Monday, 28 November 2005

History in an antique: every collector jug tells a story

by Christopher Proudlove�
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the chase

One of the joys of collecting is talking to other collectors, so it was a pleasure to receive an e-mail this week from someone in Bala who wanted advice about a rather smart antique pottery jug. That's Bala, Ontario, not the lakeside village in North Wales, which is one of the joys of the Internet (see panel). Never has there been a better way to exchange knowledge and trade with collectors, wherever they might live.

So, in the never-ending quest, we resolved to identify the maker of the jug and learn all about it. The first part was easy. As can be seen in the accompanying illustration, the base of the jug carries and impressed mark which reads "Published by W. Ridgway & Co Hanley, October 1, 1835.

What makes this jug particularly interesting is that it is decorated with the famous story of Tam O'Shanter, based on scenes from the poem by Robert Burns (1759-96).

But first things first. The famous Ridgway family of potters have a complicated history. In simple terms, brothers John and William succeeded their father, Job, who trained at Swansea and Leeds before returning home to Hanley in 1781 to found a pottery company of his own.

He built the Cauldon Place Works in Shelton in 1802 and the two boys joined him in 1808. Job died in 1813 and the brothers continued trading as partners until 1830 when they went their separate ways.

John retained the factory where he produced porcelain fine enough to receive Royal assent as Potter to Queen Victoria.

William, meanwhile, concentrated on fine quality domestic earthenware and was clearly successful -- he went on to own six factories in the Potteries.

How it got to Canada is unclear, but the fine relief moulded jug is a William Ridgway speciality, one of more than 25 with different designs, made over a period of almost 30 years at his Church Works in Hanley.

Fortunately for today's collectors, the varying designs or either published or registered and many bear impressed marks,which means they can be dated with some certainty.

Interestingly, the Tam O'Shanter jug is the earliest Ridgeway jug to carry a date mark.

It tells the story based loosely on Douglas Graham of Shanter, Ayrshire (1739-1811), whose wife Helen was a superstitious shrew.

He was prone to drunkenness and womanising on market day and on one such occasion the local wags clipped his horse's tail - a fact he explained away with a scary tale of witches which his wife was naive enough to believe.

On one side of the jug we can see Tam carousing away the evening of market day in the local hostelry:

Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi reaming sAats, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drougthy crony:

However, "the minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure", the clock on a wall showing almost midnight, Tam must quickly make his way home.

But in his inebriated and confused state, he claims he is waylaid by a couple of warlocks and witches and is forced to run for his life.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin!
In hell, they'll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu' woman!

The witches give chase and Tam heads for the river, knowing that they are unable to cross running water.

But before his grey mare Meg, or Maggie, reaches the bridge:

For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie's mettle!

Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

The other side of the jug shows the chase. One of the two witches in the seen is shown clinging on to the horse's tail just as Tam reaches the bridge over the stream, while the jug handle is modelled with a hand clutching the tail.

The designs are almost certainly copies of contemporary prints taken from pictures in circulation at the time. Most notable among them are illustrations by the eminent engraver Thomas Landseer ARA (1795-1880) brother of the famous Sir Edwin Landseer, which were published in an edition of Burns's poem by Marsh & Miller of London in 1830.
The email from Canada asking for information about Ridgway jugs in fact began: "Hello from the Moon"!
Its sender went on to explain that his home was situated where the Moon River flows into Lake Muskoka in Bala, Ontario. "We live on the Moon River. And so, we live on the Moon!"
Bala was founded in 1868 by Thomas Burgess, a settler born in Scotland who had visited North Wales prior to emigrating. On his arrival he said the area and its lake reminded him of Bala and he decided to adopt the name.
Burgess built a sawmill, opened a general store, bakeshop, blacksmith's shop and post office and in 1917, the family helped establish a hydroelectric plant on the site of the original sawmill.
In 1922, Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, vacationed at Bala and was inspired to write The Blue Castle. The boarding house she stayed in is now home to the Bala Museum and has become a shrine to her.
The town is officially twinned with our own Bala in Gwynedd.
Interestingly, the scene inside the inn and the handle formed by a witch's hand clutching the horse's tail can also be seen on a Burns jug manufactured by another potter which appeared a year before the Ridgway version.

The coincidence is too great and it can be safely assumed that Ridgway copied the idea from the other potter. At the time, the laws of copyright were but a twinkle in a lawyer's eye.

It was common practice in the middle of the 19th century for potters to take their inspiration for events going on around them. Modellers of Staffordshire flatback figures depicting famous politicians, soldiers and actors copied the illustrations in the broadsheets, penny dreadfuls and playbills and printers made a good living by publishing prints of engraved illustrations specifically for the pottery industry.

Another charming Ridgway jug is modelled with the story of John Gilpin's ride, while others are similarly decorated in relief with classical motifs, arabesques, fruiting vines and other naturalistic elements.

