Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Discovering Vancouver I

After the excitement of the wedding, we drove and flew on to Vancouver to see in the new year...and do a bit of shopping. After hitting the chain stores along Robson St, some time was found for purchases of a more vintage nature. Searches on the internet had shown Main Street, between 6th St and 30th St, but mainly 16th St and 25th St, as being a great hunting ground.
Starting at the beginning, the first target was the rather positive sounding 'The Fabulous Find' at 1853 Main Street, between 2nd & 3rd streets. Stocking a great range of mid-century wooden furniture and accessories to match, there was plenty to please the eye - at prices to please the wallet. I was particularly taken with a pair of Carstens Fat Lava vases and a display of cast iron candleholders and other objects by Dansk, some designed by the late designer Jens Quistgaard.
In the long walk up to 30th St, another five or six antiques or retro shops were found, as well as some great looking vintage clothing shops. We found it was always worth having a look in these, as many used ceramics, glass and furniture of the period as props which were also for sale. If you have a spare afternoon, you'll certainly have fun ambling up Main Street and enjoying the 'experience stores', but if you want to target antiques and vintage shops, it's best to ride the buses that go up and down on a regular basis, hopping off when necessary.
Although it was warmer than the prairies, it was still just above zero, so we needed warming up after a chilly walk. The famous Granville Island provided just the place, with a selection of cafés and restaurants, as well as more retail therapy with North Western tribal art and other galleries a plenty. But we saved our appetites for dinner at the award-winning Bin 941 on Davie St, where we dined on its renowned sizeable portions that range from crab cakes to steak.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A wedding in the prairies...

The highlight of, and reason for, the visit to Western Canada was to attend the wedding of Darla and Wayne. Held in a small town in western Saskatchewan, some 5 hours drive northwest from Calgary, two grand prairie families were brought together with over 400 guests helping them celebrate. The bride was supremely elegant in cream silk and vintage mink, the groom beamed proudly, and the party rocked!
A special thank you to Darla, Wayne, Jerry and Doreen for putting me up, and putting up with me. Thanks also to Treena, Lynn, Doug, Clara, Vera, Betty, Louis, Darren, Jerry-Lee, Curtis, Trina, Tanya, Igor, Tony, Alvin, Eunice, Chad, Jenny, Shirley & Ed - it really was great to meet you! Another particularly memorable delight was hearing the beautiful voice of up-and-coming Canadian contemporary folk singer Alexia Melnychuk, who sang at the wedding. Click on her name to visit her website to hear for yourself - I predict big things...and you heard her here first!
It may have been a small town, but it has a big heart. And just like their skies, their minds are bright and wide open.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Festive Banff

In search of the elusive 'White Christmas', this year the banker and I travelled to the Canadian Rockies, where snow is pretty much guaranteed. So is icy cold, and with temperatures as low as -27 degrees, it's certainly the coldest I have ever been. Still that didn't stop us getting around, driving through the beautiful Banff national park up to a frozen yet still picturesque Lake Louise.
Although best known as a skiing resort, Banff also has a great range of shops. Although we didn't stumble across any antique or vintage stores, we did manage to find a couple of great galleries.
The first we encountered across was the Willock & Sax Gallery, on Bear Street. They specialise in Canadian art, with a strong focus on artists from Alberta. The gallery is light and bright, acting as the perfect foil for the displays of studio ceramics and glass, photographs, prints and paintings. They also stock a superb range of Inuit sculpture and prints by notable artists such as Kenoujak Ashevak, Kananginak Pootoogook and Mary Pudlat. I was particularly taken by a central display of carved soapstone polar bears, shown above.
With my luggage already tightly packed for a wedding in Saskatchewan just after Boxing Day, souvenirs had to be small. I opted for a small ceramic wall dish hand-printed with a bear by noted Canadian ceramicist John Chalke. At only 20 Canadian dollars (about £12) it was certainly at the affordable end of his work - as to whether it'll be a collectable of the future, let's see! Whatever, I am delighted with it.
Inuit carved Polar bear sculptures were also on display in the second gallery we found, which was just down the road. Canada House also specialises in Canadian art, ranging from carvings to studio glass to paintings and prints. Price tags tended to be a little higher than the previous gallery, and the quality was again excellent.
A wonderful day of wandering was finished off watching the sun set over the Rockies from the rejuvenating warmth of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, and their 1930s outdoor pool and bath house. The steam and silky, sulpherous water felt fabulous after the drying cold, but the most surprising side was the fact that whilst my body was very warm, my exposed head was freezing. Quite literally in fact, as stiff icy spikes formed in my wet hair!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Reading Retro

