Monday, 30 January 2006

Antique furniture has never been so cheap, so buy, buy, buy

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Liberty sideboard

I'm no stock market investor but I do know one thing: if you want to make money, buy at the bottom of the market, not at its peak. Whether or not prices of antique furniture will fall further is open to speculation (and I ain't predicting) but the annual survey by the respected Antique Collectors' Club shows that values last year fell by a further 7%.

Note " further". Falls of 6% in 2004, 3% in 2003 and 2% in 2002 have prompted ACC furniture specialist and compiler of the survey John Andrews to be bullish about the future. He says: "There has not been a better time for collectors to buy since the late 70s and the mid 90s when similar falls took place. Some prosperous people are realising this and that may affect prices over the next 12 months."

He for one can see an end to the slump. "The last decline, in the mid 90s, lasted some four to five years before recovery took place. This one started after September 2001 and in late 2006 will have endured for five years," he says.

So, if he's right, what should we buy? Apparently not unfashionable Victorian furniture for a start. According to the survey, values have dropped by a scary 35% since late 2001. Well I'm not so sure, particularly if you're fortunate enough to live in the right house with room to spare - 19th century furniture can hardly be called compact.

From a later era, the minimalist design of Arts and Crafts furniture from the London workshop of Liberty & Co is still fresh and appropriate for the modern home and in my view remains undervalued. Pieces linked to Leonard F Wyburd, the designer who ran Arthur Liberty’s Furnishing and Decoration Studio, like the oak sideboard illustrated, are the cream of the crop and yet are still readily affordable.

The sideboard was made in about 1900 and has the signature Liberty hand-wrought iron ring handles and hinges and outswept legs with bracket feet.

Attributable directly to Wyburd and retaining the Liberty trade label attached to it when it left the Regent Street store, it was estimated at £1,200-1,800 in a recent sale. It sold on the top estimate for £1,800. Imagine the price of a comparable new piece in the shops today.

Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843-1917) was born in the market town of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, the son of a draper. At 16, the boy began working in his uncle’s warehouse and was subsequently apprenticed to draper John Weeks in Baker Street, London, before taking a position with the prestigious Farmer & Rogers Great Shawl and Clock Emporium in Regent Street.

Partnership in the firm

At the close of the 1862 London International Exhibition, the firm bought a large consignment of important Japanese exhibits to stock their new oriental warehouse, which they opened next door to their main premises. In 1864, at the age of 21, Liberty was appointed manager and subsequently offered a partnership in the firm.

However, Liberty had grander ideas and financed by his fiancée’s father, he purchased the lease of 218A Regent Street. Liberty’s East India House opened its doors to the public on May 15, 1875, selling oriental goods from silks to all manner of decorative items from the East including a small range of furniture, all of which helped to promote the Aesthetic Movement.

Liberty’s is perhaps best known for sturdy oak pieces with elaborate metal fittings and even mottoes in hammered copper panels set into the furniture, much of it supplied by wholesale companies such as William Birch and J.S. Henry, who made designs by George Walton. The firm also stocked chairs designed by the German Richard Riemerschmid (1868-1857).

In 1883, Liberty opened its own Furnishing and Decoration Studio under the direction of Leonard Wyburd (dates unknown, but he retired in 1903) whose designs made Liberty style the toast of Europe at the end of the 19th century. The studio produced furniture in a broad range of designs from Tudor, Jacobean, Flemish, Gothic, and 18th English country style.

Although Wyburd specialised in Moorish designs, he also produced oak furniture in bold designs including sideboards, bookcases, tables, chairs and bedroom suites. These designs were usually given Saxon or Scottish names such as the Athelstan chair, which dates from around 1899. These were illustrated in Liberty’s Yule-Tide Gifts catalogue priced at £3 7s 6d.Today the chairs are worth £300-400.

Pictures show, top: The splendid Liberty sideboard designed by Leonard F Wyburd. It sold for an affordable £1,800

Below: A watercolour design for a living room of a grand house, painted by Leonard F Wyburd, the founder of Liberty’s Furnishing and Decoration Studio in 1883


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Beware the phishers and don’t get caught by this scam

Recognise this spoof email?
Dear valued eBay member, It has come to our attention that your eBay billing updates are out of order. If you could please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your billing records you will not run into any future problems with the online service. Once you have updated your account records your eBay session will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Failure to update will result in cancellation of service, Terms of Service (TOS) violations or future billing problems. To update your eBay records click here:
Whatever you do, don't ever respond to this kind of hoax. Scammers are trying to steal your identity and clear your bank account. It's called “phishing” in the business and anyone with an e-mail address who has bought or sold on eBay (or used PayPal) is a target.
Ignore the email and any threats it may contain about suspension of account.

Reputable companies such as eBay and PayPal never ask customers for their account or credit card details, username or password in any communications.

And get a firewall and a virus checker on your computer.

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Lennon lyrics - all you need is money …

There is something inherently sad about the sale of John Lennon's handwritten lyrics to the Beatles classic A Day in The Life. I was at the Sotheby's sale in London in 1992 when they sold to an anonymous private collector for £56,500.