Oddly, such crisply modelled examples of the potter's skill, whilst becoming less common, remain surprisingly affordable. It is more than possible to pick up an extremely fine and undamaged example for under �200, while �80 to �120 is the going rate for most at auction. Of course, replacement value for insurance purposes is somewhat more.

As a result, it is eminently possible to build a collection of Ridgway jugs picking up an examples of the many different designs available without breaking the bank. They make a fascinating documentary of middle-class aspirations during the course of the Industrial Revolution that brought great wealth to a relative few.

Pictures show, top:
The Ridgway jug showing poor Maggie in full gallop but with a witch hanging on to her tail

Below: left to right: The reverse of the jug decorated with the scene inside the tavern showing Tam enjoying a foaming quart being poured by the landlord�s wife

The illustrations of the same scenes by Thomas Landseer from an edition of the Robert Burns poem Tam O�Shanter published in 1830

The jug handle formed by a witch�s hand grasping the horse�s tail

The impressed mark on the base of the jug, It reads: Published by W Ridgway & Co Hanley October 1, 1835

drinkingprint1pprint2incised markdetail1

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Thursday, 24 November 2005

Auction chance to own trophy awarded to triple Derby winning Cheshire greyhound

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Remembering Rushton Mac

In his heyday Cheshire's Rushton Mac was acclaimed as the best English-bred greyhound ever. Having achieved a trio of victories in the English, Welsh and Scottish Derbies; recorded wins in 14 successive races and posted five track records, the description was beyond doubt.

Now, 50 years later, the magnificent silver trophy presented by the Greyhound Racing Association for Mac's 1955 English Greyhound Derby win is to be sold. Chester fine art and antiques auctioneers Byrne's will offer the trophy together with Mac's trap No. 2 jacket worn for the race; the winner's jacket worn by the dog during the subsequent parade and presentation, a photograph of the trophy presentation; an original race card from the meeting held on June 25 1955 and one of Mac's stud cards. The collection is expected to fetch up to £3,000 when it is sold on the second of a two-day sale on Wednesday and Thursday, December 7 and 8.

Rushton Mac was bred out of Rushton News and Rushton Panda by the late Mr Frank Johnson and his wife Mary at Boothouse Farm, Rushton, in Tarporley, Cheshire, where they ran a greyhound stud and licensed training facility. Mr Johnson’s son, Peter, a retired farmer from Wrenbury, is selling the collection. He said greyhound breeding and racing was the great love of his parents' lives.

"Boothouse was a small farm on the Oulton Park estate and they started greyhound racing with a bitch named Fly Joan soon after they were married in the early 1940s. They were granted a licence to train dogs on their own account in1953 and by then they were travelling to races all over the country," Peter Johnson said.

"My sister, Ann, and I were always being bundled into the back of a van with the dogs and we used to help at the tracks. It was so exciting when we came home as winners. It was very unusual to run English-bred greyhounds because in those days most were bred in Ireland."

Mac's track record was unique. Apart from being a triple Derby winner in 1955, the grandson of Fly Joan, the Johnson's original dog, Mac was awarded Silver Greyhounds in 1954 and 1955 for Best English Bred Greyhound.

A contemporary report of the English Derby run at the famous White City Stadium in London, said that "early round results implied this was a two dog race and the betting reflected this. While Rushton Mac was a well backed 5/2 shot, the clear odds on 1/2 favourite was the three dog Barrowside. All seemed well for favourite backers as Barrowside led from the boxes, with Home Straight and Rushton Mac following closely behind. Barrowside went wide at the first providing Rushton with the opportunity on the inside. Down the back straight Rushton maintained a length lead, always challenged by Barrowside, and these went clear of the others led by Home Straight and Coolkill Chieftain. Around the fourth bend Ruston was still in the lead as Barrowside mounted a strong challenge, but Rushton held on by three-quarters of a length, with the pair some four and a half lengths ahead of the fast finishing Coolkill Chieftain.

Mac was retired and put to stud in late 1956 or early 1957 having won more than £8,500 in prize money. Mr and Mrs Johnson retired in the early Sixties and the trophy and archive has remained in the family since. By the important London silversmith Garrard & Company, it weighs a whopping 64½ ounces and comes complete with turned wooden socle and fitted mahogany case.

The trophy and archive is one highlight in Byrne’s sale of more than 850 lots of fine art and antiques from various owners. The sale starts at 12 noon and is on view on Sunday December 4 from 11am to 2pm; on Monday December 5 from 10am to 5pm; Tuesday December 6 from 10am to 7pm and on the morning of the sale from 9am. Catalogues, price £8 (including postage) are available from the auctioneers and can be viewed online at


Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Picture framing: fun but an art not for the faint-hearted

by Christopher Proudlove�
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mona lisa

They stand ranged around the walls of our new living room like ranks of drunken soldiers each relying on the other to stop them falling flat on their faces. How long it will take before we pluck up the courage to start hanging our pictures
- and indeed how many we have space for - remains to be seen.

