Monday, 30 June 2008

Crafty Stuff

For those of your who are familiar with the excellent Crafts magazine, published by the UK's national Crafts Council, check out this month's issue. The eminent curator and 20thC design author and expert Lesley Jackson has written an eight page, fully illustrated preview of the forthcoming 'Hi Sklo Lo Sklo' Czech glass exhibition. Offering a wealth of historical and background information, as one would expect from the excellent Jackson, it's not to be missed as a detailed introduction to the area. If anyone has any doubt that postwar Czech glass design may be 'the next big thing', listen to the expert herself - the last lines of the article reads "They were often beautiful objects which, until now, have been largely misunderstood or completely ignored. Cooley and Hill could just trigger off another Velvet Revolution - this time in the collecting sphere."

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The hammer falls...

Just in case you were wondering, the copy of Hi Sklo Lo Sklo that I was selling for charity on eBay this week sold for twice its retail price - £40. What's more, it sold to the Rakow Library, part of the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Illustrious indeed! Do we think this area is about to explode - with attention from such establishments, yes, we do!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Budapest III - The Flea Market!

The more perceptive of you will note that I haven't bought much yet, having only spent the parsimonious sum of £14.75. Well, to be honest, I have been clutching my wallet close and saving myself for the highlight of my trip - a visit to the famed Esceri flea market.
Billed as 'the biggest and best flea market in Central Europe', even if it isn't, it's most certainly worth a visit. If you can get there, that is. It's not as hard to find as some guide books say, but you do need to be a little intrepid as it's quite far out of town. When I was there last in December 2005, I was somewhat suffering from the after-effects of the night before. Alas that meant I couldn't really remember how to get there this time.
The first bit is easy. Take the M3 metro to Hatar Utca, the stop before the end of the line - don't feel the temptation to get off at Esceri Utca, despite the name. It's when you leave Hatar Utca station that it becomes a little difficult. You now need to catch a bus to get to the market, but which one, and from where? Buses seems to have changed since guidebooks were published. Thankfully I found some similarly confused Norwegians who spoke German and, between us, we managed to persuade a bus driver to help us. The answer is the 54, caught from the stop on the side of the road furthest away from the metro station exit, and next to a hotel. Persevere despite the rickety nature of the bus, and the fact that you seem to be going along a motorway, and get off at Fiume Utca - the driver will usually announce something unintelligible in Hungarian. As it's the first time he'll say anything, you'll know where it is. Cross over the motorway using the bridge and you're there. See - not so hard!
And what a treasure trove - you'll find everything from fine ceramics and glass to literally the kitchen sink. I saw everything from a 55,000 florin (about £180) Harrachov 'Harrtil' glass vase to the pile of suitcases and the ancient TV in the picture. It's a pretty large place with around 150-200 dealers who vary from those selling on pasting tables arranged in rows outside, to those in stands under cover, to those running more professional lockable shops arranged along three long under-cover avenues. You could spend hours browsing - I did! Unlike the BAV stores of the antique shops I was in yesterday, haggling is very much the order of the day. And haggle hard - really hard. They know that you're a tourist, no matter how hard you try. I found that asking a price then politely declining, indicating that you'll walk around and then walking away, worked. Returning some 30 minutes later often yielded a discount of nearly 50%. Organise your money before you go back, as it really isn't right to flash your cash.
A final tip before I let you know what I bought. Saturday is the best day, and get there early - dealers start to pack up at around midday. I'm told that the earlier you get there, the better the stock. I arrived at around 11am and, although there was plenty to see, I did wonder what may have been there at 8am.
After a good few hours combing through and negotiating with a number of dealers, I decided to plump for only one piece - another 1960s Czech Zelezny Brod vase. The first price was 7,000 florins (about £23). Upon my return, I was lynched by the lively (and lovely) dealer, who wrote down a price of 5,000 florins (about £16.50). I shook my head gravely and cheekily suggested 2,000. After a few raised eyebrows and smiles, I handed over 2,500 florins (£8.25) - a pretty good discount. Both happy (I did wonder what she paid!), we shook hands and I wandered off to catch my bus back to town. Who should I find at the bus stop but the Norwegian couple I met earlier. Although they hadn't bought anything, they did have one question. Pointing at a sentence in their guidebook, they wanted to know what a 'Fred Astaire style top hat' was. Despite the temptation after such a pleasant morning, I did manage to restrain myself from dancing, or singing for that matter!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Budapest II