I've just spent one of the most enjoyable days of the year in Reading, Berkshire, at Mid20C, owned by my friend and long-time antique and 20thC design dealer Al Baynham. Those who have bought the Fat Lava DVD will have seen him being interviewed at the original Fat Lava exhibition in 2006. It was unsurprising, then, to see a fantastic and wide variety of West German vases from the 1950s-70s on display. I spotted stonking, classic designs by Scheurich, Ruscha, Roth and more, with prices ranging from £30-over £200. And pricing is an important point to make with Al's stock. I've been to many 20thC design shops where the prices have made me gasp - in horror! The only gasps you'll make here are of delight, or you plan how to get everything you want to buy home. His prices really are on the (much) better side of fair.
As well as Fat Lava ceramics, you'll find a great selection of eye-catching Whitefriars, Czechoslovakian and Scandinavian glass, classic mid-century modern furniture by the likes of Eames and Saarinen, and a selection of collectable ceramics from around the world. Arranged in two large and well-lit, newly decorated rooms, it's a joy to browse and a real retro jewel in Reading's crown. Al also lists some of his stock on eBay, but tells me that many buyers prefer to come to collect their new purchases, chat about their collections and see other pieces he has on offer. If you're in the area, it's a must to visit.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Isle of Wight Studio Glass Christmas Event

This weekend saw a series of special events at Isle of Wight Studio Glass, nestled under the cliffs near Ventnor. I had been invited down to sign copies of my book, and to chat to collectors about pieces from their collections. And collectors and glass fans certainly turned up, creating a buzzy atmosphere that was made especially festive with complimentary homemade mince pies and mulled wine.
One special visitor, who popped in purely by chance, was Angus MacDonald who can be seen with Elizabeth Harris and I in the photograph above. Angus was one of the two first glassmakers employed by the studio's founder, Michael Harris, in 1972. It was fascinating to be able to talk to him about his memories of the very earliest days of the studio, and of working with Michael. Angus left the studio in 1978 and, although he doesn't make glass any more, he still handles it in his role as owner of CART, a specialist in the transportation and storage of fine art and crafts.
Visitors also enjoyed demonstrations by Timothy Harris, who produced a special range for the weekend. These comprised small but perfectly formed miniature, and enormous over-sized, versions of his popular 'The Seasons' series. Winter, with its dramatic network of branches set against a snowy background was particularly striking - both to behold as a finished piece and to watch being made.
Showing the increasing interest from collectors in Isle of Wight Studio Glass, a large number of my books were sold - each being signed and dedicated by Elizabeth & Timothy Harris and I. I almost felt guilty about the amount of times I had to disturb Tim to ask for his 'paw print' whilst he was making glass. Thankfully he had his skilled assistant, Clare Hocking de Noffski, on hand to take over.
A night at the new and ultra-cool Hambrough hotel in Ventnor, run by Michelin starred chef Robert Thompson, rounded off a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing weekend. The food is amongst the best I have had, and watch out for the special limited edition platters (left) designed and made by Timothy Harris that greet diners as they enter the restaurant.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Alfie's Christmas Party

Last night, cool collectors and fabulous 20thC design fans gathered for one of my favourite pre-Christmas events - the Christmas party at Alfie's Antiques Market in Marylebone, London. Drinks flowed and the live music, provided by a gypsy band walking around the centre, was punctuated with excited conversation and laughter. It's always a superb time to see new stock, bought specially for the event, and to catch up with dealers, fellow collectors and colleagues. Amongst those I met last night were the marvellously dressed fashion expert and author Madeleine Marsh, notable Art Deco and ceramics dealers Beth & Beverley Adams, mid-century ceramics and glass dealer Geoffrey Robinson, and the fashion connoisseurs and dealers Sparkle Moore and Cad van Swankster.
Although the event seemed to be a little quieter than usual on the business front, I saw plenty of deals being struck, and bags and smiles being carried out by customers. Of course, I was one of them, with my bag containing this studio glass sculpture by Sam Herman. I've been admiring it for some time and thankfully it was still there. Although I can't really afford it, I'm calling it an early Christmas present - to myself of course!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

I had a drink with Darth Vader

I've just got back from the Collectors' Club of Great Britain Fair, run by Collect It!, the magazine I have written a monthly column for over the past six years. It was great to see so many keen collectors braving the freezing rain and winds to visit. Many of them stopped by the Miller's stand to browse our range of books and have a friendly chat. I also joined my friends and colleagues Judith Miller and Eric Knowles in giving valuations of much-loved antiques and collectables brought in from homes across the country. A particular highlight was finding a late 1930s Stevens & Williams 'Rainbow' cut glass vase amongst a small collection of glass brought in by a young collector. He had recently bought it at a car boot sale for £8, which is a complete bargain considering I think it's worth anything from £300-500! Well done Joe! Although he didn't know what it was at the time, he clearly has a great eye for spotting quality.
Other items included a late 19thC carved and jointed wood jointed 'smallest doll in the world', contained in a miniature wooden egg, which Judith valued at £80-100, and the poster I'm looking at here. It was produced in 1986 to promote an exhibition of photographs by Lord Lichfield at the Ritz in London. It featured the famous photograph of Diana, Princess of Wales in her wedding dress looking adoringly up at her new husband, and was also signed by Lichfield himself. It would have been of interest, and some value, had it not been so creased and damaged. As it stands, it's value lies in the owner's memories of meeting Lichfield and seeing the exhibition.
So how did I come to have a drink with Darth Vader? Also attending the event were a number of stars including Colin Baker (Dr Who), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and the imposing David Prowse, who played Darth Vader. At drinks after the first day of the fair, I enjoyed a long and entertaining chat with David. After discussing his days as Darth Vader and the 'Green Cross Code' man, he told me about his career as a singer which varies from rock to Howard Keel. Unlike the character he played, David really is one of the most genuinely charming, easy going and friendly people I have been lucky enough to meet in years.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Fat Lava - The Movie