The scene reminds me of set-up days at an art gallery or auction sale. Just as they arrived off the back of our removal van, when pictures are delivered for exhibition or sale view, they all land at once.

It must be a constant nightmare for organisers of such events, but they know what to expect, and having been trained in such matters, they know how to display and light the works to show them off at their best.

We, on the other hand, haven't a clue. Like all collections (and a bit like Topsy) the number of objects we own just grew and grew. But they arrived at the old house piece by piece over a period of many years.

Consequently, we either acquired pieces for specific places, or else when we found something we felt we couldn't live without, we forced ourselves into finding a home for it.

It may have looked like a junk shop, but it all made sense to us and we also like to think that the stuff sat happily next to each other in some semblance of order.

The challenge now is starting with a blank but much smaller canvas.

Had we lived in the 17th century, where and how to hang pictures would not have been a problem, although general lack of funds might have been an issue, but that's another story.

Well-heeled gentlemen collectors had rooms set aside in their homes to house what became to be known as their "cabinets of curiosities" and contemporary paintings and prints from the period show the walls literally covered from floor to ceiling with pictures.

What TV's Changing Rooms team would have made of it doesn't bear thinking about.

To see the detail in the pictures nearest floor would have required the viewer to get down on hands and knees, while a pair of binoculars would have been useful for those uppermost in the room. No surprise then that a set of high library steps was always kept handy.

Today's collectors also have the heartache of coming to terms with the fact that the vagaries of fashion over the years has resulted in many fine picture frames being scrapped to be replaced by something considered "more modern".

It's a happy occasion, therefore, when an auction house picture cataloguer can describe a work as being offered in its original or contemporary frame -- the latter meaning not modern but contemporary with the work it surrounds.

The arithmetical increase in value is of course dependent on the picture in question, but the difference can be so spectacular that dealers and collectors are now seeking out antique frames in an attempt to undo some of the damage done by their predecessors over the years.

To put a picture back in the kind of frame in which it left the artist's studio is akin to reuniting twins separated at birth.

I know many picture dealers who have shelves tucked away at the back of their galleries on which lie dozens of fine but forlorn frames, each waiting for the right picture to turn up and enable its owner to make a killing.

We once experienced a small moment of success ourselves. Arguably our finest needlework sampler, dated 1815, was found languishing in an antique shop where it had been framed with stripped pine, not unlike the ready-made frames being churned out today on the High Street.

It looked hideous but the sampler was precious and we snapped it up for less than £20. Then, a few weeks later, we came across a magnificent Victorian mahogany cushion-shaped frame that had long since lost its contents.

We probably would have bought it anyway but if memory served -- and it was a complete hunch -- the size looked broadly similar to that of our precious sampler. When we got it home, the two fitted together so snugly that clearly they were made for each other.

The consequent rise in value aside, the sampler remains precious to us and will be one of the first things we hang once we come across that courage that I mentioned earlier.

In the meantime, we are on the lookout for frames by the English virtuoso woodcarver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).

Masterly carvings

Gibbons was born in Rotterdam but returned to England in 1672 and was appointed by Charles II as Master Carver in Wood to the Crown, a role he continued to fulfil throughout the reign of George I.

Sir Christopher Wren employed him for the architectural decoration.of Blenheim and Whitehall Palace, while the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, contains examples of his masterly carvings.

Working mostly in limewood, Gibbons' trademark was carved cascading fruit, leaves, flowers, foliage, fish, and birds which were so delicate they could be applied with equal success to panelling, furniture, walls and fine frames

Gibbons is said to have produced a cravat made of limewood in a perfect imitation of Venetian needlepoint. The "cravat" was so lifelike that having worn it in 1763, Horace Walpole commented: "There is no instance of man before Gibbons who gave to wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers".

However, such things are the stuff of dreams and museum exhibits.

Today's collectors are more likely to find frames from the Victorian and Edwardian eras and many of them remain surprisingly affordable.

Stripped of their contents and previously discarded, it is only now that they are becoming appreciated for what they are: real wood, quality-made (although admittedly by machine and mass-produced) throwbacks to a period when quality was valued and even the simplest photograph or print was cherished.

Some of the most charming frames to seek out are those veneered in bird's eye walnut, maple, painted (or "scrumbled") pine and the so-called Oxford frame with its unique characteristic of sides of "which cross each other and project some distance at the corners" as the Oxford English Dictionary. puts it.

Or "the barbarism called an Oxford frame" as one writer expressed his distaste in Modern Parish Churches published in 1874.

No one is really sure how this type of frame got its name but it has been suggested it was introduced to echo the book corners used by printers of publications for the Oxford Movement.

In existence from 1833-1845, the movement was a small pressure group at Oxford University who argued against the increasing secularisation of the Church of England.

The challenge then is finding appropriate artworks to go inside all these previously redundant frames.