After enjoying the blazing sun, wonderful warmth and success of the previous day, I was up and out early, being for more. The second stop for anyone visiting the city must be the street called Falk Miksa in the north of the city, and near the Elizabeth bridge.
This really is 'antiques central' with at least a dozen shops along this pretty tree-lined avenue. It seems to be where real money can be spent, with many shops stocking the national speciality of lustrous ceramics by Zsolnay, based in the town of Pecs. Also worth checking out is the Hungarian version of Art Deco and post war ceramics by the potter Gesu Gorka and his daughter Livia.
Most of the Art Deco furniture I saw seemed to be heavy in weight and style, and large in size, meaning it had great visual impact. Furthermore, much like antiques shops in the UK and the US, it's also worth taking a closer look as some pieces are recent rather than period. However, they're identified as such and priced accordingly. As for the work of the mercurial Gorka pair, if you're a fan of avant garde ceramics or West German 'Fat Lava' ceramics, you're sure to be in heaven. Virtually unknown outside of Hungary, I think their work could be a good bet for the future. However, dealers seem to think the same as me and you can pay anything from £50 upwards for the smallest piece - more standard prices for a meaty example are anything from £150-500.
Hungry for lunch after so much browsing, I stopped at the rather fine Café Picard, one of the many restaurants that can be found dotted between the antiques emporia. While the standard Hungarian fare of a stew and potato gnocchi was not welcome in the heat, a large and cold beer and salad certainly was!
Also based on this street is one of Hungary's 'grand dame' auction houses, Nagyházi ( They hold regular, well-catalogued auctions that cross ceramics, furniture, rugs and glass. I enjoyed a long browse through the many palatial rooms filled with treasures, imagining places in my tiny apartment for far too many of the beautiful objects I saw.
It's worth pointing out that many auction houses also hold gallery sales, as well as auctions. Perfect for the tourist, this means you can buy items marked with retail prices, much as you would in a shop, and take them away with you. On that note it's also worth visiting the Polgar and Dunaparti auction houses and galleries, both on Váci Utca that runs through the centre of town.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Budapest I

Loathe as I am to leave the comfort of Hill Towers, I do enjoy travelling. Particularly when it allows me to spend time touring the antiques, collectables and junk shops of my destination. Today I find myself in the 30 degree warmth of the Hungarian capital of Budapest, celebrating a friend's pre-wedding jaunt. While I'll spare you the details of the revelry that occurred, I will let you know where to go and what to do if you're 'tiquin', as they say across the pond.
First stop should be a visit to the network of 'BAV' stores that are dotted around the city. Effectively a chain of state-owned pawn brokers, they stock everything from jewellery to furniture, and ceramics to glass. It's worth bearing in mind that anything over 50 years old needs an official export permit to leave the country, and I'm told that quite a bit of their stock comes from pieces seized by Customs! Although most branches carry a selection of pieces, some specialise in certain items. You can find a full and up-to-date list at
I spent considerable time at the branch in the centre of the city at 1-3 Bécsi Utca, on the corner, which has good and varied range of stock. Only metres up the road a branch specialises in jewellery, watches and fine art. I then crossed the river using the 'Chain Bridge' to visit the branch on Frankel Leó Utca in Buda. There're also three or four other antiques shops nearby that are worth checking out.
I found my first bargain in the BAV there - a great 1960s Czech Zelezny Brod vase, with an elegant applied spiralling trail, in Alexandrit (or Neodymium) glass. This glass changes from violet in natural light to ice blue in fluorescent light. The kind gentleman who helped me spoke different parts of our conversation in four languages, but we got there in the end. One tip - don't bother haggling in a BAV store as it's just not the done thing. Believe me, I tried! Still I was happy as I walked away with it for the princely sum of 4,500 florints - or a bargainous £14.75. A good start, me thinks.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Bid for charity!