Even though the Fat Lava exhibition catalogue has sold out, I'm delighted to announce that the official Fat Lava documentary DVD is now available. With sweeping views of the original and first exhibition, fascinating interviews with the owner of the collection, Dr Graham Cooley, dealers including Petra and Patrick Folkersma of Outernational, and I, this is an essential addition for every Fat Lava lover's library. Professionally produced by Nigel Edwards of Inhouse Productions and with a running time of 16 minutes, you can see a sample of the full documentary by watching the 4 minute introduction above. Only 100 copies of this DVD have been produced, each in its own case with full colour slipcover matching the cover of the catalogue. Click here to order your copy now!
Also keep your eyes peeled for exciting details of a second exhibition, revised and expanded catalogue, and special events in early Summer next year. Contact mid20C for more details.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

From Nova Scotia to Notting Hill

Browsing around my favourite junk shop in Notting Hill at the weekend, I chanced upon these rather sweet 1950s style salt and pepper shakers. With a speckly grey background and a handpainted design of stylised, angular fish I thought they were typical of the 1950s. Turning them over, I saw the bases were nicely inscribed 'Lorenzen Lantz Nova Scotia'.
Ernst & Alma Lorenzen first began potting as a hobby in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1945. Demand led to a shop the following year, and in 1949 they moved to Lantz. As well as appealing domestic and decorative wares which increasingly collectable in Canada, they became known for small and finely modelled mushroom sculptures. More valuable than the rest of their wares, these regularly fetch over $300.
I 'm sure my salt and pepper shakers aren't worth anything near that, but I do think the £6 I paid was a bargain. I believe in using antiques and collectables for the purpose they were made for, where possible, so they now grace my new kitchen table. I'd love to know how they came from chilly Nova Scotia to a currently rainy London!

Friday, 14 November 2008


I've just been sent this picture from a dear friend who spotted it in, weirdly, Woman's Weekly. Seeing it instantly brought back floods of happy memories of working at Bonhams on Lot's Road in Chelsea - my first proper job after university. It also made me giggle a bit, as my first boss Alexander Crum Ewing is shown on the rostrum without his trademark ginger beard! When was this taken?!
I'm lucky enough to be able to say that Alex is still a very good friend of mine, even though he has now left the auction business. He's taken his formidable skills to a completely different market, and now runs the superb Indian Dining Club in South London. If you want a damn good curry, and I mean a really damn good and authentic curry, then pop in for a visit. With Alex as the genial and convivial host and a fantastic and varied menu, I guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Fat Lava Exhibition in Germany

It's taken a while for Fat Lava to start to move out of the realms of haus greuel to object of desire in Germany, but it seems the dawn has broken at last! An exhibition of Scheurich ceramics from the 1950s, 60s & 70s opened at the town museum of Miltenburg on the 10th October 2008, and runs until the 18th January 2009. Click here to visit their site and find out more, or click here to download the pdf flyer, from which this image is taken.
From the many emails I have received from German fans who have visited already, it sounds like a truly great exhibition. I just wish I could see it! If you do go, please leave comments on this post so that we can all hear about your experiences.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Antiques In Buenos Aires II

