on all telephones. For 10 years he was the curator of British Telecom's phones museum in Oxford and was one of Jim's close friends.

Now retired and living in Cheshire, he helped to catalogue the collection following Jim's death and said the sale presented a unique opportunity for anyone interested in collecting old telephones.

On offer is the least one example of every GPO phone in use from 1900, together with a number of instruments from phone networks from around the world.

It was unlikely such a large and thoughtfully assembled collection would ever come onto the market again and there were instruments to suit all pockets, from £10-20 for a basic 1950s black office phone to the high hundreds for rare, early and exotic phones from this country and abroad.

Among the most valuable in the sale is a pre-1912 Ericsson wall phone which is likely to fetch £500 or more, as are a Post Office telephone No. 1 phone, a Tele 16 wall phone from 1895 and a circa 1882 desk phone.

The Tele 16 is among the most interesting in the collection and certainly one of most decorative. Eddie Birch described it as looking something like a sewing machine.

It was made in the mid-1890s by the Swedish company Ericsson and supplied in the UK through the National Telephone Co.

When that firm was nationalised in 1912, becoming part of the GPO, newly-manufactured telephones became much more utilitarian and all the superfluous decoration was dropped.

Existing Tele 16 phones were called back from subscribers and refurbished, again with all decoration removed.

The phone is the first to have been designed and built for use on a desktop, being the first to have both earpiece and transmitter in the handset. Prior to that they were intended as a wall phone.

It was also the first phone that didn't require a battery, the internal generator taking his power from two horseshoe-shaped magnets in the legs of the phone.

Built in Sweden with typical Victorian quality, they are also interesting for the fact that they have a hologram visible in the layers of varnish on the case.

Fortuitously, Jim managed to get his hands on an example that had not been refurbished and it is this phone that is likely to excite bidders most.

Such treasures represent the holy grail for collectors demanding only the best in perfect unmodified condition, which was the hallmark of Jim's collection.

You're wanted on the blower

A pre-First World War so-called butler phone is another rarity. In the early days, a large household with servants' quarters would be fitted with speaking tubes so that maid or butler could be summoned when required.

As Eddie Birch explained, the expression "You're wanted on the blower" dates from this era when the user would blow down the tube in order to sound a whistle of the other end and call attention.

As technology developed, these old-fashioned phones were replaced by electricity companies who supplied intercoms by feeding a wire up the lead tubes and installing a microphone in each end, this in the days when plumbers were also electricians.

A similar fate fell to the old bell push, which was replaced with a wooden box containing a microphone and speaker.

This avoided servants making a double journey, first to answer the bell and second to deliver the service. Today such phones change hands for between £20-80.

Jim's collection will also satisfy those collectors who collect by category. Jim's favourite phone was the candlestick model and there are at least six, all made from Bakelite but all of them slightly different to each other.

Some collect only Bakelite, others only plastic. Jim collected anything connected with phones so long as he liked it. He collected with knowledge, buying at the right time when prices were the most affordable.

Not everyone wants a full-size switchboard or an old renter's box with A and B buttons that were fitted in shops or gentlemen's clubs, but Jim had both, the latter likely to sell for around £400.

I confess to having a soft spot for old telephones myself and I own three. After speaking to Eddie Birch, though, I discovered I had committed the cardinal sin of having two of them converted for use in today's high-tech phones network.

The exception is my 1970s Trimphone, which is untouched, basically because I haven't had chance to tinker with it.

Eddie Birch asked me if I knew how I got its name. I didn't, but the answer is as follows. The phone, piloted by the GPO in 1964, was the first without a bell. Instead, it had a tone ringer.

The first examples also had illuminated dials. The trim of Trimphone stands for tone ringer illuminated model -- simple.

The early example in Jim's collection is worth around £30.