They were sold then by the widow of Beatles roadie Big Mal Evans, the Liverpool Post Office telecoms engineer who quit his job to travel the world with the Fab Four, leaving his wife to bring up two children on her own.

Mal was devoted to the group and was very much the unsung hero, receiving little reward for his devotion. But he had his memories. He appeared in the films Help!, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be and even played on some of their albums, notably one of the pianos on A Day in the Life and the hammer sound effects on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

When things went bad at Apple, Mal, by now estranged from his family, moved to Los Angeles and fell in with a woman and her four-year-old daughter. Depression over the lack of direction in his life got the better of him and one day he locked himself in the bathroom with an air pistol.

The woman called the police and when they burst into the room and saw the weapon, they fired six shots killing him instantly.

One of Mal's duties as the Beatles’ personal assistant was to clean up after them and the lyrics were among a number of mementos which Mal had saved from his days on the road with them. The money they raised came in very handy for Mrs Evans.

The decision to hold this new sale in New York is understandable: Lennon has a big following there and there is no shortage of money. But a sealed-bid auction is a weird tactic.

Predictions of £1 million sale seem ambitious without the razzmatazz of at public auction. Bidding ends on March 7 and it will be interesting to learn of the outcome – if we ever do.

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Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Be my Valentine, but be sure to send me a Victorian card

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Poor St. Valentine. He probably never had a sweetheart of his own and he had absolutely nothing in common with lovers. He became their saint quite by chance. His story starts in Rome in about 271AD when the poor wretch was flung into prison for proclaiming his Christianity. There, he attempted to convert his captors and his cellmates and even persuaded the Emperor Claudius Gothicus to grant all Christian prisoners their freedom. It did him no good though. First they virtually clubbed him to death and then for good measure they beheaded him.

A century or so later saw the Christian church using the names of martyred heroes to add an air of sanctity to all former pagan festivals. And so it was with Valentine's Day. Originally, the Romans had celebrated the feast of Lupercalia - the February festival in honour of Pan and Juno - in a style only they knew how. The frolics were X-rated. Suffice it to say that all Rome's fair maidens put their names in a hat to be drawn by potential suitors. The results were inevitable. Calling it St. Valentine's Day at least made things sound wholesome.

The practice of drawing names remained for centuries alongside all manner of other quaint customs. For example, country folk thought February 14th was the day that birds chose their mates. In the Middle Ages, lovers exchanged tokens on that day to show their regard for one another. In the 18th century, unmarried women believed that the first bachelor they met on February 14th would be their future husbands, while Dorsetshire maidens left candles burning in their rooms all night, thinking that their loves' hearts would melt along with the wax.

One of the earliest commercially produced Valentine cards is in the British Museum. It was published in 1789 by J. Wallis, of Ludgate Street, London, and bears a red heart. The verse reads: 'Believe my love's without disguise - so let's marry and be wise.'. The practice of sending elaborate cards does not appear to have started before the 1800s. The improvement in the postal service in 1815 boosted sales and by 1835, the Post Office was recording an extra 60,000 mailings on February 13th. By 1870, more than a million cards were being delivered each year.

Lacy paper Valentines were popular in the 1820s. Many were made using the 18th century technique of pricking paper with a pin to produce pictures. Some had tiny lift-up flaps, beneath which a personal message could be written. As the custom grew, so cards became more elaborate. Velvet, lace, shells, skeleton leaves, spun glass, feathers, gold and silver wire, scraps, locks of hair were used to decorate cards carrying suitably sentimental verse.

Valentines increased in popularity following the introduction in 1840 of Rowland Hill's penny post. Ready-made envelopes came into use when specialist printer De La Rue invented a machine to make them which he showed at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Valentines which previously had been folded quarto size were now printed smaller to fit into the new envelopes.

Mechanical Valentines were introduced at about the same time which kept the craze alive. Tiny figures could be made to move by pulling a cardboard tongue, while another favourite was a church with a front door that opened to reveal a wedding ceremony in progress. Sometimes a verse would ask the recipient of the card to lift a dainty paper leaf attached to it to reveal the face of the one best beloved by the sender. On peeping beneath, the man or woman would see his or her own face reflected in a tiny mirror. Others bore small trinkets, a tiny bottle of perfume, beadwork, shell designs or small pieces of jewellery.

Comic cards were also popular. One appeared to be a cheque 'Issued by the Bank of Love' and signed by Cupid. It promised to pay the bearer the entire love of the sender but its appearance, in the 1860s, was but a brief one. So well printed and convincing were they, the authorities took fright and prohibited their use for fear of them being used in a widespread fraud.

The appearance of the cruel and vulgar Valentine card towards the end of the 19th century signalled the end. For a few coppers, it was possible to insult your deadliest enemy by sending a card anonymously bearing a mocking caricature, complete with the most unkind of verse. A jilted man could send his ex a card warning her that she would end her days a spinster. In reply, her card would call him a Simple Simon. Another read: 'What goose upon goose, you ill-looking brute; you never will me for a Valentine suit.' Others chided gossips; the girl 'weary waiting for a beau' and the 'Champagne Charlie'.

