Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The Ins and Outs of a new antiques collecting year

THE TOAST is ... a new year of collecting opportunity.

Another 12 months in which to indulge one’s passion, splurge yet more cash on knickknacks and fripperies and generally fill walls and any remaining flat surfaces with completely useless objects that you simply cannot live without.

But then you’re a true collector, addicted to a hobby that has neither rhyme nor reason. You hunt out stuff that is old and therefore hard to find and when you find it, the red mist returns ...

Good for you, I say. But why do you collect?

Click here to see some suggestions

Do you collect to a plan or pattern? Do you follow the crowd and collect what’s currently in fashion, or do you set the trend and buy for love ... or for money? And anyway, does it matter?

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but having watched the fine art auction market at close quarters for the last 12 months (actually, the last 20 years) I think I know what’s in, what’s out and what’s up and coming. Here’s my selection.


Brown furniture suffered a downward spiral in prices from the heady days of the 1990s but auctioneers the length and breadth of the country are reporting an upswing. Heavy, late Victorian mahogany chests of drawers, like this one with definite Scottish design traits which failed to sell, are still hard to shift though.


   Surprisingly, given their size, bookcases like this good George III breakfront mahogany example are back in favour. Only recently nobody wanted them, unless they were exceptional, and cautious estimates were the order of the day. This one was expected to fetch around £2,500 but realised £4,700.

Early pieces, like this William and Mary oysterwood chest, which sold for an above estimate £4,200, and 18th century walnut were able to weather the price recession, probably because decent examples are scarce.

However, most in demand is small, elegant, Regency and early Victorian occasional furniture such as this a Regency rosewood cross-banded and brass inlaid folding card table with applied gilt metal mounts. It sold recently for a twice top estimate £2,400. In 1977 the same table cost its owner £480.

Antique furniture represents amazing value for money and there are some great bargains still to be had.


Country pine which was once all the rage is now not so cool. Most towns had at least one company offering a chemical stripping service for doors, dressers and chests but the fad seems to have faded. Country oak, on the other hand, which has swing in and out of fashion for years, is currently in. The problem is finding original pieces which have not been made up from old wood. Buy with caution from reputable sources where a guarantee is offered.


Anything brass or copper – people either can’t be bothered, or don’t have the time to clean it.


At the time of writing, silver had a melt value of £5.59 an ounce, but that is meaningless when considering forming a collection of antique silver. The market for all but the very finest or rarest examples remained flat throughout the first half of the year, but showed signs of renewed strength, particularly during the closing months. However, it is pieces by well known makers; Irish, Scottish and less productive assay offices such as Exeter and good early examples that are most sought after. Prices are still affordable.

A William IV tea service by the important London maker Paul Storr for Storr & Mortimer, which sold for £2,950 in a recent sale, was hallmarked for London 1837 and weighed 59 ounces. It was purchased in an auction in 1972 for £400.

In 1979, the same collector paid £570 for an Edward VII oval rose bowl decorated with strong Art Nouveau influence. It was made by Edward & Sons and was hallmarked Glasgow 1903. It weighed 54 ounces and sold for £2,100.

An even more desirable example was this fine George I sugar caster by Huguenot Pierre Platel, hallmarked London 1718. Measuring just 15.5 cm, the caster sold for a staggering £7,500 after a bidding battle between two buyers keen to take it home. It had been expected to fetch £700-900.

 The same collection yielded a pair of casters by the Dublin maker Thomas Walker with an indistinct date mark for possibly 1728. They were estimated at £1,200-1,800 but sold for £4,600, illustrating the demand for Irish silver, which is becoming increasingly rare.

In another sale a good pair of George II cast pillar candlesticks by William Gould, (London 1751) which was estimated at £3,000-4,000 sold for £5,000.


While we’re on shiny things, also In is good quality antique jewellery by top name designers such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron. Similarly, the clever money was being invested in gold sovereigns – always a haven for spare cash in hard times – and large diamonds either mounted or not. If you’re buying the latter, remember the three C’s – clarity, colour and cut – and try to buy stones with certificate from either the G.I.A. (Gemmological Institute of America) or H.R.D. (Hoge Raad voor Diamant) both of which have grading and testing systems with are recognised internationally. The stone illustrated measured 4.28 carats and sold for £24,000.