A note about days, before I continue my Buenos Aires collecting blog. Plan your visit well! The main day for browsing and buying is Sunday. On Mondays, and often Saturdays, many of not all stores, malls and arcades are closed. You'll notice that my last blog entry was on Tuesday - plenty of time to plan my big Sunday!
I almost couldn't believe my eyes - the street had come alive! The previously empty pavements of Defensa were filled with all manner of street traders, and the road with crowds of people. Anything related to Argentina's best export - beef - was for sale from moccasins to bags to wallets, and a whole lot more carnival style items. In fact the event felt m0re like a carnival than a street market, complete with street musicians and entertainers. And it went on for miles...! Fighting through the happy crowds down the street, I saw the stores and arcades were packed and enjoying a healthy trade with souvenir hunters a plenty.
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime, so we stopped off in local restaurant Desnivel (855 Defensa) for great steaks in a traditional 'parilla' setting packed with locals. This was one of the very best steak restaurants we visited on our trip. Others were Defensa al Sur, (Defensa 1338) and La Cabrera (Cabrera 5099), in trendy Palermo - ideal after a day pounding the streets in search of on-trend Argentinian fashion. Apparently a 'competition' exists between top tier La Cabrera and La Brigada (off Defensa), where we enjoyed our final lunch before leaving for the airport. I can still taste the amazing steak in a very simple yet effective pepper sauce, and the perfectly matched bottle of Argentinian red wine recommended by the waiter. As well as the excellent food, marvel at the sports memorabilia on the walls of La Brigada.
It's all too easy to say 'wonderful, wonderful, wonderful' in this city, so I'm going to say something negative for a change - avoid Francis Mallman's over-rated Patagonia Sur in La Boca. Alleged to be the Gordon Ramsey of Argentina, I nearly ended up sounding like Gordon Ramsey on a bad day after tasting the over-complex, over-cooked courses we were served. Fine quality ingredients he may use, but in my opinion they were ruined as soon as the chef got hold of them. I've had much better, especially for the price (around £70 per head), which was by far the most expensive we (relunctantly) paid in South America. One final 'nail in the coffin' so to speak. Mallman's restaurant reminded us of movie portrayals of Castle Dracula - both in terms of its deathly quiet atmosphere, lack of life and other people, and dark, oppressive decor. Despite what the guidebooks tell you, I'd honestly avoid this one.
Anyhow, enough of that and back to Sunday and its antiques. With stomachs filled with juicy steaks, the banker and I were ready for the next leg - the walk down to Plaza Dorrega. This town square is the centre of the antiques and collectables trade on a Sunday, and is packed with stalls, many who travel into the city for the occasion each week. Browsing around, one thing I did learn is that the Argentinians produced vase amounts of flashed and cut glass. More commonly associated with Czechoslovakia (or Bohemia) in the 19thC, they produced red, burgundy, blue and green versions cut with traditional patterns into the 1970s and beyond. I now know that if it isn't labelled, it'd be very difficult to tell where a piece came from -- Argentinian and Czech/Bohemian pieces really are very similar in style, weight, pattern and colour (see photo above).
Alas, I didn't buy anything today. In fact, I missed out buying a rather nice piece of Argentinian studio glass due to my 'greedy eyes'. So desperate was I to make the right purchase that I missed out on something very good just in case something better was around the corner. It's a problem that I'm sure you've experienced before. Silly boy.
I nearly came home with one of BA's most popular 'antique' souvenirs - a coloured glass soda bottle that used to adorn the city's many bars during party times. Looking very jewel-like on the many stands that stocked them, they're candy for kidults. But these days it has to be a very special pieces to enter Hill Towers, so I declined the extra weight in my luggage. Still, with prices as low as £5, they make a great souvenir and I saw plenty being carried home by tourists smiling in the Springtime sun.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Antiques in Buenos Aires I

The undoubted heart of BA's antiques scene is the historic San Telmo district, the first district of this mega-city to be settled and built. Divided into a grid, head towards Defensa, starting at the crossing with Av. Belgrano, only minutes walk from the famous Plaza de Mayo.
You'll soon be confronted with an unparalleled array of stores offering what must be the best selection of antiques in the Americas. The city's immense wealth in the early 20thC meant that, armed with impeccable taste and bulging wallets, its residents could afford to import the very best of Art Deco furniture, ceramics and glass. It's these that the hundreds of dealers found here specialise in - I promise that your jaw will barely leave the floor!
Check out Gallery 800, on the right as you head down towards Plaza Dorrego. Despite its name, its 10 or so dealers don't specialise silver, but instead devote themselves to glass. The central and back stands are particularly interesting. I was tempted by some reasonably priced Charlotte Rhead chargers, but decided to save my money for something more unusual, or Argentinian. On that note, pack the credit card and don't expect to find bargains. The quality is very high, but so are the price tags. As I keep saying, dealers aren't stupid and these professional dealers know what their stock is worth.
Continue down the street to see more of the best of designs by Daum, Gallé, Lalique and others. Leave plenty of time, as there are also plenty of side streets, most of which are lined with more stores or arcades of stores. Galeria de la Immaculada Concepción on Defensa 845 is one, with its 'cages' full of treasures from the high end Deco dealers to lower end part-timers (my favourite!).
In the cavernous Remate San Telmo, at Defensa 819, I managed to find my first treasure. Sitting innocently in this street-side cabinet (above) was a Namiki maki-e lacquer cigarette case.
Maki-e lacquer has been produced for centuries in Japan, and designs can take many weeks to execute. During the 1930s, the Namiki Manufacturing Company revived the technique, applying it to pens, cigarette boxes and lighters, many of which were sold as luxury products through a partnership with Britain's Alfred Dunhill. This was decorated with an goldfish, the most common pattern.
The all-important mark on the back (left) showed it was by Makizawa Shobi, who was born in 1880. He became a pupil of Shosai Shiroyama in 1899, joined the staff of the Iwate Prefectural Technical High School in 1905, became an independent lacquer artist in 1907. He was also one of the six committee members at the time the 'Kokkokai' group of maki-e lacquer artists was founded. An important guy indeed!
The gold washed interior was inscribed with the owner's name (Jose Pablo Costa) and dated 8-12-1941 - an interesting year given that Pearl Harbour occurred in December.
The lacquer was also a little worn, so this was obviously a much-loved piece, which perhaps explained its 500 peso price tag. Some serious negotiating and the use of a magnifier later, and it was mine -- for 250 pesos, which is around £50! Maybe there are bargains here after all, as I think it has to be worth around three time that, at least.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A gourd time in Cusco