Among the dozens of pictures we own, you can count on one hand the number that have seen paint.

One contains a lovingly embroidered baby's bib that we bought from a church jumble sale for 1p. It's probably no older than the 1940s.

Another was the best way we could think of to display a hand-coloured and beautifully embossed invitation and its accompanying envelope to a wedding that dates from the Regency period and a third shows a vase of flowers. In fact, the “vase�? is created from cardboard and the “flowers�? are seaweed.

We are still looking, as the tin trunk in the garage stuffed with pictureless old picture frames can testify!

Pictures show, top:
This lovely late 17th, early 18th century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa turned up in a provincial saleroom in the summer and was valued as much for its contemporary carved giltwood Florentine frame. It sold for £3,400

Below, left to right:

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was among a group of artists, including the Pre- Raphaelites, who from the 1850s reacted against the mass- produced Victorian frames and developed a distinctive so-called “tabernacle frame�? like the one pictured here framing his watercolour A Votice Offering, otherwise called The Last Roses. Inspired by Renaissance altarpieces, the architectural frames have fluted pillasters, Ionic capitals and a frieze of anthemion drawn from Greek antiquity.

This George III giltwood frame is notable for its boldly carved acanthus leaves. The portrait is of Elizabeth Myddleton (c1730-1772) chatelaine of Chirk Castle

United in love and picture frame, in this case a carved Florentine giltwood example worth £400-600

A rare Charles II giltwood frame carved with cherub masks flanked by swags of fruit and flowers and a pair of dolphins. Note the similarity of the top with the brass-faced longcase clocks of the period

This highly masculine ebonised oval frame is the perfect accompaniment to a portrait of a male sitter. Frame and watercolour portrait each date from circa 1800 and are estimated at £300-500

alma-tademaacanthuscouplecharles iiebonised

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Friday, 18 November 2005

Sneaky schoolgirl’s signed Beatles picture set to sell for £2,000

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beatles photo

As a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Lynne Peters couldn't believe her luck when a backstage helper sneaked her and her sister into the back of the theatre to watch The Beatles play live on stage.

When he came back after the show with a photograph signed by each of the Fab Four, she was ecstatic and the photograph -- a page from the girls' comic "Boyfriend" -- was given pride of place in her bedroom.

The year was 1963 and Beatlemania was sweeping the country, but John Paul George and Ringo were still coming to terms with their new-found fame. So unaccustomed was he to signing autographs, Ringo started to write Richard Starkey, but hurriedly crossed it out to replace it with his stage name.

Now, more than 40 years later, that autographed page is valuable. When Chester auctioneers Byrne's sell it on Wednesday, December 7, they expect a clamour from collectors of Beatles memorabilia and a selling price of £2,000-3,000, possibly more.

Mrs Peters, now a 56-year-old Chester housewife, said she was amazed that the picture was so valuable. Recalling the mild spring evening when her father took her and her younger sister, Denise, ticketless, to see The Beatles, she said that at first they were among a huge crowd of fans milling about outside the Royalty Theatre, in City Road, Chester, where the group was topping the bill.

"Someone spotted the boys in the Chinese restaurant opposite the theatre,” she said. “Chaos erupted and we were part of a wave of screaming, ecstatic fans, trying to get to them. The boys were mobbed as they tried to get back to the theatre as the fans and surged back and forth, hoping to touch them.

"Somehow, they got back inside the theatre in one piece to begin what was to become an unforgettable early Beatles show for me. My father knew one of the backstage helpers who said he would be able to get as tickets. But it was a sell-out and so we had to wait in the foyer while everyone filed past is to take their seats. But the helper said he'd get us in and he sneaked us through the doors on the balcony and told us to stand at the back. It didn't matter that we didn't have seats, because everyone was on their feet throughout the concert.

"The curtains rose to the opening bars of "Please Please Me" and brought an electrified wave of shouting, screaming, ecstatic, mainly teenage fans to the front of the balcony. Numbers such as "Love Me Do", "When I Saw Her Standing There" and many others were the prelude to a grand finale where the boys brought the house down belting out the unforgettable "She Loves You". Coming back on stage several times to pay tribute to us adoring fans, The Beatles brought the curtain down on an evening forever emblazoned on my memory.

"Before he left us, I'd given the stagehand the page from my comic, which my dad had pasted onto a piece of hardboard, and I asked him to try to get me their autographs. When my dad picked us up outside the theatre, the stagehand came out and I couldn't believe it, they'd all signed it. I took it to school to show my friends and it was then I realised that Ringo had started off by signing it Richard Starkey, but then he had crossed it out.

"I've treasured it ever since but lately it's been kept in a wardrobe wrapped up carefully to protect it, so I decided that now is the time to sell it and let someone else from a younger generation enjoy it as I have."

Byrne's annual pre-Christmas sale includes antique furniture, fine jewellery, silver, ceramics, objets d'art, pictures and collectors' ceramics, notably a good single-owner collection of Clarice Cliff, militaria, toys and dolls and other collectables.