I have no idea why, but oriental rugs and carpets are Out - and have been for a while – when in my opinion they should be In, particularly in these days of bland wall-to-wall laminate flooring. Read up on the subject to be better informed and ask questions. Visit specialist shops and reputable auction sales. Reliable auctioneers and dealers offer a money back guarantee and dealers often 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 or cancelled export orders. It’s not.

Don’t bring home an "antique" rug from an exotic holiday, wherever your destination. It probably won't be.

This antique Kashan carpet in rich reds and blues measured almost 12 feet by nine, but failed to find a buyer at an estimate of just £400-600. In contrast, this Khotan style carpet  at 12ft 6 by 9ft 9 was a snip at £540.


I have no idea why, but Beswick figures are definitely in. For the collector looking for an investment, I fear there is little or no room left for capital growth, such are the prices that pieces like this trio of cattle command. (They sold for a whopping £805). For the collector who loves them, it’s down to the red mist.

The picture shows Beswick’s Dairy Shorthorn Bull 'Champion Gwersylt Lord Oxford 74th', which was issued from 1957-1973; the Dairy Shorthorn Cow 'Champion Eaton Wildeyes 91st' and Dairy Shorthorn Calf. They were designed by the talented Arthur Gredington (1939-1968) who created more than 400 models for the Longton, Staffordshire, factory that ceased production in 2002.


PenDelfin rabbits and blue and white kitchen jars by T. G. Green. PenDelfin price guide author and specialist Stella Ashbrook tells me the market is currently “pretty flat”, although there remains a hardcore bunch of collectors who remain keen to own rarities.

The blue and white T. G. Green kitchen jars, on the other hand, appear to have gone off the boil. If you’re a collector looking to complete a set, then the rare titles, such as Apricots, Borax, Cinnamon, Curry, Dripping and so on will still make your eyes water, but common examples like Currants, Flour, Pepper, Raisins, Rice, Salt, are back in the £20-40 price range.


A recent sale of a single-owner collection of Dinky toys caused a near riot in the saleroom with collectors falling over themselves to snap up some of the thousands of models on offer. Single vehicles sold for up to £240, but it was the job lots of multiple models that caused the most excitement. One box of approximately 160 unboxed examples sold for £2,100, while another containing 70, mostly in their original boxes fetched £1,100. The lots had been estimated respectively at £50-100 and £50-80. The lorry pictured sold for £230.


In contrast, collectors seem to have stopped buying bisque headed French and German fashion dolls, unless they are very special.



Anonymous mark said...

Hi Chris

Loved the stuff on george tinworth and mice . ps I remember the punch and judy at Llandudno-I am from near there-grew up watching the show near the pier entrance and ice cream kiosks!

mark daid jones

30 January 2008 at 11:17  
Anonymous susan cramer said...

SO interesting, and pretty much what's happening here as well, substitute sports cards for Dinky toys.

26 February 2008 at 07:59  
Anonymous Christopher Proudlove said...

Nice to hear from you Susan. We haven't really got to grips with sports cards here in the UK. (Should I add thankfully?).

26 February 2008 at 08:12  
Anonymous Dan Shaw said...

In my experience, many of the new wave of pottery buyers want pieces with strong,modern design and vibrant glaze.
Poole pottery and West German "fat lava" are very much in vogue as they sit well in the modern,minimalist home,though once bitten by the collector bug buyers can wave goodbye to the spare room.

18 April 2008 at 06:08  
Anonymous Maria Wagner said...

I had to laugh at the comment about the spare room... I haven't had one for long (my daughter moved out last year) and now my fledgling collection of Gouda and Delft is already taking over! ...I see retro glass and pottery selling quite strongly, as well as quirky bits and pieces; militaria also seems to go well.

20 May 2008 at 01:43  
Anonymous Richard said...

It always amazes me what people will pay for Dinky toys, considering they're not really that old. Guess it goes to show that you never know what is going to be the next priceless antique.

10 August 2010 at 08:25  

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