Saturday, 16 December 2006

Fat Lava goes international!

Hot on the heels of the Maltese-based 'Mdina Collectors Club', comes an even more exciting venture out of Toronto in Canada. A number of dedicated Fat Lava enthusiasts have just founded the 'Fat Lava Collectors' Club', in association with the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. The small but perfectly formed group held their first meeting last week (see picture below), and I have to say that although I couldn't make it myself from London, it looked like great fun as well as educational. Membership is free, and members will receive an e-newsletter 'LavaFlow~'. What's more, there's talk of including Fat Lava in the R.O.M.'s new 20th century design gallery, AND a weekend of events at the Museum, including an illustrated talk by me, planned for the 27th-28th October 2007. I don't want to post the secretary's email address here and curse her with gallons of junk mail, so email me if you'd like to join and I'll send the address back to you.
As most of you may know, Fat Lava was exported all over the
world in its day, particularly to Canada, Australia and New Zealand - I wonder what the inventive designers and decorators would have thought of the growing international interest in their work, some 30-40 years later?! Go Toronto!

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Austrian vs West German Ceramics

I'm sure many of you will have seen what you think is a West German ceramic, which then turns out to be Austrian - with the word AUSTRIA moulded on the base. I have been keeping my eye on these to try and work out who made them. Earlier this week I bought a nice Carstens baluster vase, decorated with a circular variant of Carstens' 'Ankara' pattern. It's quite a complex glaze combination and pattern, so I was amazed to see that the base was in fact moulded 'AUSTRIA'. So, did an Austrian company copy this glaze, and effectively 'rip it off', or did Carstens license the pattern to another factory? I think neither, and that all (or the majority of) Austrian ceramics that look like West German ceramics were made by Carstens in Germany. It's known that Carstens had a sales office or branch in Austria (as well as Australia, Brasil and even Chile!), and it may have been easier to export their wares to certain countries if they were not marked 'Germany' - after all in 1960, the war had only ended 15 years before. Not only that, but they would also appeal to to the Austrians themselves who, surprisingly, refer to their country frequenty as 'Austria' and not always 'Östereich'. M.P. Thomas also says that between 1953 and 1959, Carstens produced ceramics under the notable Austrian name 'Goldscheider', when that company moved to Fredeslöh in Germany, where Carstens was based.
So I called my friend and fellow collector Dr Graham Cooley with
my hypothesis, and he confirmed that of the Austrian vases in his collection, all were in Carstens shapes and glazes. Not only that, but I had a call from him yesterday evening when he told me that he had just found a West German type vase marked 'AUSTRIA' with a foil label bearing the name 'Keramos' followed by the wording 'Carstens Qualitat' - which means 'Carstens Quality'. So, I think this goes to prove my hypothesis that many West German type vases marked 'AUSTRIA' were in fact made by Carstens in Germany. Interesting, huh?

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

On the road with Judith Miller

One of the most enjoyable, and often surprising, tasks my job entails is meeting people and discussing their collections. This can be for publication in one of our books, for valuation or - in this case - on a book signing tour. With Autumn's cold mornings and evenings showing us Summer really was over, Judith and I set off up the M1 to criss-cross the country. Our destinations over the next few days included Ashbourne in Derbyshire, Heswall in the Wirral, and ended up on the Isle of Man. Virtually every time a Judith Miller book-signing occurs, so does a mini-'antiques roadshow' type of valuation event. See below for a couple of the very exciting things we came across.

The welcoming and friendly
team at The Dovedale Gallery bookshop, in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, proudly holding copies of Judith's latest books.

At the valuation event, one lucky collector brought in this truly incredible mid-19th century oil on canvas painting of the first Maori to be (wrongly) imprisoned by the British. Politically sensitive? Yes. Historically important? Most certainly. Valuable? Without a doubt. That's why a say 'lucky' collector. It's impossible to value this sort of item precisely as it is both unique and of great importance. Like everything, it's worth what someone would pay. So how much would someone pay? I'd think a six figure sum - easily.

