Thursday, 12 January 2006

Invest in antiques and show me the money - eventually

by Christopher Proudlove©
Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português


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

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home