Pictures show, top: A tele 16 desk phone - they look more like a sewing machine. It's worth £300-500

Below, left to right: Top lots - back, a Tele 16 desk phone, circa 1895, estimate £300-500; a circa 1882 desk phone estimate £300-500 and a pre-First World War Swedish partners’ phone estimate £200. Front, two desirable ivory-coloured phones, each estimate £200-250

Back: The sale also includes a number of telephone-related enamel signs such as this one worth £80-120. Front, left to right: An NTC Sterling phone estimate around £200; a pre-First World War 25 line Ericsson internal phone (£150-200) and a wooden internal phone (£50-100)

More modern phones are also collectable. Left to right, a red Ericsson IM phone with the dial in the base (£40-60); a two-tone green Trimphone (£20-30); a clear 746 model phone (£150-200); a cream Trimphone and a Mybelle Spotlight clear phone (£30-50). The miniature red phone box in the background is estimated at £40-60

Press Button B for your money back … this old phone box is worth £300-400

A Post Office No 1 wall phone estimate £300-500

026coll 05 028034029038


Thursday, 15 September 2005

Clock this - making grandfather run true for centuries

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Brass dial

It's been a challenging few weeks. Regular readers will recall that instead of a balmy two weeks in sunny Florida, we ended up coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis and our hearts go out to those who have suffered loss in area's newest disaster that was Hurricane Katrina.

Arriving home, we were surprised but delighted to see the Sold sign plastered across the For Sale board outside our house. After a gloomy few months wondering whether we'd ever find a buyer, the race was on to exchange contracts and complete in 15 days.

In the event, the move was surprisingly trouble free and we're thrilled with our new abode. The challenge now is to find homes for all the junk we collected during the 17 years at the previous address. It ain't easy.

Fortunately, our two longcase clocks fitted in straight away and both are ticking and chiming away merrily.

Ironically, one of them has not done so in all the time we lived at the other place. Don't ask me why, it was just never put back together when we moved there in 1985, so hearing it run again was highly cathartic.

The clock is very special to us. Aside from the fact that it dates from about 1690 (which means it has only a single finger and runs for just 30 hours) it was one of the first real antiques we ever acquired, paid for with a personal loan financed by the Business Manager's first wage.

Now it's back in one piece, I really can't understand why I never had it running at the old house.

The setup was a simple process, despite the fact that the removal men had prized the seat board - that's the small plank on which the movement sits - from its mountings, which in effect are the the sides of the clock.

If they had asked, I could have told them the movement was secured to the seat board by two vertical pins and simply lifted off it with absolutely no effort.

Fortunately, the old clout nails which held the seat board in place were still present and it was easy enough to refasten the seat board and replace the movement on its pins.

The hardest part of the setup was ensuring that the clock was "in beat", that is making sure that its tick equalled its tock, if you see what I mean.

Any clock - bracket, wall or longcase - has to be in beat to run successfully, in many cases to run at all. If you've ever listened to a metronome, you'll know that the pauses between the respective beats of the machine are absolutely equal.

Setting a wall clock in beat is a relatively straightforward process. Simply by swinging the case by small amounts either right or left using its hook as a pivot causes the pendulum to shift out of vertical. Listened carefully and you'll hear the difference the moves make.

The only time this is a problem is when it's necessary to swing the clock so far out of vertical to put it in beat that it is obviously hung crooked.

Circular, schoolroom-style clocks are much easier to accommodate, but long wall clocks such as a Vienna regulator, can look ridiculous if they don't hang straight.

The solution here is that physically bend the clock movement's crutch. This is the small vertical bar which protrudes from the rear of the movement through which the pendulum runs.

The same is necessary in the case of bracket (mantle) and longcase clocks, but it's not a job for the fainthearted.

The crutch is made from a softer metal allowing it to be bent readily to move the pendulum out of vertical so that you don't have too move the actual clock.

It's a delicate operation, though, and requires a certain amount of trial and error. Bend it too much, or too far, or too vigorously, of course, and the crutch can break. Disaster.

The bottom line was that after a couple of small alterations, our old clock was ticking, tocking and chiming perfectly.

Over the next few days, I shall be attempting to check that is running accurately - although this won't be easy, or crucial, given that it has only a single finger and is therefore accurate to only the nearest 15 minutes. (Remember: move the pendulum up to make the clock gain, move it down to make it lose).

All this said, having set the thing up and sat for a while listening to its soothing tick-tock, I started to worry.

Consider this, if you parked your car in the garage and left it for 17 years, how safe would it be to simply start it up and drive away?

I know enough about mechanical things to realise that the first journey should be to the nearest service bay to have the thing overhauled and given at least an oil change. To do otherwise could cause untold damage.

I realise antique clocks don't have things like onboard computers and catalytic converters, but they are mechanical. What's more, some of them are highly complex and unlike cars, they are an appreciating asset, so it's worth looking after them.