Judith and I were also lucky enough to come across a beautiful 1930s French Boch Freres vase in Heswall. With a book on Art Deco recently published, Judith was her usual self - a mine of information. We both explained that even as recently as three or four years ago, this vase may have fetched around £100-200, however, collectors have re-appraised the company's work and Art Deco is very fashionable right now, meaning a vase like this may now fetch around £800-1,200, or more. Coincidentally, Judith had recently seen a very similar example for sale at David Rago in New Jersey, USA, which was estimated at around $2,000. Nice find!
All the bookshops we visited had long queues of people eager to know more about their treasured heirlooms or recent finds. The one thing we always like to point out is that something does not need to be valuable to be interesting. So, never fear if you would like to bring something along to one of our events - whatever it is that you have. There's a story in everything, and we'd love to meet you! For more information on future events,
keep an eye on the Events page of my website.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Going Dutch

As you'll know if you are on this site, one of my passions is West German ceramics of the 1960s & 70s. So much so, that I wrote a book about it... Well, I've now just 'discovered' Dutch ceramics, having acquired (at no great cost!) a rather appealing cube vase by Pieter Groeneveldt, and a Scheurich look-a-like by Van Woerden, with a rather good grey-blue glaze. I know next to nothing about either company right now, but I'm researching them both and in doing that, I have found an amazing variety of incredibly appealing Dutch pottery. I get the impression that many of the studio and smaller factories were hit when the likes of Scheurich, Ruscha et al from Germany flooded the Netherlands with their production, but some seem to have survived - albeit producing smaller amount of items. Nevertheless, these seem to have lost none of their charm, appeal and feel for (sometimes adventurous) Modern design. They're also a lot less expensive than many of their counterparts in other parts of the world. Although I doubt they'll ever reach the heady heights of Hans Coper and Lucie Rie, this is market to keep an eye on, me thinks.

Friday, 1 September 2006

Agatha Christie

I've just had a fascinating telephone and email conversation with the curator of Greenway House, near Brixham in Devon, who was seeking some advice. Currently owned by the National Trust, it was the family home of Agatha Christie who is known, of course, for her crime novels. It appears that she was also a keen collector, amassing collections of silver, Tunbridgeware, Mauchlineware and art. Amongst the objects on display is also a collection of British and Scandinavian studio glass - including a number of items from Mdina Glass! It's difficult to say whether the 'Mistress of Mystery' herself collected the Mdina pieces (she died in 1973), as her son and daughter also added to the collections started by their mother. Perhaps Hercule Poirot could be called upon to investigate?
If you're ever in the area, why not drop in and have a look? It's certainly made me renew my (embarrassingly) lapsed National Trust membership. Find out more about
Brixham House here.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Newark Antiques & Collectables Fair