The sale starts at 11am and is on view on Sunday December 4 from 10am to 3pm; on Monday and Tuesday December 25 and 6 from 9am to 5pm and on the morning of the sale from 9am. Catalogues, price £6 (including postage) are available from the auctioneers and can be viewed online at

Byrne’s fine art auctioneers, the North West’s most dynamic auction
house, was founded by Jo Boucher and Adrian Byrne, formerly of Hall’s
auctioneers, Shrewsbury. Byrne’s conducts 20 sales a year from a
prestigious listed mansion house in Chester’s Watergate Street, the
former location of Sotheby’s North West regional saleroom, and latterly
a Hall’s saleroom which Jo and Adrian took over in 2003.

More information from Byrne's on 01244 312300.

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Thursday, 17 November 2005

Auction chance to give Smuggers a new home

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Steiff bear

Rare Steiff Teddy bear is star of Christmas collectors' sale

The little boys looked forward to family trips from their home in Vienna to visit their three aunts in Düsseldorf, but not necessarily to see the matronly trio with their smothering hugs and embarrassing kisses.

Instead, the visits meant the three nephews got the chance to play with Smuggers, a magnificent and expensive Teddy bear - christened so because of the smug look on his face - which was purchased specially to amuse the boys when they grew bored.

But the visits were few and far between and so in the intervening years Smuggers sat in a cupboard which explains his as-new condition - all the more remarkable considering he was born in 1903.

Now Smuggers is about to start a new life. Passed though the family to the present Canterbury owner, he is one of the stars among a gleeful group of toys and dolls in the annual Christmas auction of antiques and collectors' items at The Canterbury Auction Galleries. The sale is on Tuesday December 6.

A product of the German soft toy company founded in 1847 by Margete Steiff, Smuggers stands just short of 12 inches and has a plush mohair coat, eyes made from black shoe buttons and the characteristic brass ear tag Steiff trademark. He's yours for £1,500-2,000.

More information from The Canterbury Auction Galleries on 01227 763337.

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Monday, 14 November 2005

Antique price guides - one way of selling with certainty

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Rubens auction

There are two certainties in life: death and taxes. It's an oft repeated truism, but I'd like to add a third: selling one's possessions -- as often as not the result of the other two.

But as I'm learning myself -- and, I might add, to my cost - that selling stuff for the right price ain't easy.

Any fool can buy, all you need is cash. But parting with the treasures you've lived with over the years can be a painful experience. Getting back what you paid for them, or better still, making a little profit, takes away some of the sting, but move house as we did recently leaves little time to negotiate the best deals.

Getting rid of junk is easy -- stick it in the back of the car, and take it to the nearest dump. Or if you fancy a little entrepreneurial flutter, drive it to a car boot sale and flog it off. Just be prepared to sell it cheap.

What happens if you've got something special? Good question.

There are basically three options: sell it by auction; sell it to a dealer or sell it to a collector.

A priority before making the choice is to know (or find out) ahead of time what the stuff is worth.

It also helps to know what the things cost in the first place. The difficulty here is that you may not have purchased them yourself. Perhaps aan object was a gift, perhaps it was an inheritance, either way you'll never know what it cost.

Own a collection of objects and the nightmare is multiplied by the number of pieces the collection contains.

So, the first move should probably be to seek opinions. Sell a house and if you've got any sense, you'll ask two or three estate agents for a valuation before selecting which one to go with.

So it is with selling antiques. Show the piece to preferably two auctioneers and two dealers and get a ballpark figure.

Be careful not to hawk the object around too widely. By doing so you stand the risk of over-exposing it -- the trade describe the object as having been "burnt" -- with a sometimes disastrous effect on its likely selling price.

If the ballpark figure is acceptable, than the choice is relatively simple. Needless to say, however, the sailing can be far from plain.

The auctioneer may well have said flatteringly that your granny's vase is worth £2000-3000, but will his buyers agree? His estimation of it's worth will be based on past experience of selling similar objects, but the proof of the pudding will be when the hammer falls at the sale.

Also, it's important to remember the auctioneer's commission charges, levied by him to help cover his costs. This varies from saleroom to saleroom from as low as 8% to as high as 20%.

Add to that charges for carriage, photography, the iniquitous so-called lotting charge levied by some, and the size of your cheque can be somewhat less than you anticipated unless you did your homework first.

Then, of course, the piece might not sell, and to make matters worse, the auctioneer might charge you an unsold fee. As in any business of this nature, be sure to read and understand the auctioneer's conditions of business.

The upside to an auction is the competitive nature of the bidding. If the right buyers are there at the right time and they want the object you're selling, then there is no upper limit to the price it might achieve.

One essential for the budding antiques valuer -- and anyone considering selling anything old -- is a good antiques price guide. There are dozens on the market. Two names stand out among the best: Judith Miller and Miller's.