So I put the question to Michael Turner, head of clocks and barometers at Sotheby's. I was reassured.

Centuries of grime and old oil

Certainly, Mr Turner recommended giving the clock a full overhaul, but at a likely cost of £400 that will have to wait, after all we have just moved house.

It seems like a lot of money but the charge would cover a complete strip down of the clock movement. All the build-up of centuries old grime and old oil would be removed, the clock reassembled, tested and returned to your home where it would be set up to run satisfactorily and should not need further attention for the next 10 years or more.

This seems pretty reasonable when compared to the cost of a full service on a family motor.

But what about running a clock that has stood idle for 17 years? Should I get the oil can out and have a go myself?

Michael Turner said it was a little like recommending someone try to set up a clock in beat by bending the crutch arm. It was something an educated amateur could undertake, so long as it was done carefully, using the right oil applied sparingly.

The specialist clock restorer, of course, uses special clock oil. Refined domestic machine oil such as Three in One would do the job adequately, but the can of WD 40 should be left in the glove compartment. It sets and will gum up the works, stopping it completely. Leave for vegetable oil in the kitchen, for the same reason.

Applied in tiny droplets from the end of a piece of wire, the only places that need oil - and it's just a touch, not more - are at either end of the anchor where it engages and disengages with the escape wheel; the brass square at the top of the pendulum rod where it slides in the fork of the crutch and the ends of the arbors or spindles where they rotate in the small holes in the back and front plate of the movement (see diagram).

Do not oil the small toothed wheels, called pinions, which transmit the driving force to the next wheel in the movement. This causes dust to adhere to them forming a sticky mess which will clog the wheels.

Here are a few more tricks and tips should you be moving home or you simply need to relocate your longcase clock to another part of the house: never move the clock with all its various parts in position. Working in this order, remove the hood; wind of the clock almost fully and then unhook the weights (use a felt tipped pen to mark them discreetly left and right); remove the pendulum and then the movement.

If the clock is moving some distance, it is wise to protect the pendulum by fastening it to a strip of wood of a similar length.

Special care should be taken with the fine spring "feather" of the top of the pendulum rod which can be further protected by sliding a cardboard tube over it. The centre of a toilet roll is perfect for the job.

Reassembly is the reverse of the above. When finally assembled and going smoothly, the case should be fastened to the wall to prevent it toppling over with tragic consequences.

I look forward to celebrating the 400th anniversary of our longcase clock in 2090. It should still be going strong.

Pictures show, top: An early 18th century longcase clock movement alone worth £600-800. With its seconds subsidiary dial just below 12 o'clock and the date aperture just above 6 o'clock, setting the thing up to be accurate is not for the faint-hearted

Below, left to right, Oil here - sparingly (click to enlarge).

This good Edwardian longcase clock sold last month for £9,000. Tackle setting up in a new home at your peril. Its brass dial shows phases of the moon and has a subsidiary seconds dial and two dials to regulate the movement. The clock strikes and chimes on five gongs and eight bells with no way of silencing them!A good mid 18th century walnut longcase clock worth £4,000-4,500.

A good George III mahogany longcase clock by John Wilkins who is recorded as working in Islington, London, in 1773. It's worth £4,000-5,000

A good George III mahogany longcase clock by John Wilkins who is recorded as working in Islington, London, in 1773. It's worth £4,000-5,000

A late 18th century London clock by Walter Barry. Note the strike/silent dial in the arch which, as it sounds, stops the clock from chiming and keeping everyone awake. An alternative in lesser clocks is to muffle the point at which the striker strikes the bell with an Elastoplast! The clock is worth £1,200-2000.

Labelled drawingLot 370Lot 124Lot 121Lot 117

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Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Collect Clarice Cliff wall masks - if you can afford them

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Lot 191

We shouldn't have grumbled here last week about spiralling prices for examples of Clarice Cliff's Bizarre pottery, having done so we seem to be surrounded by the stuff.

First, we watched as one "lucky" buyer handed over a 100 notes at a North Wales car boot sale for one of Clarice's large geometric patterned jugs that he was convinced was worth five times the amount.

He might have been right, although we had a sneaky suspicion it could have been a fake.

Then, on a trip into town, we saw the banners festooned from the front of Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery promoting their latest exhibition.

Aptly, since it is all about the Art Deco and the Age of Jazz, the banners are decorated with Clarice's flat angular figure groups by the same name showing a dance band and dancers in action.