The KING of British antiques fairs, legendary amongst collectors and dealers the world around! And I was going! Yay! If you have heard rumours about it going into decline, please dispel them immediately as the doom-laden thoughts of the terminally miserable. In my honest opinion, this event IS still worth going to, even on a Saturday after two days worth of trade buyers have rootled through. See for details of when this mega-event is held.
I have a strict policy now (undoubtedly the Banker would approve), of taking out a small sum of cash and leaving my credit cards and cheque books at home. This way I have to limit my purchases, due in part to the strictly limited space at Hill Towers and also the restricted nature of my finances. It also means I have to scour the entire fair for the very best bargains. And they're still there - this fair still yielded some great pieces. As a personal tip for the future, I'd pay attention to the designs produced by the numerous glass factories working under the Sklo Union banner in Czechozlovakia from the 1960s-80s. Super stuff, and undoubtedly underpriced. I've been amassing a growing collection for years. I came away with five fab vases in designs that I don't already have and paid, oooh, let me tot it up....a whole £32. Sure, most of the pieces you'll see are in clear, colourless glass, but look out for the coloured examples as they can only be described as jewel-like. The designs are so strong that even the colourless pieces have immense, almost Modernist, appeal. Well, I like them anyway. The quality is superb and beats much Whitefriars hands down in terms of variety and price. See the excellent for more information and pictures.
No Fat Lava though! Boo. As my trusty Editor on the Collectables Price Guide would say "Well, it's your own fault!". Mdina made an appearance as ever, as did the odd diminuitive piece of Isle of Wight Studio Glass, but nothing of great interest that would cause the heart to flutter. So maybe what I hear on the grapevine is true - everyone is stocking up and holding on to pieces by these two glass studios until my
next book comes out in late September. Exciting in a way, but a tad frustrating for die-hard collectors like me - I still have to feed my addiction guys! Save those pennies as I feel that if this is true, we're going to see some shockingly good pieces emerge at the Cambridge Glass Fair, the book's launch event! This in turn will cause the contents of living rooms around the country to be turned out offering yet more treasures.
After an exhausting speed walk and shopping trip around the entire fair (twice!), I joined Judith
for one of her events held on the day - a shopping trip for the winner of the Collectables Price Guide 2005 cover competition to win £500 to spend with Judith at a fair. Louise, the winner, was truly delightful and had a wide range of different collecting interests, which always makes things easier. We came away with a number of brass fronted Salter scales, a superb 19thC pine tool chest and a 19thC pine collectors' cabinet with great patina, and a jelly mould or two -- and a very happy Louise! It was a little like ticking things off a Tesco's shopping list - there truly is something for everybody at such an event. It also just goes to confirm one thing I always say about us lot, we're a jolly nice bunch really. All in all, the day was a real pleasure as well as a great success all round, and I have to admit to being a little sad when travelling back to the Big Smoke with Judith on the fast train. The next event held by the organisers that I can go to is at Ardingly in September and I for one am going....see you there.

Monday, 31 July 2006

Designs on Scandinavia

This weekend saw the Banker and I taking shameless advantage of the cheap flight fad and enjoying a short weekend break in Stockholm. As ever, was looking forward to trawling around the design shops and antiques and collectables centres in the capital of one of the countries that has contributed the most to 20th century design.
Well, disappointment isn't the right word by any means, but it was a little surprising to find so few. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place. Sodermalm (and particularly the area known as 'SOFA', Stockholm's equivalent of NYC's and London Soho) seemed the best pace to start. Two! It yielded only two! One very smart, very savvy shop, Wigerdal,
and one that looked like some Medieval peddler's shop filled to the gunnels with all manner of junk and also great designs from Rostrand, Gustavsberg and others. Closer inspection in both clearly demonstrated that unlike other places I have been lucky enough to visit, buying the goods at source is NOT much cheaper! Most of the pieces I saw were roughly the same price as they are in London, or on dealers' websites. A far cry from Copenhagen where Holmegaard glass (even if ever so very slightly flawed) can be found for a fraction of its price here. A good example was this Naebvase (left), an iconic form designed by Per Lutken in 1951. Prices usually range from around £30-50 upwards, but I picked one up, with a slight flaw, for £5 in Copenhagen. Despite the similar prices, I was tempted by a few, but thought better of it. The key contender was an Alsterfors cased glass vase designed by Per Olaf Strom in about 1968. I've always liked the bright sky blue on opaque white, and the mechanical almost 'cog' like design. I also think this sort of glass in massively under-appreciated, a view I apparently share with some glassmakers. Nice souvenir, sure, but at £30 hardly the bargain of the decade! It's still there, as far as I know, along with some more tiresome and common West German vases by Scheurich. I guess the Banker got off lightly this time...poor thing, dragged around boring shops filed with old stuff. Mind you he is far from being a heathen and does appreciate 20thC design. Lucky me.
A few nights out clubbing with the uber-fashionable residents of Stockholm (I had to buy a new shirt not to look out of place!) and a pleasant hangover-blasting long walk around the idyllic and sun-soaked island of Djurgarden later and my senses and equilibrium were restored. Fantastic city, fabulous (and fabulously dressed!) people - I'd certainly recommend a visit, but don't hope to stock up on Scandi design classics as you'd be better off seeing someone like my friend Richard Wallis
here in the UK!