Our flight back from Cusco to Lima has been 'delayed'. Apparently, the airline sent a smaller plane than was expected, so it was either a seat on the wing or a later flight. I opted for the latter! This means I am writing this entry sitting on a balcony in a fabulous eaterie in Cusco that happens to have a wireless connection. I've just scoffed the most delicious breakfast omelette known to man. Of course, after four days of trekking along the Inca Trail, any breakfast omelette would be welcome, but this was truly exceptional with its combination of free range eggs, chunks of chorizo, onions, chilli peppers and more.
My stomach was complaining after a lengthy but utterly fascinating walk around the Convento de Santo Domingo, and its odd mix of almost unearthly Inca buildings within a traditional Western-style Christian convent. There, we stumbled across a selling exhibition of traditional Peruvian hand-carved gourds. The carving of gourds with complex scenes of people, jungles, wildlife or devotional motifs dates back over 4,000 years in the Peruvian Andes, and entire families and even towns are dedicated to producing this sought-after souvenir today.
This exhibition featured the work of master carver Angel Alfaro Nunez, who is part of the renowned Nunez family of artist carvers, and was being looked after by his brother Charles Alfaro Nunez. Charles explained the process with the help of magnifying glass and, captivated by this intricate work, the banker and I left with two small examples as souvenirs. The image of mine, carved by Charles and shown here, really doesn't do the detailed design on this diminutive artwork justice. Seeing really is believing - particularly as regards the perspective and level of detail. I was delighted when Charles offered to sign and date my new acquisition, making it just that little bit more special.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Antiques in Cusco

I hadn't really relished the thought of spending a few days in Cusco. After the chaotic - but honest - hustle and bustle of the developing city of Lima, I wasn't particularly looking forward to a city described in all the guides as 'touristy'. How wrong they were, as it proved to be one of the many highlights of the trip. After getting used to the altitude, I decided to get used to Pisco Sour, a cocktail made using egg whites and Pisco. Yummy! Next up was buying a suitable hat for the trek in the market, which was found for the princely sum of £2.54. Tours around the incredible cathedrals that line the main square nourished the brain and gave my culture-hungry eyes plenty to soak up. Religious paintings that at first glance appeared like those in thousands of Christian churches across the world, but at second glance included intriguing uniquely Peruvian details, proved particularly fascinating. A narrow second to these were the two museums behind the Cathedral, with their superb collections of pre-Columbian pottery and metalwares. The display of Inca mummies is also somewhat unforgettable!
I was inspired. I just had to find a small Peruvian souvenir to take back home. Cue spending the rest of the late afternoon scouring the city centre for antique or junk shops! I only found a couple, grouped together on and around the steep Cuesta de San Blas, behind the main Cathedral. All offered South American 'tribal' or domestic items, including ceramics and devotional or religious works, with a fair smattering of old cameras, partly rusted tinplate toys and other vintage imported oddments from around the world thrown in for good measure.
After browsing through a selection of charming naively painted Andean domestic pottery in the shop shown above, I settled on the small carved stone object shown here. As to its meaning (and indeed age, if it has any), I am sad to admit I have no idea - yet. My skills in Spanish are somewhat basic, meaning I couldn't understand the shop owner's detailed explanation. Still, the transaction was conducted with smiles and gratitude from both sides. I do know that the stepped protrusions have something to do with Inca mythology, but that is about all - so now I have some research to do!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Trailing The Inca

Back in July, I mentioned that Alpine walks 1,950 metres up would help prepare me for my Summer holiday. Well it did, even though the Inca Trail, at over 12,000 feet above sea level, was quite a different story. To be honest, I'm amazed I did it, as I do rather like my creature comforts. However, it's not that hard if you have a reasonable level of fitness and 28 Peruvian porters and 4 guides to make the journey easier. Nevertheless, I thought I had left camping behind with the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme at school!
You notice it right after stepping of the plane from Lima to Cusco - even there the altitude even makes you feel giddy and light-headed. Sort of like being drunk without the good (or bad) effects of drinking. On the first day in Cusco, climbing even a single flight of stairs leaves you breathless. Still, it gets easier as you adapt during the day, which is just as well given the full four days ahead of walking up mountainsides at even higher altitudes. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw on my journey - everything from jungles to arid mountains to ancient stone ruins. And Llamas. And Alpacas. It really is a truly and uniquely amazing experience and there's nowhere near enough space here to describe everything I saw, felt and experienced. As you can see from the image above, we were quite a large group and the camaraderie amongst us was one of the loveliest aspects of the trip.
The final day sees the epic end to the trail - Macchu Picchu. It's an early start, and I left my cosy sleeping bag (and damp tent!) at 3.15am to be amongst the first to reach the entry checkpoint for 4am. Then it's ready, set, GO after the gates open and the queue of unshaven, unwashed and slightly tired (yet excited) hikers make their way up the final mountainside to reach the final pass which overlooks the famed ancient city of the Inca. I'm still amazed, and I could be wrong, but the banker and I managed to cover the 6km up the mountain in around 45 minutes, making us the third and fourth humans to set foot on the ridge that morning. And the view is nothing less than incredible - it actually did bring a tear to my eye. Seeing the sun rise over the ruined city is certainly one of life's unforgettable moments. And then you descend, not only to see and experience the city, but also to return to civilisation...and a hot shower!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Fat Lava - SOLD OUT!