The exhibition runs until October 30, giving us plenty of time to go back and appreciate what we're told is one of the best exhibitions to have been mounted at the Walker this year.

Finally, North Wales auctioneer David Rogers Jones contacted us to tell us about a single-owner collection of Clarice's crocks that had been consigned for one of his sales. The results are an interesting barometer of how prices are faring currently. Surely it can only be a matter of time ...

Interestingly, the collection for sale at Rogers Jones included an example of one of the handful of face masks modelled by Clarice - wall medallions as the Newport Pottery factory called them - introduced in 1933.

Marlene, modelled after film star Marlene Dietrich, has an ornate headdress decorated in red, yellow and brown, while the others include Flora, who has an Oriental face and hair garlanded with flowers; Marilyn wears a beret; Chahar is the name given to another with an elaborate Egyptian headdress and a pair of baby masks called Jack and Jill wear only smiles beneath their small tufts of hair.

No less frivolous than her Bizarre pottery, these wall masks were popular when they were first made and Marlene and Flora remained in production until well into the late 1930s.

Flora was the most popular of all and two sizes were produced painted in either strong or soft colours to suit the customer's decor and taste.

The masks are becoming scarcer today, but interestingly, another example of Marlene turned up in the Kent auction house a fortnight ago with an estimate of £300 to 400. She failed to sell. The Rogers Jones example went for £220, presumably because of a more reasonable reserve.

Clearly the collector who was liquidating at Rogers Jones was also a lover of ceramic wall masks because the consignment also included a charming group by lesser potters that will sell for a fraction of the prices Clarice commands.

The pictures illustrated here showed just a few. My favourites are the pair of miniature face masks by John Beswick and a Czechoslovakian mask whose subject has orange hair!

Face masks have a long history in art and they make a rich source for the collector. Among the most accessible are probably those brought back from Africa when the continent was opened up by missionaries in the 19th century.

Intrepid tourists followed quickly after and it is rare to find a country house contents sale that does not include a section devoted to the weird and wonderful souvenirs shipped home by the trunk load from some safari in a far-off land.

It should be no surprise to learn that such tribal artefacts were major influence on the design elements that make up Art Deco and nowhere is this better realised that in the ceramic face masks of the Twenties and Thirties.

Interestingly, Clarice Cliff was involved in the production of a truly grotesque face mask unlike anything being made in the Staffordshire Potteries when it appeared in 1929.

Traditional "Clarice Cliff Bizarre" backstamp

It was designed by Ron Birks, Clarice's apprentice at the Newport Pottery, and some examples - now exceedingly rare - are marked with his 'RB' monogram. Others have the traditional "Clarice Cliff Bizarre" backstamp, although Birks was paid a small royalty for each one sold.

Susie Cooper, another of the celebrated Pottery Ladies, also designed face masks, notably one modelled as a judge complete with wig and another of a Chinaman.

A particularly prolific mask maker was Myott Son & Co. whose Alexander Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent was founded in the early 1800s.

After previously concentrating on a range of traditional tableware, the firm was quick to climb on to the Art Deco bandwagon and introduced a large range of hand-painted ware including vases, jugs and wall pockets.

A further turning point in their fortunes came in the 1940s following a trading agreement with the Austrian company Goldscheider which had an extensive and highly successful range of stylish ceramic figures and face masks.

Interestingly, it was Myott who were commissioned to produce the white, minimalist tableware the Cunard Line, examples of which are marked 'Cunard Myott Staffordshire England'.

A similar but less well documented route was taken by the company J.H. Cope and Co, China manufacturer at the Wellington Works in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent.

Originally in partnership with another manufacturer nearby, Cope produced so-called Wellington China until it went out of business in 1946.

Before then, however, the decorative department made a small number of mass-produced yet stylish and cheerful face masks which continue to be popular today.

Like those from Myott, they change hands for little money when compared to Cliff and Cooper.

What to watch for

As with all "modern" ceramics, fakes, forgeries and (honest) reproductions can be a major issue for collectors, particularly if you lack the knowledge to tell the difference between old and new.

In recent years there was a revival in interest in ceramic face masks and high street shops were full of them, particularly a range modelled as harlequins.

Best advice is to buy from reputable sources, where a guarantee is freely given and replacement offered if there's a problem.