In fact, cards became so spiteful that by the 1870s and 1880s, the popularity of the habit of sending any Valentine started to wane. By then, Christmas cards surpassed Valentines in volume of mailings. The First World brought a further decline and, despite a brief rise in popularity in the 1930s, they almost disappeared entirely. Finding Valentine cards in good taste is not easy today either!

Pictures show, top: This charming Valentine postcard came from a French flea market. It was posted in Paris in 1904 and cost me 10 francs. However, the real joy is it was manufactured by Raphael Tuck and Sons - doyen of postcard printers - and is worth £30-40

Below, left to right: A printed and embossed Valentine card, circa 1900, entitled My Heart's Best Wished All Are Thine. It's worth £20-25

This lacy frippery is inscribed by hand inside it "To dear Annie with Ernie Jones' very best love". It dates from circa 1870 and is worth £25-30

A lacy late Victorian Valentine card titled I Love Thee My Sweet One. Inside is the romantically coy message "From D.E.J." It's worth £30-35


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Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Rare books - good investments, if you read between the lines

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Narnia (1)

I'm a Lord of the Rings fan myself, so entreaties to join the family at the cinema to watch The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over the holiday break fell on deaf ears. It sounds like it was my loss: the film received rave reviews from young apprentices and Business Manager (Mrs P) alike. But on balance, I'm sticking to my guns. JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth will always be my choice when it comes to flights of fantasy.

The idea of paying £10,000 for a First Edition set of C. S. Lewis's famous Narnia books is, as far as I'm concerned, another fantasy but that's the going price, according to Books Illustrated, UK specialist dealer in original book art and fine First Edition books.

The set comprises all seven of Lewis's books including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Magician's Nephew; The Horse and His Boy; The Silver Chair; and The Last Battle. They date from 1950-56 and were published by Geoffrey Bles and The Bodley Head. Each has been finally rebound in red morocco leather with gilt tooling and the set is presented in a matching slipcase.

Mike Emeny, who runs Salisbury-based Books Illustrated, says interest in book illustrations and early First Editions is growing every week, following a revival in children's books and the number of popular movies they have spawned.

A case in point is an original ink and watercolour illustration of the Hogwart's Express painted by Cliff Wright. A rare opportunity to acquire an original piece of Harry Potter art work, the illustration is priced at £8,000.

Interestingly, First Editions of older classics appear less expensive on the Books Illustrated price list. A Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published in 1912 by Hodder & Stoughton is priced at £1,800 and a Winnie the Pooh, from 1926, the AA Milne story illustrated by EH Shepard and published by Methuen, costs either £1,500 or £1,200, depending on condition. A Kate Greenaway First Edition from a limited edition of 500 published in 1905 seems like a snip at £1,250, particularly since it contains an original pencil drawing by the author.

Are these and other First Editions good investments? The answer is probably yes, though buyers should consider them as long term and be wary of being tempted by the vagaries of fashion to spend more. When CD copies of the latest blockbuster movie are being remaindered in the supermarket, the value of an expensive First Edition might - at least initially - be somewhat less than what it cost the collector.

That said, the market in modern First Editions remains buoyant and it is not necessary to spend a fortune in order to join in. And if you fancy a flutter on backing an outsider, then investing in the first appearance in print of an unknown author can produce some satisfyingly worthwhile results.

JK Rowling is a case in point. In 1997, the as then completely unknown author was struggling to find a publisher for her story of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In the event, Bloomsbury Publishing, uncertain as to whether or not they would sell, printed just 300 copies on her behalf. This now scarce First Edition fetches more than £10,000. A First Edition signed by the author can be worth three times that. Amazon is currently selling the paperback for £4.79!

Popularity as a result of books being turned into a TV series or film can also have a dramatic affect. Prices for First Editions of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, published in 1954-55 have soared recently to £25,000 or more and spiral shows no sign of slowing.

Typically, it is an author's earliest works that tend to be the most valuable when he or she was less well-known. James Bond novels illustrate the phenomena. A First Edition of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first foray into the world of Smersh and Spectre, written in 1953, is now worth £15,000-20,000. First Editions of his later books, published in the 1960s, are still relatively common and sell for £50 or less.
If you were the recipient of a book token this Christmas and it remains unspent, then consider the following way of perhaps making it a gift worth considerably more than its face value: use it to buy a copy of an author's first appearance in print.

Rarely does a reprint of the same work rise in value, but if the author goes on to great things, then that First Edition might well produce a windfall profit. Bear in mind, however, that by definition, a First Edition has to be the first printing of a book that is offered for sale.

A subsequent printing, even though original plates and artwork are used, cannot be considered a First. So, what to buy? As in all cases, collector for fun and not for profit. Chose only titles that interest you, not because other factors might make your purchase a good investment. If your buys bomb, then at least you will be left with books that you love and that will continue to entertain you.
However, these prices rely on the books being in a condition as near as possible to the day they were first printed. Any damage, however slight, can decimate the values and dust wrapper, if issued, must still be present and also remain in mint condition. A First Edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles normally sells for around £1,800-2,000. A copy sold at auction for £72,000 purely because it had its original dust wrapper.