To celebrate both the forthcoming 'Hi Sklo Lo Sklo' exhibition and the accompanying catalogue on postwar Czech glass design, I have decided to auction the only spare advance copy of the catalogue on eBay.
Having unusually watched quite a bit of TV lately, I've been appalled by the situation in Burma, so I have decided to donate all proceeds from the sale of this copy to the Disasters Emergency Committee ( I've also made this a 'private' auction, so your identity will not be revealed if you decide you really want to know the secrets contained within the covers before everyone else. For starters you'll learn who really designed Exbor's stunning range of fish, such as the one shown here.
Click here to go to the auction. Bid now and bid high - it'll benefit more than just you!


Why, oh why, are people obsessed with adding a 'z' to a name to make something seem more fun, cool or zany? Annual accounts cannot and will not be made more fun just because the software package is called 'Accountz'. When will they learn?!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Mdina in Hollywood hit TV series

Over the past few days I've become a fervent fan of US hit TV series 'Dexter'. It's getting so bad that I watched four back-to-back episodes into the early hours last night, although I'm told my addiction will get far worse as the series develops! Bring it on, I say.
When the serial killer with a social conscience is researching just how evil and warped his next victim is, he uses his Apple laptop from the privacy of his home. Imagine my surprise to see that accompanying him on his desk is a large Mdina 'Fish' vase. You can see it to the right hand side of our anti-hero in the image shown here. That the set designers have taste is beyond question - his 1950s Miami apartment is very well-appointed yet comfortable - but I think this shows a really impeccable eye.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Chasing sheep is best left to the shepherds

No, I haven't lost my mind, it's the title of what is perhaps my favourite piece of music by avant garde contemporary classical composer Michael Nyman. I've been listening to Nyman's music since I was 16, when my school friend Simon and I first encountered his work. Thinking back, we must have been odd kids, I guess, when most of our peers were listening to The Cure.
I was lucky enough to not only hear this piece of music conducted and played by the man himself, along with his really rather excellent Michal Nyman Band, but also to meet him in person. Much to my surprise, unlike many 'artists', he doesn't shy away from the public or his fans. I was amazed to see him circulating and mingling with the audience both before and after the performance, and during the break.
Call me a sad groupie, but the chance was simply too good to miss. I rushed over with my programme, mumbled words of apology and admiration, and he very kindly signed it for me in a truly flamboyant manner that reflects much of his music. I really can't recommend seeing this guy play live enough - his music is a feast for the ears and mind on CD, but a million times better when filling an auditorium live. Check out his website at It may be the first concert I have actually managed to attend but, after tonight, it certainly won't be the last.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Listen and learn?

I really do enjoy talking about the things I love. I just always hope that the people listening to me enjoy it too! Thankfully, that certainly seemed to be the case when I visited the Reigate Antiques Collectors Society in leafy Surrey yesterday evening.
Societies are strange animals today. All too often superb events organised by what appears to be a thriving society only attract a very few members on the day, despite the fact that membership numbers are large. I should imagine that the increasingly busy lives we all lead today account for a large part of the reason behind this. I always think this is a shame, as those who don't attend are sure to miss out.
What I found in Reigate was very different, however. Over 70 members turned up to listen to me speak about new markets in 20th century glass. Not only that, but they were charming, enthusiastic, interested and inquisitive - they sure gave me a run for my money! I'm not complaining though. It's always much better to have a dialogue about the objects we love, as different reactions can spawn all manner of new avenues of thought.
As you can see from the front page of my presentation, I covered a huge range of glass makers from Dartington to Hartley Wood to Mdina to Stevens & Williams and postwar Czech glass. I always bring a large box of glass with me when I do events such as this. A picture speaks a thousand words, but nothing helps us learn and understand more than actually handling the objects themselves.
The main thrust here was to encourage people to look away from the more obvious makers such as Gallé or Lalique. Gone are the days when you may find a good piece by either going for a song in a junk shop, but you may still find a rare 'Flame' red Dartington vase from the late 1960s. Did you know that it could fetch anything from £100 upwards? And if it's a large size, you could be talking triple that.
I was told in a very kind thank you letter that local charity and junk shops had been overwhelmed with punters by the end of the following much for my plans for returning and trawling them myself!