See a must-have mask and yearn to add it to your collection at your peril. Treat all examples as questionable, particularly if they appear to be too good to be true.

Make the piece prove its age to you. Is its condition too good for its apparent years?

Look at the unglazed rim at the rear of the piece. Is it too white, indicating that it's fresh from the maker?

Check out the glazing - expect to see some crazing, but too much of it in a uniform pattern is doubtful.

Look carefully at the colours. Are they strong and uniform, or streaky and thin? The latter in either case should ring alarm bells.

Best of all, try to put a good old piece alongside a dud - learning to spot the difference is a lesson you'll never forget.

Pictures show, top: A Clarice Cliff Newport Pottery Marlene face mask. Sold for £220 Lot 169 - A Beswick (?) pottery lady face mask, green hat and green spotted yellow cravat, no 449 to the base, 13 ins long. Sold for £145 Lot 162 A pair of Beswick pottery miniature face masks and two miniature Cope & Co face masks. Sold for £180 Lot 168 - A large Beswick Art Deco lady face mask with ringlets, flowers and a necklace, 12 ins high. Sold for £160

Lot 169Lot 162Lot 168

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Monday, 5 September 2005

Troika - pottery for collectors, but from Devon with love

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Minds greater than ours have long debated whether or not the present spate of television programmes devoted to buying, selling and collecting antiques is doing the business any good, but I have to admit that they can become addictive.

Whilst not exactly required viewing chez nous, we do find ourselves watching them, if only to enjoy the toe-curling embarrassment suffered by the participants dished out in spade-fulls by the mincing presenters.

But they do provide at least something of a service: it's thanks to them that collectors like us keep abreast of the latest trends.

Even this presents pitfalls for the unwary, though. The programmes are recorded sometimes months in advance of transmission, by which time what was once the latest must-have collectables are by now the auction houses' unsold lots.

Some old faithfuls continue to go from strength to strength, but we wonder how high the price spiral can go for such things as Beswick horses, Clarice Cliff Bizarre ware and Royal Doulton figure groups.

We pondered the issue having watched such a programme the other day. In its course we gasped as a couple of pots not unlike the ones illustrated here sold for £100.

They had cost their lucky owner the grand sum of 15p at her local car boot sale.

Aside from cursing that such good fortune never comes our way, we were grateful for the fact that the TV had once again highlighted a collecting area about which we knew absolutely nothing.

It turns out that the pots were made in Cornwall in the 1960s and were retailed under the name Troika.

Suitably inspired, we set about learning more - after all, you never know when Lady Luck might shine in our direction. If that happens, it pays to be able to recognise the fact.

Troika pottery has nothing to do with Russia, although clearly the trio who founded the company in 1963 chose the name for it is Russian meaning of the triumvirate of three equal partners.

Leslie Illsley, Benny Sirota, and Jan Thomspon also appreciated the punchy, sharply angular sound of the word, feeling that it aptly summed up their unique experimental, geometric ceramics that they planned to produce when they took over the Wells Pottery at Wheal Dream in St. Ives.

Despite only Sirota having had any experience in the pottery industry, and then for only two years, the trio each put up £1000 for the venture that those who thought they knew better predicted would collapse within three months.

Confounding the cynics, Troika pottery was turning a handsome profit within a year and was soon a leading light among producers of contemporary ceramics in an industry made famous by such potters as Bernard Leach, W. Staite Murray and Lucie Rie.

The first pieces made by Troika were produced were produced from blanks of tiles and doorknobs left over from the former Wells pottery.

Jan Thomson, an architect, was a sleeping partner and was bought out in 1965. Leslie Illsley had trained as a sculptor and had experience of making moulds, so he designed master moulds of such products as teapots, coffee sets and mugs thrown individually by Sirota,

Sirota also experimented with glazes, surface textures - both rough and smooth - and designed floor and wall tiles

The important London stores of Heal's and Liberty were the main source of business for the pottery and commissioned orders flooded in.

A further boost came in 1967, when Troika was featured in the year book of the design bible Studio and the following year, exhibitions of the Troika were staged in New York, Stockholm, and Sydney.

Buyers were drawn to the distinctive shapes, coupled with ground-breaking glazing techniques producing either smooth glossy finishes or richly textured surfaces and sometimes a combination of both.

Although almost all production was from moulds, the resulting experimental decoration meant that pieces varied in finish, almost by the batch.