Time was when the two names were synonymous. Then Judith branched out on her own and formed The Price Guide Company whose guides are published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd.

Miller's, meanwhile, is now a division of Mitchell Beazley and uses a number of guest editors to produce guides on every subject imaginable.

The products of both companies make fascinating reading and ideal coffee table books for the enthusiast and beginner alike.

Flicking through their pages, it's hard to avoid sucking the air through one's teeth thinking good heavens, is it really worth that much? or Wow, I got mine for a fraction of that price.

Remember though that these are price guides, not price lists. They are "based on" actual prices realised had auction or offered for sale by a dealer.

Problem is, they are out of date as soon as they're printed. Fashions change, trends vary, and no one likes paying more than they have to for anything, so the prices quoted -- which in the case of the auction houses includes buyers' premium -- need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

A big selling point for both -- and a feature which makes them extremely handy -- is the addition of explanatory footnotes and snap-shot features giving brief but valuable details about manufacturers and their products that would otherwise take hours of research to uncover.

Selling to a dealer is comparatively simple. Strike a deal leaving room for profit for him and a agreeing satisfactory price for you and he'll give you cash in hand on the day with no charges and no worry that the object might come back to you when it doesn't sell.

But how do you know the value the auctioneer is estimating or the price the dealer is offering is a fair one?

The answer is to do your homework first.

First off, understand that the only way to learn about antiques and what they're worth is with hands-on experience.

Go to as many auctions, antiques shops, antiques fairs, flea markets and car boot sales as you possibly can. Handle the objects on offer and take note of the prices being achieved and asked for. If the sale has a catalogue, mark prices against each lot. On a tour of retail outlets take a notebook and scribble down prices.

Play game with yourself: try to guess the price of an object and compare your opinion with either the printed estimates or the dealers' labels.

Ask questions. Dealers delight in talking to their customers and are generally only too happy to impart their knowledge. After all, that's probably how most of them learned their trade too.

When viewing an auction sale, you invariably find the auctioneer walking the floor. Ask him why two seemingly identical objects have such a wide variation in the prices he expects them to fetch.

He'll point out things that you that otherwise would be a mystery: hidden damage; poor restoration; marriages -- when tops and bottoms of a piece of furniture don't go together; subtle differences in designs and colourways and so on.

Talk to other collectors. They too are delighted to be given the chance to make a convert to their hobby. They are mines of information which make them extremely valuable people to know.

The more you see and the more people you meet, the more knowledgeable you will become.

Go to the library. Find the antiques reference section and read everything you can get your hands on.

There is currently a plethora of TV programmes. Watch them all and try to second-guess the experts. After a while, your valuations expertise will become something of a party piece.

By then you can start making and spending your hard-earned money!

Pictures show, top: Any advance on £45 million? Sotheby's chairman Henry Wyndham selling a previously completely unknown early work by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Massacre of the Innocents, which sold for £49.5 million ($76.7 million) making it the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold

Below, left: Judith Miller's 2006 Collectables Price Guide

Right: Miller's Collectables Price Guide edited by Madeleine Marsh

Judith guideMiller's guide

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Tuesday, 8 November 2005

$7.5 million for Princess Gloria's contemporary art at Phillips

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Santa Long Neck

Heard the one about the auctioneer and the Punk Princess? Read Artnet's report of Phillips' sale of contemporary art owned by this German aristocrat who married in to the wealth of the Thurn und Taxis family of Germany. Auctioneer Simon de Pury had such fun, he paused the proceedings to tell the audience a joke. Read it here and decided for yourself whether it was funny.


Monday, 7 November 2005

Della Robbia - daringly different Art Pottery

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Named Della Robbia pieces

They were either muddle-headed eccentrics or else hard-nosed entrepreneurs but the art potters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had the same aim: at a time when new techniques and advances in machine technology made mass-produced pottery a reality, they sought to maintain and enhance artistic merit, craftsmanship and decorative individuality.

Foot soldiers of the army that rallied round William Morris' Arts and Crafts Movement, art potters such as Henry Doulton and William Moorcroft, led workforces that were encouraged to be individuals and given full rein when it came to creativity.

But as entrepreneurs Doulton and Moorcroft kept their respective eyes on the bottom line, the less well-known Harold Rathbone was among several eccentrics.

In 1894, Rathbone founded a pottery on the banks of the River Mersey at Birkenhead and named it grandly Della Robbia after the Italian Renaissance sculptor family of the same name whom he so admired. The enterprise lasted just 12 years.

However, in that brief but feverish spell, Della Robbia's craftsman potters produced some remarkable pieces that today are coveted by museums and private collectors alike.

Birkenhead was not the obvious place for Rathbone's venture. Nevertheless, there was a thriving industrial community which in the space of 60 years, had grown from a population of just 200 to around 100,000.

Increasing prosperity generated a greater interest in the arts and Rathbone had the financial wherewithal to indulge his ideals.