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Fat Lava Exhibition

As you will have seen from other parts of my website, the Fat Lava Exhibition was opened at the King's Lynn Art Centre in Norfolk, England on July 15th. Since its launch unprecedented numbers of visitors have attended, each emitting a shocked gasp as they enter the vibrant ceramic filled gallery. Okay, I may be biased - but I really can't recommend this exhibition enough. If you're into this type of thing, not only is it the first time that these ceramics from this period have EVER been exhibited in public before, but with over 580 examples on display there truly is something for everyone. Just make sure you get there before August 12th, when it closes. If you don't believe me, then check out the photograph below, and the others here.
The reason for today's visit?
An interview for BBC radio, who wanted to cover it for a breakfast time show tomorrow morning. I always find that the success of these sorts of things depend so much on the questions that are asked. Thankfully, this time the interviewer was both experienced and good fun, as well as being completely bowled over by the display. The BBC aren't the only members of the global media interested - someone from SKY TV attended the launch and interviewed me, the owner of the collection and the manager of the centre. Fat Lava goes global? Sure does!

Sunday, 23 July 2006

eBay Shipping Costs

Don't you just hate it when someone is clearly over-charging for postage and packing? Sure, I know that it takes precious time to pack, and uses up materials that costs money (have you seen the price of bubblewrap and strong envelopes these days?!) but when something is small AND light in weight and apparently costs the equivalent of £12 to send, when you know it would cost less than half that, it's kinda annoying. But what can you do? Query it and risk the wrath of the vendor, or else refuse to pay it and get a negative feedback? Solutions on a postcard, please!

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Studio Pottery

Is it just me or does anyone else think that most British studio pottery is both enormously under-priced and under-appreciated? Okay, Troika may have gone stratospheric and is only just about reaching a plateau, but there are a whole host of other names whose prices are still too low in my opinion. I'm thinking Briglin, many of the Isle of Wight studio potteries (compare them to Rye!) and particularly Tremaen (below).

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Ardingly Antiques & Collectors' Fair

Today was spent wandering around the sun-soaked fields of the massive Ardingly Antiques & Collectors' Fair in Sussex, organised by DMG. With a 36 degree heat, the fields where the fair is held might have been arid, but the selection on offer certainly was far from dry. It reminded me what a superb hunting ground these DMG fairs still are, despite what you might hear from the 'doom merchants'. However, as with everything, you only get back what you put in. I always find that it pays to wander around the entire event, from the more upmarket, specialist dealers in the vast barns to the outerlying areas where traders display their wares on blankets and fold-up tables on the grass. Okay, you may need a pint of water and a good gin and tonic afterwards to recover from the 3 hour walk in such a heat, but take my word that it's worthwhile.
So what did I find? A rather large and handsome 1950s Bay Keramik vase designed by the notable Bodo Mans for £10 and an U-Keramik foamy lava vase shown in my Fat Lava catalogue
for the princely sum of £5 - on special offer too! Just goes to show that there are bargains still to be had, with both arguably being worth around 5 times the amount I paid. I also bought a Bernard Rooke vase. Much as I always tend to fall in love with objects after owning them for five minutes (well, seconds, if the truth were known!), I bought this one to sell. I wonder how it will do on eBay? Always a risk, but we'll see.
And what did I learn? As ever - a hell of a lot! It was great to see old friends and make some new ones, but even better to get to see and handle some superb objects. I also bumped into an ex-colleague of mine from Sotheby's who was involved in filming as an expert for the BBC's Bargain Hunt series, which made the day extra-special for me as we haven't seen each other for over 5 years.
My friend Judith was speaking at the event and the passion that dealers have for their objects was reflected in the audience. Despite the sweltering temperatures in the marquee, the attendance was extremely strong and people were friendly, receptive and inquisitive. A quick book signing with Judith and chats with collectors followed - all good fun - and I was soon packing my new found treasures into my car for the drive back to London. Now, who mentioned gin and tonic...?!