Pieces made from one basic mould were modified in subsequent firings adding other moulds to give textured designs, while the company's decorators were given a free hand to experiment providing they stuck to certain specified colourways.

An early setback occurred in 1970, when St. Ives Council terminated the lease on the Wheal Dream building, but premises were found in an old salting house in Fradgan Place, Newlyn, which the two remaining partners renovated.

Operating in larger workshops allowed the business to expand and orders flooded in. At its height in 1975, eight decorators were employed to keep pace with demand.

Demand began to decline

Sadly, however, fashion is fickle at the cutting edge and eventually demand began to decline.

Heal's dropped Troika from its product range in 1978 and with Sirota running the Troika shop in St Ives, he gradually lost contact with the running of the pottery.

The government decision to double VAT in 1979 and a flood of cheap imports put further pressure on the partnership which ended in 1980.

Sirota kept the St. Ives shop and Illsley valiantly tried to keep the pottery afloat but then came the recession and the staff found themselves on a three-day week.

It got worse in 1983 when the bank called in its loan and Illsley was forced to sell his home. Troika Pottery ceased trading in December that year.

Illsley was subsequently diagnosed with cancer and died in 1989. Sirota, meanwhile, pursued many ventures and continued his fascination for pottery, producing an intriguing range of individual pots during the 1990s.

During the same period there was an attempt to restart Troika, headed by Roland Bence, a former decorator.

However, the attempt foundered when Illsley's widow, Judith, declined to accept the offer for the company name.

As with all hand-crafted, individually made pieces of pottery that are no longer in production - Clarice Cliff, Beswick and Royal Doulton - to name but three, values for Troika came from nowhere and continue to rise.

Whilst not exactly rare, decent pieces are becoming harder to find and unusual, large and signed pieces attract a premium.

If you're out and about in Cornwall this summer, call in at the Tremayne Applied Arts gallery in St. Ives.

You'll find a group of good Troika pieces, together with some of the post Troika ware designed and made by Benny Sirota.

Among the former is a Troika large white cube pot made for the Heal's and Liberty exhibition of 1968. It is priced at £550 and could represent a good investment. Only time will tell.

Pictures show: Top, Terrific Troika: this impressive group of Troika pottery was sold at Bryne's fine art auctioneers in their collectors' sale on Wednesday August 31. The two larger vases at the rear were each estimated at £400-600. They made £460 and £426 respectively. The three smaller examples at the front were each estimated at £200-300. Left to right, they sold for £230, £288 and £265

This piece was intended as a lampbase, the small brass fitting to the neck revealing its purpose. It's worth £200-300

Bottom, left to right, Many Troika pieces are marked by with the decorator's initials. Click on each image to learn more

Troika lampbase

Troika - Louise KinksTroika - Jane FitxgeraldTroika - Annette Walters

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Friday, 2 September 2005

Celebrities design Mickey Mouse souvenirs for charity auction sale

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Music Royalty - Sir Elton John

You'll know, if youre a regular reader of this column, that were just back from our annual holiday, in Florida, but as far away from Disneyland as we could get. With our two young apprentices now grown up, weve moved on from the traipse home with armfuls of soft toy souvenirs from the Magic Kingdom.

But the memories came flooding back (as they say) as we watched one child struggling under the weight of a Mickey Mouse that was bigger than she was. Either the airline was very understanding, or the toy must have had a seat of his own.

Taking home any of the Mickeys illustrated here will present more of a challenge. Each stands six feet tall and weighs 700 pounds.

They are the stars of an auction in New York next month to conclude the celebration of Mickey Mouse's 75th anniversary and the sale is expected to raise more than $1 million for charity.

Mickey turned 75 on November 18 last year and among a series of events to mark the occasion, the Walt Disney Company invited 75 celebrities notable Disney legends, artists, actors, musicians and athletes to each design their ultimate Mickey.

Since then, the statues have been on tour as part of a special tribute entitled "Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations."

The proceeds of the sale of each statue at Sotheby's in New York on September 27 will benefit charities designated by the artist of each statue.

The appeal of the character is universal.Michael Eisner, Disney Chief Executive Officer, said: "No other single character has such timeless, ageless appeal or has engaged the hearts of so many. Chances are, if you talk to a four-year-old or a 70-year-old anywhere in the world, they consider Mickey a special friend."