A painter, designer and poet, he had been a pupil of Ford Madox Brown, who with William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rosetti founded the Arts and Crafts movement.

Using local labour and red clays found nearby Moreton, Rathbone set out to emulate the architectural ornament of the 15th century Della Robbias.

By combining their designs with domestic and ecclesistical pottery, he hoped to serve the homes, businesses and churches of merchants and businessmen who chose to live out of Liverpool in the pleasant surroundings of Wirral.

His co-founder was patron of the arts Conrad Dressler (1856-1940) himself a sculptor and inventor of the tunnel kiln, a method of firing pottery that revolutionised the industry.

Dressler was a member of the Art Workers' Guild from 1891-1918 and first set up a foundry in Chelsea where he fired bronzes for other sculptors, notably William De Morgan.

Sadly, the partnership with Rathbone was short-lived and Dressler, frustrated by his partner's lack of focus on the practical side of the business, left after three years to set up his own Medmenham Pottery, near Windsor.

Ironically, in the same year that the Della Robbia factory was founded, a gifted young Italian sculptor named Giovanni Carlo Manzoni (1855 - 1910) had visited Birkenhead, having been invited to exhibit some of his sculpture at Dressler's home.

Originally from Turin, Manzoni was an accomplished linguist who taught languages and anatomy. He was also a gifted sculptor and a skilled carpenter, working in mosaic, marquetry and carving, but a potter he was probably not.

However, fate brought him to England, where he founded the Granville Pottery in Hanley, Staffordshire.

Output was crude and spasmodic, but the ware had a geometric and colourful style all its own.

Production was based on trial and error and the business went out of existence after only a short time when the works was hit by a disastrous fire.

When Dressler quit Della Robbia to start his pottery, he no doubt hoped Manzoni would join him at the Medmenham Pottery, but instead, the Italian threw his hand in with Rathbone becoming his chief artistic director.

Manzoni went on to become one of Della Robbia's most innovative and vibrant designers.

His masterpiece was a fine two-handled vase decorated with a painting of a Renaissance beauty set within a medallion.

Such rarities might take a lifetime to find today, but among his other superb examples of Della Robbia pottery, is a clock case with Latin inscription designed by Ruth Bare and decorated by Alice Jones, two of Manzoni's protégés.

It can be seen in the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead where you'll find probably the finest collection of Della Robbia on permanent public display anywhere.
Next year sees the centenary of the closure of the Della Robbia factory and the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery -- which has one of the finest displays of the pottery on display anywhere -- hopes to mark the occasion with an exhibition. Watch this page for further details. In the meantime, I recommend a visit. The museum is open from 10.00am-5.00pm every day except Monday.
After the demise of the Della Robbia venture, Manzoni finished his days making headstones and crosses for cemeteries.

Naturally enough, examples of Manzoni's work from both his Granville and Della Robbia days are extremely scarce.

Pieces from his Hanley works bear an inscribed mark which reads: "Hand Drawn and Painted" usually ranged around a CM monogram which also sometimes bears a date.

Sadly, he appears to have been too modest to mark much of his Della Robbia output, although pieces have appeared marked "M,CM". Further research may well throw more light onto this talented but shy artist.

Another highly talented and most consistent Della Robbia designer was Cassandia Annie Walker and her name is associated with much of the factory's best work.

As the name suggests, there is a strong Renaissance influence in the pottery Rathbone produced.

The lustrous glazes, patterns of interweaving stems, symbolic plant and organic forms of Art Nouveau are combined with heraldic and Islamic motifs achieving a harmony between the shape of the pots and the designs that are woven across their surfaces.

Rathbone used coloured lead glazes rather than the tin-glazed earthenware or faience of the early Italians and Della Robbia pottery is usually recognisable by its blue-green, yellow and brown colouring.

Another distinguishing feature is its distinctive "scraffito" decoration, the term given to the technique of carving decoration into the wet clay before firing.

Rathbone's own work often shows Art Nouveau influences, with flowing lines on figures and foliage decoration, but he gave free rein to art students like Cassandia Annie Walker who often included children and woodland flowers in her designs.

Not surprisingly, it was the technical superiority and remarkable results achieved by the innovative production team that proved to be the company's failing.

The clay proved hard to work and decorate to Rathbone's satisfaction but he was an eccentric and erratic boss.

His fixation with hand-crafting took precedence over commercial considerations and his temperament cost him first the services of Conrad Dressler and ultimately the business.

Pictures show, top: A selection of Della Robbia from the stock of A.D. Antiques, Stone Staffs. :eft to right: a vase decorated by John Fago £795; another by Alice Louise Jones, £1,950 and a jug by Gertrude Russel.

Below, delightful Della Robbia from the Williamson Museum Collection. Left to right: A Dutch vase (lid missing) with simple snaking scraffito decoration and minimal colour; a circular plaque with daffodils around the rim and the sun in the centre and an Algerian style two-handled vase with painted decoration, rather like that used by the Glasgow School of artists.