So how do you spot a First Edition? Spotting a collector of such things is easy: watch the customers in an antique bookshop. They are the ones who pull down a book from a shelf and turn first to the copyright page -- usually the one facing the title or dedication page -- because that's where all the necessary clues are situated. Sometimes the clues obvious, but not always.

In the straightforward cases, the page says First Edition, or First Printing, or First Impression and this is usually reliable. Some even give a date of the first printing. The exception are those copies printed by book clubs which are worthless budget reprints even though they may say First Printed.

In contrast, some publishers make no distinction at all, leaving the collector to find out for himself. However, this is relatively simple since there are many ways to check an author's bibliography, either at your local library or on the Internet.

The most common, and potentially most confusing, system is found in modern books where publishers use a number code for identifying the edition number.

If the copyright page lists a string of numbers string of numbers, for example 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, you have a First Edition, since 1 represents the First. A second edition would start 23456789 and a third would start at 3 and so on. Some publishers show the numbers in reverse, others as 135798642 or use letters such as abcdefghi.

Random House is a rare exception. If the book is a First Edition they state the fact, but for some reason start the number string at 23456789. Other publishers use the code to indicate a First by their own publishing company, and not a true First. As before, if in doubt, check the author's bibliography or with the dealer.

Not surprisingly, there are countless books available which help identify First Editions and list current market values but remember the price guides are almost always behind the times and this can work both ways: prices can have rocketed in the time it takes to publish the guide or they can have fallen away.

The best knowledge is that gained by experience. Spend time scanning Internet book sales and make a friend of your local antique bookshop proprietor -- like the books he sells, he'll be a friend for life.

Pictures show, top and below: illustrations by Pauline Baynes, from C.S.Lewis's First Edition set of the Narnia Books

Below, centre:
Cliff Wright's original ink and watercolour illustration of Hogwart's Express, which is priced at £8,000. Wright was also commissioned to draw the covers of The Chambers of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, for which he was paid the princely sums of £550 and £1,000 respectively

NarniaHogwarts ExpressNarnia (2)


Thursday, 12 January 2006

Invest in antiques and show me the money - eventually

by Christopher Proudlove©
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Santa Claus was kind enough to place what could prove to be an extremely valuable book in my Christmas stocking: it's called "Tim Wonnacott's Moneymaking Antiques for the Future" and it was written by a collective of some of the leading lights in today's booming roadshow of TV antiques programmes. Note the title is not Make Money out of Antiques, but each of the authors has no doubt done just that. Sadly, the chances of me joining the ranks of such experts as Wonnacott, David Battie, Hilary Kay and Lars Tharp, are about as remote as Santa stumping up a Canaletto next Christmas, so I won't be holding my breath. But I do intend to spend the coming year collecting cleverly and making what little cash I have to spare work its hardest for me. Even in these straightened times there is money to be made.

In his introduction to the book, Tim, formerly the managing director of Sotheby's saleroom in Chester and now a leading contributor to the BBC's Antiques Roadshow and presenter of the daytime must-watch Bargain Hunt, is liberal with the money-spinning anecdotes.

In one, he writes about a small silver pig which he spotted in a box containing 20 or 30 pieces of ceramic and plated junk in a country auction. The pig was hallmarked for Chester 1912 and had the maker's mark for leading silversmith Samson Mordan and Co., two things which the auctioneer and the other assembled buyers had clearly failed to spot. Tim bought it for £20 and reckons it's now worth up to £400.

In another, he bought a "gilt metal" propelling pencil and chain for £12, the antique dealer who quickly dropped the price from £18 failing to realise that the pen was 18 carat solid gold and the chain nine carat.

By the same maker as the pig, the pen is inscribed "Souvenir of F. W. Wyndham who died April 30, 1930". With a little research, Tim discovered that "his" Wyndham was the theatrical impresario half of partnership Howard and Wyndham Ltd who put on plays up and down the country between 1895 and 1928. Tim now values the pen and chain to be worth £200-250.

I could add countless examples of my own, the most recent being in a sale just before Christmas when a retired antiques dealer and furniture restorer from Northern Ireland sold a padlock for £48,500. It cost him just £10!

The remarkable contraption came from South Germany and dated from 1556 when it would have been used to secure a marriage chest no doubt containing a princely dowry. Sadly such good fortune never seems to come my way.

In a chapter on miscellaneous collectables, Tim, reckons it is likely that the 20th century will prove to be a rich source for as yet unrecognised moneymaking antiques for the future.

His list is eclectic including My Little Ponies; Royal Doulton's Bunnykins ware; Beswick pottery; vintage radios; Bratz dolls (apparently now more popular than Barbie); Swatch watches and film posters.