There was no shortage of budding Mickey designers who agreed.Our own Sir Elton John rose to the challenge to produce, fittingly, Music Royalty and the money raised from its sale will go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Other participants include:
· Ben Affleck designed "Home Run Hero" for The Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

· Andre Agassi designed "Love All" for the the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation

· Jamie Lee Curtis designed "The Original Mouse Pad" for the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation

· Long-time Disney animation artist Andreas Deja designed "Fruits of the Mouse" for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America

· Tom Hanks designed "Space Mouse" for the James Birrell Neuroblastoma Research Fund

· Kelly Ripa designed "Big City Mouse" for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

· John Travolta designed "Jet Setter" for the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project

So how do you join in the bidding for what must be the grandest Mickey Mouse souvenir? Actually, its easier than you think.

First, youll need a catalogue which can be pre-purchased by logging on to or by calling Sothebys in London on 020 7293 5000. It costs $41 including shipping and handling.

In the catalogue, youll find an absentee bid form which you fill in and return to bid department by fax or post.

Indicate the highest amount you would like to pay and the auctioneer will submit bids on your behalf, never bidding more than necessary to secure the lot and never more than the amount you specify. (Dont forget the buyers premium).

Absentee bid forms are also available at Sotheby's offices and on

However, much more exciting would be to bid in the New York sale without actually leaving home.

Youll need a computer and access to the Internet, of course. Log on to
Will the really Mickey please stand up

Topolino to the Italians, Raton Mickey in Spain and Mi Lao Shu in China, Mickey Mouse was born when Walt Disney discovered he had lost the rights to his previous character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Originally to be called Mortimer, Disney changed his mind and called the stick-like creature Mickey in the world's first synchronised sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie which opened on November 18, 1928.

The mouse later appeared in the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland, and won his first Oscar in the 1941 film, Lend a Paw.

He first appeared in colour in The Band Concert, in 1935, and has now featured in more than 120 cartoons.

Originally, Mickey was voiced by Disney himself, but was later played by Jim Macdonald and then Wayne Allwine.

Mickey greeted his first guests to Disneyland in California when it opened in 1955, followed by the vast Disney World in Florida in 1971 and later in Tokyo and Paris
Each venue pours out a torrent of kitsch souvenirs some more collectable than others!

One sure fire hit is a limited edition "Tuxedo" Mickey pin for collectors which will be given to the first 5,000 catalogue orders for the 75th anniversary auction. The pin is sure to rise rapidly in value.

More hardened collectors seek out only vintage memorabilia such as tinplate toys, money boxes, clocks and watches early annuals and film cels.

High prices are the norm. In February, a solid gold 24 carat statue of Mickey called "Celebration Mickey...100 Golden Years of Magic," produced in 2001 as part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth on December 5, 1901 sold for $690,000 (£370,000).

Pictures show: Top, Sir Elton John's Music Royalty which will raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation

Below, He's come a long way... a Dean's Rag Book soft toy Mickey, worth £60-80 and a tinplate clockwork toy motorcycle with Minnie riding pillion. The motorcycle was made by Tipp & Co and sold for £11,000

Mickey and MInnie in tinplate
Home Run Hero - Ben AffleckTuxedo - LenoxThe Original Mouse Pad - Jamie Lee CurtisSpace Mouse - Tom HanksLove All - Andre AgassiBig City Mouse - Kelly Ripa

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Thursday, 1 September 2005

Like the Victorians, we collect seashells by the seashore

by Christopher Proudlove©
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sailor's valentine low res
Just back from our annual holiday lugging home with us the usual bag of shells which we collected from the beach. The same has been happening since the beginning of time and it wasn't long, in some countries, where seashells – so-called Money Cowries – were themselves used as currency in places as far apart as Africa and North America, where East Coast Indians called them Wampum.

Since prehistoric times, some civilisations regarded seashells as important religious symbols, and for others they became musical instruments to call worshippers to prayer or soldiers to prepare for attack. In the case of a victory, a shell horn would be sounded to mark the triumph.

Seashells have also played an important part in fine art. In the Middle Ages, Christ's Apostle James, the fisherman, was given a scallop shell as an attribute by early Christians, promoting a flood of sculpture, paintings, and illuminated manuscripts across Europe featuring the same symbol.

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" showing the goddess of love standing on a scallop shell is one of the most celebrated. Now in the Ufizi Gallery, Florence, the work was painted in about 1480.