Della Robbia Dutch vaseDella Robbia plaqueDella Robbia vase

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Thursday, 3 November 2005

$13.7 million for a Picasso at Sotheby's

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Picasso nude

The big money was out in New York on Tuesday evening when Sotheby's sale of Impressionist paintings raised a total of $130.1 million. The Christie's sale on Tuesday night totalled $160.9 million. But hey, it's only small change to some! Read the New York Times report of the sale here.

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Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Lea Stein - jewellery that's fantastic plastic

by Christopher Proudlove©
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stein cats

Punch the name Lea Stein into eBay and there are currently 188 of the Paris designer's funky celluloid brooches up for sale. And that's part of the problem. Can they really all be real?

The problem with eBay is that you're on your own with only the seller's feedback to act as a safety net and perhaps a little luck on your side.

Visit a Saturday antiques fair and while you won't see 188 dealers selling Lea Stein jewellery, you might well find two or three each with an inventory of several times that number which again doesn't really help.

Problem is, there's a good deal of misinformation circulating about Ms Stein and anyone who is uncertain when presented with such a welter of stuff to buy -- however stunning and special they might be -- it's sometimes easier to keep your money in your pocket.

Anyhow, that's what I tell the Business Manager. Most weekends find us at one fair or another and, being a brooch girl, she invariably finds some Lea Stein pieces to drool over.

I'm as keen as she is, but the poor lass has never had the courage to buy one because the embarrassment of riches seems too good to be true. So I resolved to find out what I can about who was responsible for creating this collecting craze and then buy her one.

Any piece of the colourful oversize Art Deco style jewellery featuring foxes, panthers, owls, cats, and just about every other creature you could think of would make a smashing Christmas present.

Lea Stein was born in Paris in 1931, where she trained as an artist. In one source I read that she had spent part of her childhood in a concentration camp during the Second World War but try as I might, I could find nothing to corroborate the fact.

Nothing much is known about her early life but in the 1950s, she married Fernand Steinberger, a man who clearly knew his way around a chemistry lab.

He perfected a secret process of laminating as many as 20 sheets of cellulose acetate, known as rhodoid, sometimes interspersed with textiles, lace or metal, to produce a raw material in a myriad of different colours and textures.

This Lea used to cut into shapes of various designs for brooches, bracelets, earrings, bangles and other decorative objects, all of which have a three-dimensional feature and no two are unique -- the correct ingredients for the ideal collectors' item.

Lea's signature design is probably the fox whose stylised elongated body and looped tail is formed from one piece of celluloid.

stein penguinstein triple marcellestein quarrelsome

Early examples are hard to find as is a brooch featuring a woman's head, thought to represent Joan Crawford in the US and Carmen in France.

Some doubt appears to exist as to when production of the brooches began. A source claiming to be definitive reckons that Lea started her own company in 1957 to concentrate on designing textiles until 1967 when she began making rhodoid buttons.

She moved into the jewellery field in 1969, while other sources claim the switch was earlier, possibly because her designs draw heavily on the Art Deco period.

However, an influx of cheap imports from Asia in 1981 caused the company to founder in 1981, by which time she employed 50 workers and the jewellery was being mass-produced.

Interestingly, following its closure, a New York dealer acquired a large selection of her remaindered stock and began selling it to great acclaim in the US, where it began to enjoy a cult following.

Whether word of its success reached Lea is not known but after a period in the computer business, Lea returned to making the plastic jewellery using the old process but on a much reduced scale.

Each year since 1988 Lea has designed just one or two new pieces which are snapped up eagerly by collectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thus, there are two distinct eras of Lea Stein jewellery: the so-called vintage period which dates from 1969 to 1981 and that made from 1988 onwards to the present day.

So, is it possible to tell the products apart and anyway, does it matter?

Some collectors prefer the more classic designs which do tend to date from the first period. Brooches representing John Travolta or Elvis Presley are not necessarily everyone's cup of tea.

All Lea Stein pins attached to the reverse of her brooches have a distinctive elongated V shape and are almost always signed "Lea Stein Paris", the exception being some made in the early 1960s.

Some claim that age can be deduced by the way the pin is fastened to the rear of the brooch. Word has it that vintage brooches had the pin heat mounted to the reverse, while modern versions are fastened with rivets, however this is disputed by some collectors and on balance is probably not the case.

Chances are that the only way to date a piece is by experience. The production process has never changed, remaining true to the originals to this day, so who cares.

However old it is, a Lea Stein brooch makes a stunning fashion statement. The simple answer is to buy what you like, what you feel comfortable wearing and having spent as much as you can afford.

The brooches are not expensive. A modest outlay of £25-50 will buy a good example, twice that an excellent one. If you want to stand out in a crowd, then these are for you. It's just a shame that blokes can't wear them.

stein rikanother stein carmencarmenstein black farmer

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