In contrast, the master of everything Oriental, David Battie, points out that China is likely to be the country with one of the most important economic drivers of the 21st century. He also notes that China's fast-growing number of millionaires have already become major buyers of early Chinese porcelain. As supplies dwindle, so those buyers will surely move to pieces produced later.

Interestingly, in addition to recommending ceramics made for export in the last 20 years in the style of 18th-century famille-rose (porcelain with a pinky hue) David also suggests that the vases, dishes and figures painted and sculpted depicting contemporary Chinese life under Chairman Mao might also be worth a dabble.

More controversially, as he puts it, he also tips recent mass-produced Canton porcelain simulating 18th century famille-rose, famille-verte (green hue) Canton and Japanese Imari. The ware is everywhere, he points out, and is inexpensive, a small bowl costing less than £20.

From Japan, David recommends caution when considering buying eggshell porcelain which was produced in massive quantities and shipped to Europe and America in the 1940s and 50s. Most of the tea services, including those decorated with the head of a geisha girl in the base, are worth under £1 a piece but outstanding examples might still be bought cheaply and will, over time, appreciate in value.

David suggests avoiding Satsuma pottery but tips any reasonably priced pieces from the Fuikagawa factory, which continued making well-designed-well decorated porcelain well after 1900. Kutani porcelain, made in Kaga province, is underpriced, but the buyer needs to be selective. The iron red, black and gold palette is unfashionable and there are some appallingly bad pieces, he says.


Hilary Kay held the first ever auction of rock 'n' roll memorabilia at Sotheby's in 1981. She has never looked back and is another mainstay of the BBC Roadshow programme. Today's collectors face a bewildering choice of what to buy in this area, but the size of your wallet and the space you have available are the overriding issues.

John Lennon's Rolls-Royce; the Hendrix Woodstock Stratocaster or an Elton John gold record are the kind of things most collectors can only dream about owning.

But there are plenty of other things: vintage rock merchandise such as dolls, curtains, mugs, T-shirts and badges can still be bought and expensively, while new collectors' items can be had by simply standing at the stage door following a concert and obtaining the signatures from your favourite group.

Hilary recommends attending charity auctions which can produce some surprising finds is supported by well known popstars, while rock and pop conventions are an excellent way to meet fellow collectors to buy, sell or swap to improve your collection. Hilary also recommends making friends with with reputable dealers, and adds that the internet is a useful source, provided authenticity is guaranteed.


Following on the theme, Lars Tharp has chosen to write a chapter on what Tim Wonnacott describes as "the impossibly broad topic of 20th century celebrity of the collecting area" but the list of possible buys is long. It ranges from a porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp by Jeff Koons which fetched a world record price for 20th century work of art of $5,615,750 in 2001 to a "Top Gun" style toy figure of President George W. Bush, available by mail order.

As Lars explains, clearly with tongue in cheek,: "It combines toy with icon, fact with fantasy, irony with adulation -- a versatile must, whatever your politics. The blurb tells us that 'the figure catches the good ol' boy essence of the original George, from his rugged Texas back country good looks and characteristic placid political face. Its resemblance to the 43rd President is amazing, duplicating his crystal blue eyes engaging smile and chiselled features.'

"Best of all, Lars adds, "it's a fully poseable figure." I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Pictures show, top: Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp by Jeff Koons, sold for a world record $5,615,750 in 2001. What price a star's fame, but will the porcelain sculpture hold its value?

Below, left to right: Tim Wonnacott's Moneymaking Antiques for the Future. The book is available from Virgin Books priced £14.99

A selection of the characters who make up the Barbie and Ken family of collectables. Now, though, Bratz dolls are all the rage

Lennon car John Lennon's Phantom V Rolls-Royce was painted in a riot of psychedelic patterns by a fairground artist in 1967. It was sold at Sotheby's in New York in 1985 for $2.25 million

Irony or adulation: the George W. Bush "Top Gun" action figure

Book coverdollsLennon carBush

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Monday, 9 January 2006

Making money? First, sell your antique or collectable

There is no shortage of ways to sell objects you own - and I've tried most of them, with differing results. One that I hope to use increasingly is the online auction. Before I do so, I intend to check out the recommendations listed here by the Federal Trade Commision and I suggest you do the same.

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Saturday, 7 January 2006

When is a $20 bill worth $25,300?

Readers and fellow collectors might be interested to learn that the $20 dollar bill discussed in the post immediately before this sold in a Florida auction for a staggering $25,300. Matt Joyce of Associated Press has the full story which was published among other places in the Indianapolis Star.


Friday, 6 January 2006

Auction object lesson in making money ... out of money

When is a $20 bill worth $10,000 plus? When it's found to be overprinted with a bright red, yellow and gree Del Monte fruit sticker apparently.

The so-called "banana note" snuck out of Treasury Department printing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, when checking precedures failed to spot the error. Daniel Wishnatsky of Phoenix paid just over $10,000 for the bill in a 2003 auction on e-Bay and now Heritage Galleries and Auctioneers of Dallas is auctioning the bill in Orlando, Florida.

The Heritage Galleries website has a comprehensive catalogue description.