You can't have any more. They're all gone! My very first publication, produced in association with the Graham Cooley Collection, has completely sold out. I've even sold the 'seconds' due to a rash of desperate requests over the past few weeks. The reason for this? Fat Lava has gone volcanic! It has appeared in all manner of magazines recently, including the latest edition of Elle Decoration that plopped onto my doormat this morning. Not only that, but an exhibition of Scheurich ceramics is opening in Germany (yes, the country that until recently hated them!), and a major exhibition in Canada is slated for sometime in 2009.
If you didn't manage to lay your hands on a copy, the good news is that I will be reprinting due to continued demand. Not only that, but my consultants and I will be revising and updating all the information contained in the original, and also introducing new photographs. The launch of the second edition will be held in association with an exciting new event that Dr Cooley, Petra and Patrick Folkersma of Outernational, Al Baynham of mid20c and I are planning right now. Scheduled to be held in late Summer next year, watch this space to find out more. In the meantime, here's a picture of Martin Rosam and I filming for the BBC's Antiques Roadshow with selected objects from his fantastic collection.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Spitalfields Antiques Market

A nice new discovery this one. I wrote some time ago that it's often easy to ignore things right on your doorstep. I had heard about this thriving antiques and collectables market, run by Sherman & Waterman every Thursday close to Liverpool Street railway station, but I had never actually made the effort to get up to go.
Well, this morning I levered myself out of bed to arrive for a 7am start. The early bird catches the worm, and all that. And what a surprise I found.... because nothing was ready! Although some 30-40 dealers had arrived, they were still setting up. So it was off to the coffee shop for a pleasant hour sipping a latte or two and reading the newspapers.
When I returned, everything had flipped up a gear and I was forced to do the same. With eyes peeled and sharpened by caffeine, I spotted a number of interesting purchases. These included a rare example of Stuart's 'Dark Crystal' range from the mid-1980s, a uranium glass ball vase that looks like it might from Walsh Walsh's 1930s 'Pompeian' range, and a rather cool Danish wine glass that looks like it would make even the plonkiest bottle of vino taste good.
The total cost? Well, I had to go to the cash machine, but that was only because I was too sleepy to do so before arriving. So £30 can't be bad. As I say, this is a nice new discovery with a buzzy atmosphere and a varied range of stands when it gets going, so I'll certainly be back.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

12th Cambridge Glass Fair

Can it really be the twelfth fair? I remember going to the first, held in the city centre of this glorious and quintessentially English city. Now they are held in the pastoral environs of Chilford Hall Vineyeard. How time flies when you're having fun. And, as ever, fun was had at this fair.
Despite the cold economic climate, the sun shone and the dealers and visitors came providing the usual perfect chemistry for a successful day. The queue to get in provided a good source of clients to buy my books, but particular highlights included meeting Kim Thrower, Frank Thrower's son, again, seeing Marcus Newhall who is about to release his long-awaited book on Sklo Union glass, and also the surprise visit of a gentleman by the name of Martin Rosam.
Martin and I first met at the Antiques Roadshow at Bexhill-on-Sea, when he brought his superb collection of West German 'Fat Lava' ceramics in for me to value on air. It was great enough to see him and catch-up, but I was particularly taken aback with the kind gift of a Scheurich jug vase designed by Heinz Siery and covered with a superb bubbling white Fat Lava glaze. A treasured addition to my collection, for sure. Martin had never been to one of the Cambridge Glass Fairs before and was curious to visit, having heard so much about them and having recently begun to collect 20thC glass.
As regards personal purchases, I still managed to walk away with more glass than I arrived with! I'm sure this collecting lark is an invasive disease - but a pleasant one at that. As to what they were, I can only tell you about a particularly fine Czech glass vase designed by Jan Gabrhel. Shown in a number of period books, I've never seen an example in the flesh, so was keen to add it to my collection. As regards the other pieces, well, they're a little bit of a secret that will be revealed over the coming years. In all, a highly enjoyable day. If, like Martin, you've never been, all I can say is COME. He enjoyed a great day, and I'm sure you will too. I'll see you there!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Riga is where?