The shell found new admirers among Renaissance scientists and architects for the perfection of its structure, the latter often using shell shapes and designs in their buildings.

Leonardo da Vinci studied and made drawings of the perfect spiral construction of some shells which are said to have been the inspiration for the famous spiral staircase of the Chateau de Blois in France.

Throughout the Baroque period, gold and silversmiths incorporated shells in lavish table centrepieces, either using the natural shell itself or cast in precious metal and encrusted with jewels.

The era was one of adventure and exploration and many previously unseen exotic shells were brought back from the New World. They were immediately featured in three-dimensional works of art and most importantly, in paintings by Old Masters, particularly the Dutch, whose inveterate traders brought them home from their voyages.

The fashion for shells reached its zenith towards the end of the 18th century.

The courts of European royalty, notably the Louis X1V and Louis XV, saw a frivolous extravagance of fantastic paintings, sculpture, furniture and landscaping all decorated with a rock and shell design which the French called "rocaille".

The term produced the word Rococo which was adopted as the name of the period.

It was as if good taste had been forgotten. Even the simplest domestic objects -- ceramics, tableware and boxes -- were positively encrusted with the wildest type of shells, either actual or invented, while the dignity and religious meaning of the motif was forgotten.

Instead, the shell was reduced to a simple yet charming and fanciful design element which the Georgians embraced to the full in England.

Shell design in his repertoire

From the father of English ceramics, Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) onwards, every potter of note used the shell design in his repertoire and the same can be said of furniture designers such as Robert Adam (1728-1792) and silversmiths such as the Huguenot Nicholas Sprimont (1716-1771).

Nowhere is the trend better seen than in the construction of the Royal Pavilion built at Brighton by Regency architect John Nash (1752-1853) for the Prince Regent.

The Victorians were at least as frivolous but more sentimental. Seashells were widely appreciated with the growth of interest in natural history of the world but more importantly, the spread of the of the railways, the ease of travel and the idea of day-tripping and holidays at the seaside meant it was only natural for people to collect souvenirs from the beach.

Soon, small cottage industries sprang up producing all manner of boxes, ornaments and knickknacks decorated with shells stuck to them.

Alternatively, specialist shops sold plain boxes and such knickknacks as vases, picture frames, pocket watch holders and so on together with small bags of miscellaneous shells so that customers could decorate them at home. This was pre-TV remember.

As the craze grew, exotic shells were imported from abroad and sold either plain, polished or with engraved decoration, while cameo brooches -- shells carved with scenes and portrait busts and set into mounts with pins and safety chains -- also became popular.

The newly enriched middle classes filled their homes to the point of clutter with such fripperies, while the serious Victorian naturalist owned a collectors' cabinet, usually in rich mahogany, into which his shells were carefully stored, labelled with their Latin names and studied in depth.

A particularly attractive Victorian shell creation is the so-called sailor’s Valentine which by tradition was a touching souvenir brought home to loved ones by Jack tars from their voyages in the South Seas.

Usually comprising a wooden box, often hexagonal in shape, and hinged so that it opened in two halves, the Valentines were decorated with intricate patterns of tropical shells usually containing a shell-shaped heart or some endearing message such as "Remember Me" or "Love the Giver".

Folk lore aside, it is more likely that most of the Valentines were made by backstreet workers in the Pacific Islands and sold to visitors, whether they were sailors or tourists.

Particularly grand were the "floral arrangements" made entirely from shells and kept dust free under magnificent but scarily fragile glass domes.

Equally sought after today are 19th century framed pictures, again made entirely from shells, which must have taken many hours to produce.

A simple Victorian shell-covered box can be had for a few pounds. In perfect condition, shell Valentines are worth at least £400-600, often more, while shell arrangements under glass domes start at £100 and rise to £300-400 depending on size.

Pictures show, Top, A 19th century sailor’s Valentine worth £400-600.

Below, left to right,
This mid-19th century shell box has a lid centred by a heart-shaped silk plush heart, while the sides are of paper printed with shell designs. It’s worth £60-80

A late Victorian shell anchor meant to be hung on the wall of some seafarer’s cottage. It’s worth £40-60

Queen Victoria started the trend for holidays in Scotland, giving birth to a huge industry producing souvenirs decorated with tartan. This mid-19th century shell-covered box is worth £100-150

shell box low resshell anchor low restartan box low res

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