Thursday, 5 January 2006

Antique rugs and carpets - good investments if you buy wisely

by Christopher Proudlove©
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frith 01

It's all a matter of priorities, she kept telling me. In readiness for the festive season of television torpor, I fancied a new TV to replace our current valve set that is at least 18 years old. With seemingly hundreds of square feet of bland laminate flooring in the new house, the Business Manager (Mrs P) had other plans.

Both of us had decided we needed some rugs to scatter about the place and last weekend, seduced by sale prices, we took the plunge and wads of money changed hands. We were like lambs led to the slaughter. Whether our purchase of a 12ft by 9ft Chinese Ziegler carpet will prove to have been a wise buy we'll probably never know. With luck, it'll be something the young apprentices will discover when we are long gone.

In the meantime, it does look magnificent -- and it does cover lots of laminate. Interestingly enough, looking at it is as entertaining as watching some TV programmes. We keep spotting new features in its woven design and the more you look, the more you see. Yesterday, we noticed the pattern includes a number of small animals which we simply hadn't spotted before.

So, we're happy, but there are more scientific ways of buying a rug or carpet for your home -- antique or otherwise.

Since we need more, I have resolved to learn about the subject, because I sense that if you know what you're buying, there are bargains to be had.

Fact is, for the outlay of a few hundred pounds (or a thousand or two if you have a little extra to spare) there are some very collectable and quite delightful rugs and carpets out there, just waiting to be identified for what they are - underestimated, colourful and enduring works of art.

And if you buy carefully, your purchases could prove to be a wise investment.

An auction catalogue we saw this week was offering a red and pale yellow, 13ft by 11ft carpet, from Ushak, western Turkey, dated circa 1890.

At £12,000-18,000 it was way out of our price bracket but 10 years ago, it would have fetched between £8,000-10,000 and 20 years ago, around the time we were buying our telly, it could have been picked up for as little as £250.

Buying antique carpets and rugs need not be the nightmare it might sound. Ask for expert advice from a dealer or saleroom specialist and you won't go far wrong.

The most likely antique rugs and carpets to appear in the saleroom today are those dating from not much earlier than the 1800s.

By far the most common method of dating them is by determining whether the type of dye used in their manufacture is natural or synthetic.

Obviously, experience counts in this area, but once an expert has pointed out the colours and their characteristics to you, they are easily recognisable thereafter.

Apart from a rare synthetic green dye, introduced around 1840, the first chemical, or aniline, dye used to any great extent in rugs and carpets was a purple that first appeared around 1860.

Following that, a particular hue of red was popular in around 1880, followed by an orange, which appeared for the first time two decades later.

These dyes were crude concoctions. The purple, for example, was not lightfast and consequently soon faded to a drab grey. Look deep into the pile or on the underside of the rug to find the original colour.

The red, too, was unstable. Rugs treated with this dye show signs of blushing or bleeding into neighbouring colours, a fault even more noticeable if the rug has spent any time in the damp.

Naturally enough, rugs showing these characteristics cannot predate the introduction of the dyes.
We found our Chinese Ziegler-style carpet at a G H Frith showroom - they have three in the UK. Frith have what is claimed to be the largest choice of oriental carpets and rugs in the country including hand-woven masterpieces from all over the world. Their great website also includes a "Rugcam" which by arrangement allows potential buyers to view rugs and carpets online. And they give buyers seven days to return a purchase with a full refund if it's not right when you get it home
A full range of these synthetic dyes was available to rug makers after 1900, but still the technique had not been mastered that prevented them from losing their colour.

Rugs dating from the first 20 years of the 20th century will, therefore, also have a drab, bleached appearance when compared with their undersides.

After 1920, colourfast chromatic dyes were introduced and remain in use today.

They can be recognised because each area of colour is "dead" and of a uniform shade.

This would not be the case with wool or silk dyed with natural vegetable materials.

However, connoisseur collectors consider the introduction of chemical dyes to be the great watershed in the history of oriental carpet making.

They shun anything other than "pre-synthetic" dye carpets. It probably wouldn't bother the likes of you and me. What should matter is whether a rug was made by hand or by machine.

Buy only handmades if you want your carpet or rug to appreciate in value. Anything else is simply a stylish floor covering.

Again, once the difference is pointed out by a specialist, it's obvious.

One simple test: if the pattern can be seen on the back, it was made by hand. And if the pattern is as strong as it is right side up, it's good quality, indicating a high number of hand-tied knots to the square inch. The greater number knots, the better the rug.

Another interesting aid to dating rugs and carpets is through paintings that are of known dates.

Imagine, for example, that an artist, known to have been working in the 18th century, had included a particular type of rug in a picture of, say, a room setting or a portrait.

That style of rug, therefore, must have been around before the artist's death. If the picture is signed and dated, say 1775, then the rug obviously was made in that year or before it.

Find an identical type of rug in a picture dated 75 years earlier and the process of pinpointing the age of the rug moves another step nearer.

Often an approximation is the best the experts can manage and the older the rug, the harder it gets.