At least that was the question that I was asked by some confused colleagues the Friday morning before leaving! Well if you don't know already, Riga is the capital of Latvia, one of the Baltic states. I have to admit to a personal fascination with these ex-Communist states that curve northwards around the Baltic towards St Petersburg. Having enjoyed Tallinn in Estonia last year, I was keen to experience more. There's just something about the combination of ancient and Communist architecture, the waves of new business that sprang up after the fall of Communism and, of course, the potential for all manner of new discoveries in the Decorative Arts. Much of what happened behind the Iron Curtain in the second half of the 20thC is a mystery to us. One I'm keen to know more about.
Like Tallinn, Riga is riding on a wave of new money and confidence. Okay, it's not as wealthy as Estonia, but it's still arguably doing much better than it was under Communist rule. Tourists are also beginning to flock there, although (thankfully) the 'Stag party' count isn't quite as high as it is for Prague. I'm happy to report that there's a surprisingly large number of surprisingly good restaurants. The banker I were entertained and well fed at Vincents, in the embassy district of town. Not ab inexpensive night out by any means, but well worth it for the spectacle of the waiter using liquid nitrogen to make a divinely delicious fresh berry sorbet palette cleanser!
I wasn't expecting much in the way of antique and collectables shops, especially after my research the evening before leaving yielded only a few results. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Most shops carry all manner of goods, from absolute junk to Soviet relics to religious art to a broad mix of homewares, some good and many very, very bad indeed! However they make ideal rummaging grounds, and rummage I did. One of the best, if you can bear the 40 minute walk out of the centre and almost into the 'burbs is 'Retro A' at Tallinas 54. As you can see from the image, I found and a rather interesting vase which may or may not be Czech. 'Galerija' at Dzirnavu 53, 'Antikvariats' at Avotu 31', and 'Antikvariats del Arte' at Barona 16-18 are also well worth a visit. All are outside of the touristy but pretty Old Town, and the latter had an interesting display of vintage fashion including handbags and shoes that was strongly redolent of Art Deco opulence. Prices aren't bargain basement, but it is worth negotiating - albeit very politely. Check opening hours as best you can before you go, and don't save your cash for the truly vast markets inside the old Zeppelin halls as these focus on fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Gateshead Antiques Roadshow

What a great city! I really look forward to the Antiques Roadshows I'm fortunate enough to take part in. Not just because of the camaraderie and the objects, but also because of the people and the city they live in. Having never been to Newcastle or Gateshead before, I was excited to see another part of the world. And I wasn't disappointed, the city is nothing less than beautiful, and inhabitants incredibly friendly.
They also brought some real 'gems' along to the modern Sage Centre. I can't reveal what I saw today, but let's just say that they were a delight, particularly a vast collection of items that were right up my street. Watch the current series to see what I found.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Tynemouth Antiques Market & Newcastle

Stepping off my early morning plane from London to Newcastle for tomorrow's Antiques Roadshow, the bug struck. Thankfully neither a case of pre-event jitters, nor 'man flu', but the bug to hunt for treasures! My Roadshow colleague and friend Steven Moore, a native of Newcastle, knew just the place - Tynemouth Antiques Market. Getting there couldn't be easier, as the market sprawls around Tynemouth metro station, on both sides of the tracks under a wonderful Victorian brick, glass and iron building. If you're up that way, this bustling market is certainly worth a visit. Over 60 stallholders ranging from professional dealers to house clearers, and those who want to clear some space at home, sell a wide variety of items at prices to suit any pocket. Art Deco ceramics varied from as little as £5 for a 1930s Shelley lustre bowl, to over £150 for a rather lovely Myott jug. Character collectables featured large, as did all manner of different types of glassware. My already tightly packed overnight bag couldn't take much, but I managed to squeeze in a reasonably rare Isle of Wight Studio Glass Green Azurene disc paperweight, bought for a bargainous £6 from a lovely lady who had been given it as a gift in the mid-1980s. If you have any money left, I can recommend Attica in Old George Square off Highbridge in the centre of town. Spread over two floors behind a rather grand wooden door, you'll find everything from funky 60s-70s lamps and clocks to Italian ceramics, Fat Lava, vintage specs, handbags and clothes. The latter is a speciality of the shop, and there's plenty to choose from, be it an early 20thC men's (collarless) dress shirt by a local maker, a tweed jacket or a Sixties mini.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Broadfield Lecture 2008

I was honoured to be asked - the annual Broadfield Lecture, part of the International Festival of Glass, is a rather grand affair. This morning I found myself standing in a beautifully appointed room at the Broadfield House Glass Museum, surrounded by oil portraits of the great and good of the Victorian British glass industry. And, of course, some 40 expectant faces staring at me, waiting for me to begin. After savouring the moment for a moment, I launched into my hour-long lecture on glassmaker and designer Michael Harris, the subject of one of my books and the exhibition I have organised and curated that stands on display in the room across the corridor.
With his widow Elizabeth, son Timothy, specialist dealers Ron & Ann Wheeler, and a number of other well known experts from the glass world in attendance, I was aware the pressure was on. But, you know what? I really enjoyed it! I always used to find public speaking rather scary, but if practise doesn't make perfect, it certainly makes these events more bearable and even a little pleasurable.
After I had finished, Stephen Pollock-Hill, owner of Nazeing Glass, joined Roger Dodsworth, Keeper of Glass at the museum, in thanking me for the lecture and also for my contribution to British glass. I was indeed well and truly honoured! In addition to this, one of the most exciting aspects of the event was the audience, with a couple of notable exceptions as mentioned above, nearly all were new faces to me, meaning the Harris story spreads even further. However, with lunch and wine served afterwards, many of these new faces became new friends.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Harris Goes Home