As a rule of thumb, they expect to be within five years for rugs dating from the 20th century; 25 years for those dating from the 19th century and before that, to the nearest century, because there are few reliable clues for such early examples.

The oldest known rug, uncovered by Soviet archaeologists in the 1930s, was created in about 500BC. In this case, carbon dating was used to verify its age.

Yes, it's a minefield. Read up on the subject to be better informed. I particularly recommend "Rugs to Riches, An Insider's Guide to Oriental Rugs" by Caroline Bosly (George Allen and Unwin, price £9.95).

And most importantly, ask questions. Visit specialist shops and reputable auction sales.

Auctioneers and dealers are only too happy to pass on their knowledge, even though, at the end of the day, you don't spend any money with them.

Reliable auctioneers and dealers offer a money back guarantee and dealers often an give an undertaking to buy back a rug or carpet at the price you paid.

Avoid the one-day auctions advertised by come-day-go-day "auctioneers" in posh hotels offering so-called bankrupt stock.

And one other thing: if you are able, avoid the temptation to bring home an "antique" rug from an exotic holiday, wherever your destination. It probably won't be! Captions

Pictures show, top: the W H Frith ware house where we found our Zeigler carpet

Below, spotted in a recent auction, left to right: a Heriz carpet, first quarter 20th Century, measuring approximately 12ft 6ins x 8ft. It sold for £3,565 against an estimate of £600-800.

A good Benilin Tabriz carpet dating from the first quarter of the 20th Century. Approximately 15ft x 12ft, it was estimated at £1,500-1,500 and sold for £2,990

A pretty Persian Kashan wool rug, early to mid 20th Century, 84ins x 55ins. Estimated at £300-500, it sold for £437

Byrnes 867Byrnes 868Byrnes 873

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Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Are you a struggling artist? David Pott offers help

David Pott has been selling his work on eBay for 10 months now. His blog ArtistsAnon: gives 10 Tips for Making a Living on eBay, as well as 7 Tips on How to Create Art That Sells on eBay. I can't paint to save my life, but others might find David's help invaluable.

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Sunday, 1 January 2006

Collect antique ointment pots - the instant hangover cure

by Christopher Proudlove©
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As the nation recovers from the kind of hangover that happens only once a year, the Royal Society of Chemistry has come up with the answer: apparently the best treatment for the morning after is toast and honey.

I have another answer. Get hold of a copy of a new book, Historical Guide to Delftware and Victorian Ointment Pots, and two things will quickly have you back on your feet: studying the extensive list of ailments that quack Victorian "chemists" claimed they could cure ... and the prices some of these pots now command among today's collectors. It is sobering reading, to say the least.

The book and associated price guide is the work of Liverpool man Bob Houghton and his colleague Mark Priestley, who spent five years researching their subject. The result is a fascinating work which is sure to become the definitive guide to anyone with an interest in collecting.

It is the latter section which I found particularly fascinating. This relates to the Victorian and Edwardian era and is primarily focused on ceramic medical pots that were specifically sold to cure a range of common ailments - some mentionable, others less so!
Historical Guide to Delftware and Victorian Ointment Pots costs £20.00 (plus £5.00 P&P). It can be ordered on the Internet here; by email at or by contacting Bob Houghton directly on 07969 785350.
Medical science was still at a comparatively early stage in its development and many people still held strong beliefs in old cures, handed down through generations, which would provide instant and miraculous remedies for their illnesses.

Some of the makers and manufacturers tried to offer what they believed to be a genuine cure. Others sadly exploited the naivety and ignorance of much of the population and offered instant cure-all remedies with no substance other than alcohol or narcotics.

Ointment pots that broadly date to the Victorian and Edwardian period are very collectable because of their seemingly wild claims, their relatively small size and the significant variety that are now known. The pots also hold fascination for the general public and provide a view of a simplistic past era that existed just 100 years ago.

The Victorian era saw the rapid development of an urban industrial economy with high concentrations of population in major cities and a subsequent rise in the transmission of diseases. The time was right however for many to exploit the ignorance of many workers of the age.

The proliferation of cheaper mass production methods as well as increasingly sophisticated advertising helped to support the growth of many new industries to serve and target this lucrative market.

Thomas Holloway was amongst the first to recognise the power and potential of advertising and spent large sums on worldwide adverts for his ointment and pills. In 1851, UK patent medicine firms had a combined turnover of some £250,000 that grew spectacularly throughout the remainder of the century.
I met Bob Houghton in 2000 when I wrote about his schoolboy hobby of collecting ginger beer bottles which he dug from Victorian rubbish tips. At the time, he told me he had about 140 different examples but he also collected many relatable collectables such as toothpaste and cold cream pot lids which were used and retailed by Liverpool chemists.

He now lives in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where he is group marketing manager for one of Europe's biggest packaging companies. He met Mark Priestly, who is head of tax for the same company, 14 years ago and has one of the largest collections of Victorian ointment pots in the country,

The book project was born out of a meeting with another great collector, Dr Anne Young, who has a great collection of Delftware pots which presented the opportunity to also include these fabulous early pots.,

By going through library archives, old Kelly's and Post Office directories, and with help from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Welcome Institute and the Science Museum, it was possible to date the pots and when their makers were active. No-one has ever done this before.
In 1884, according to the Chemist and Druggist magazine, there were between 800 and 1,000 makers of patent remedies in Great Britain producing up to 5,000 different medicines with some 19,000 people who were employed by the industry in manufacture and distribution.

Many ointments were based on old remedies or at least attempted to engender the feeling that a successful recipe had been passed down through the generations. Brand names such as Mother Ashton, Mrs Croft, Mrs Hulse and Mrs Gares were used to personalise and reinforce the belief that each generation had a secret herbal recipe that could cure all ills.

Without any restrictions on the medical properties of ointments and cures, and together with the ease of manufacture of transfer printed pots on which the claims could be stated, the growth of the quack cure exploded. This is reflected in the vast range of people's occupations that sold ointment or salves and the fact that the sale of ointment was not limited to chemists or druggists.

Bicycle manufacturers, drapers, newsagents and even a school master are now known to have sold ointment over this relatively short period.

The trade directories are full of similar examples from 'unknown' proprietors such as William Spencer, who ran the Butchers' Arms in Lydiard Millicent, Swindon, in 1889 and also advertised "'Spencer's' ointment for burns, scalds & every description of sores & skin disease". Another, Mrs Sarah Ann Andrew, is listed in 1879 as a salve and ointment maker but also a coal dealer at 64 Broad Lane, Sheffield.

A growing number of potteries helped to support this potentially lucrative industry and ensured that high quality mass produced containers were available to all. Potteries were located throughout the UK and many produced ointment pots.

The demolition of the Maling Pottery buildings at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne uncovered examples of many of the items produced by this significant supplier, including, not surprisingly, ointment pots for the local business of George Handyside.

Similarly, when Buchan's Portobello Pottery buildings in Edinburgh were demolished in the early 1970s, hundreds of Singleton's Golden Eye Ointment pots were discovered.

Port Dundas, based in Glasgow, was another leading Scottish pottery that advertised it produced ointment pots as well as virtually every type of stoneware container imaginable.

Although there was initially no legislation to control the claims made by manufacturers about the powers of their medicines, all medicines in the UK were subject to tax. A government duty of 1½d was levied on all ointments retailing at 1/- (five pence) hence the vast majority of them sold for 1/1½d.

As medicine advanced, so the medical profession began to understand how damaging many of the false claims were affecting the profession as a whole. Most ointments contained little in the way of healing ingredients and many could also have done more harm than good.

The main constituent for most ointments was animal fat such as hogs lard or beef fat as well as bees wax and petroleum jelly which was used as a carrier for herbs or a range of active chemical based ingredients.

The analysis of one of the most popular ointments of the Victorian era, Dr. Roberts' original Poor Man's Friend ointment, showed that it consisted chiefly of Paraffin Molle, while Brown's Herbal Ointment was essentially just petroleum jelly.

Significant advances were made in medicine towards the end of the 19th Century. These were both scientific and also, importantly, in the regulation of medicine, principally by the British Medical Association (BMA) which began to take a leading role in influencing legislation on public health matters.

The exposure of quack medicine with the BMA campaign in 1909 resulted in many proprietors moderating the often exaggerated claims once attributed to their cures while increased scrutiny ultimately caused the demise of many patent medicines and several proprietors were actually prosecuted for fraudulent statements.

The First World War was a watershed for many manufactured products, and pottery containers were quickly replaced by cheaper forms of packaging, such as tins. A few companies continued to use traditional style ointment pots into the 1920s but further efficiency improvements in glass, labels and collapsible metal tubes ended their use by the 1930s.

Incredibly, it was not until the 1941 Pharmacy and Medicines Act that manufacturers were required to disclose the active ingredients on a products' label.

Pictures show, top: The Reekie ointment pot dates to the late Victorian period. The Reekie family were one of many during this period to sell ointment based on family recipes, which were handed down through the generations. This pot is very rare and commands a value of £350.

Below, left to right: Queen's Dentifrice. This early tin-glaze Delftware pot dates to circa 1770 and was possibly used by Jacob Hemet, Dentist to Queen Anne and George II. The pot is very rare and valued at £1,500

The Lees Paisley ointment pot is one of the most desirable Victorian ointment pots due to its sepia, pictorial transfer. The value of this small pot which claims to cure a plethora of illnesses is valued at £500+.

The cover of Bob Haughton and Mark Priestley's book

This attractive blue print transferred pot was sold by William Jones & Co., who had a number of shops in Liverpool and Bootle. The pot dates to circa 1870-80 and is very desirable. It's worth £250

The Johnson pot is very appealing due to the vast range of medical conditions it claims to cure. There are two sizes known - the smaller pot selling for 1s/3d and larger for 2s/9d. Value £350+

Queen's DentifricePaisleyCoverJones LiverpoolJohnson's

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