I've just got back from Broadfield House Glass Museum in Stourbridge, West Midlands, where I have been setting up the first ever retrospective exhibition of the work of Michael Harris at Mdina Glass and Isle of Wight Studio Glass. Exhausting, but enormous fun!
The exhibition contains hundreds of pieces of glass designed, and in some instances made, by Michael. The pieces have been sourced from my own collection, with gaps filled from the Harris family private collection, and the collection of a notable collector. For those of you who haven't heard about the Michael Harris phenomenon, and how he revolutionised the production of studio art glass during the late 1960s, I suggest you read my book on the great man, published back in 2006. But I guess I would say that, wouldn't I?!
For those of you who are attending the third International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge from 22nd to the 25th August, you'll be amongst the first to be able to visit this ground-breaking exhibition. Mdina and Isle of Wight Studio Glass has risen dramatically in terms of demand and value over the past three years, and it's about time that Michael's work was displayed in a museum - even more so one in the home town where it all started.
Just one final thing. I owe an enormous debt of thanks to Elizabeth Harris, Michael's widow. She showed herself as being nothing less than a superstar at displaying the wide variety of diverse objects on show in the cabinets. But I guess that's what an innate skill and talent for it, twinned with 40 years of experience, gives you!
If you're coming along to the IFG, please come and say hello - or come along to my lecture at the museum on Saturday morning at 11am. What's more is that Michael's son Timothy will be blowing glass afterwards. If you can't make it for the weekend, visit Broadfield House Glass Museum until January next year to say hello to something far more appealing - the best and largest exhibition spanning 40 years of Michael's work that has ever been seen!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

Last week I was called by my friend and colleague on the Antiques Roadshow, Eric Knowles. On a recent trip to France to buy antiques and collectables for hit BBC TV series 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is', he picked up a little something that he thought had my name written all over it. I've just met Eric in north London's bustling Camden Passage antiques market to see what it was. And he was absolutely correct - it was right up my street! We filmed a short slot, bartered a little, then money changed hands and Eric and I went our separate ways happy.
For those not familiar with the series, two leading experts spend £1,000 of their own money buying a variety of antiques and collectables with the aim of selling them on later to make a profit. The expert who makes the most profit wins, with the profit going to charity. In this episode, Eric was up against Jonty Hearndon. To see exactly what fabulous object Eric thought I'd like to add to my collection, and to see whether Eric or Jonty wins, you'll have to tune in to the new series to be screened later this year. In the meantime, here are Eric and I clinching the deal!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Thousands flock to Czech glass exhibition

The 'Hi Sklo Lo Sklo' exhibition of postwar Czech glass design held at the King's Lynn Arts Centre in Norfolk has now closed. Over 4,650 glass and 20th century design fans visited to view over 1,000 objects during its inaugural four week run. On average, that's over 1,100 visitors per week, and nearly 200 visitors per day!
To see what you missed out on, click here to view some images of the exhibition. The accompanying catalogue is still available - click here for details on how to order a copy.
Due to the staggering demand, it is likely that the exhibition will travel, potentially to locations in London and the north of England. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Holidays High Up

We all need a break. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Sort of like when you eat too much chocolate! Every morning, I count my blessings and think how lucky I am to be able to work in the world of antiques and collectables that I love so much. However, it refreshes the mind to have just a wee complete break from it all from time to time. So this week, the banker and I have taken ourselves off to the gloriously sunny French Alps, where even I can't find a single antiques or collectables shop centre or fair - and that's really saying something!
The Alps in Summer are a strangely enjoyable place, particularly ski resorts like Arc 1950, our chosen destination. If you want clear and sunny skies, pools and spas pretty much to yourself, and true relaxation away from any form of crowds, then you'll love it. Plenty of country walks up and down the mountains leave the lungs fresh and the body exercised before a hearty evening meal. The height, 1,950 metres above sea level, has also left me feeling slightly more prepared for the forthcoming Summer holiday - but more about that later. I'm off for a glass of sparkling wine in the whirlpool!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Great Collectables Challenge

Last month I was given £200! Of course, there's no such thing as free money, just as much as there's no such thing as a free lunch. I had been asked by BBC Homes & Antiques magazine to spend this princely sum on collectables of the future at the UK's biggest and best antiques and collectables market at Newark, in Nottinghamshire.
What a treat!
Braving queues, crowds and some seasonal sun and heat, the antiques editor, Jan Waldron, a photographer and I scoured the entire showground of some 2,500 dealers to hunt out what I thought would be treasures of the future. It's a hard life...!
Want to know what we found and why I picked it? Then pop into your local newsagent from 6th of August to pick up the latest edition of the magazine, which also includes a special Antiques Roadshow supplement featuring many of my colleagues and friends on the Roadshow. I can guarantee that you'll be in for an informative read as well as some surprises!