Monday, 14 December 2009

Cocktail shakers in BBC magazine

This month's edition of BBC Homes & antiques magazine contains a fantastic article on elegant vintage barware. As ever, the specially commissioned photography is fabulous, and the text is filled with facts and, as one would expect with this subject, fun. The majority of the article covers the vintage cocktail shaker, something I hold close to my heart, as well as shake in my hands. It's a glamourous subject that isn't often covered, so this issue makes and excellent buy. Read on for articles about vintage handbags by Judith Miller, ski posters by Katherine Higgins, and coverage of the Antiques Roadshow at Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Abstract Soviet-style vase

Very early one cold, windy and rainy morning this Autumn, I found this vase at a fair in the South of England. Against the grey day, it did rather stand out. I automatically presumed it was postwar Italian from fifty paces, so honed in to have a closer look. Whilst it looked like the type of thing produced in Soviet Russia during the 1920s & 30s, upon closer inspection the quality and style of decoration didn't quite match up.
Perhaps it was some commercially oriented 'rip-off', produced in a factory in another Eastern bloc country like Poland any time from the 60s onwards? Or maybe it was the work of some small ceramics company somewhere, made in the past couple of decades by someone who was inspired by a book on Soviet ceramics?
The mark on the base, a basic dash of the brush, meant nothing and was almost applied so that it was at least 'marked'. Having never seen one before, and as I rather liked its colourful abstract design that is somewhat reminiscent of a cityscape, I bought it. Later, I showed it to a friend, who is an experienced dealer in ceramics. Recalling one she thought she'd seen in someone's collection some years back, she agreed and also rather liked it. Another colleague agreed it was postwar, but hadn't seen one either.
Or maybe it was brand spanking new - it was most certainly an option, much as I'd prefer to ignore the signs. And new is most probably what it is - two esteemed colleagues spotted two pieces with an identical pattern on a stand at another flea market this weekend. Although it doesn't confirm they were made in China yesterday, that pretty much gives it away!
Whilst it's not a reproduction, or a fake, of a Soviet Constructivist piece, it is attempting the style. I'd spent the previous couple of months doing nearly every major fair in the country, and visit plenty of junk, retro and vintage shops every week - I hadn't spotted one before, so they must be pretty fresh to the market. My friend must have been mistaken. Still - if you like it, as I do, there's no reason not to buy one at the right price!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Fat Lava on TV

Tipped off by a good friend who knows how I like to spot things I'm interested in on TV, I watched a couple of episodes of the very amusing new BBC Two comedy 'Miranda' last night. And sure enough, the Fat Lava vases I was promised were there.
The series details the haphazard and hilarious life of Miranda, a 34 year old singleton who runs a joke and junk shop in leafy Surrey. And it's not just her shop that's filled with vintage gems - all the sets, including the restaurant next door, are bag up-to-date with a very contemporary mix of antique, vintage, retro and modern.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

It doesn't look like Whitefriars to me...

...said the lady behind the desk of the antiques centre I was in as I plonked it in front of the till. Perhaps she was right. It wasn't a shape I immediately recognised, and it had a cut and polished scooped rim that I'd usually associate with Scandinavian makers. Still, even if it was a piece of Orrefors or something, £10 didn't seem bad at all. There was something about the colour though, I could swear it was Whitefriars.
After handing over my crisp tenner, I drove home mulling it over. Did I really need another vase, especially one that I only 'quite' liked? Also, I don't collect Whitefriars anyway, even if I am right about the colour and the characteristic nicely polished concave pontil mark.
Books are an invaluable thing. Within seconds of flipping through Lesley Jackson's excellent tome, I found it. I was right. It doesn't look much, especially if you prefer something more jazzy and colourful. Designed in 1957 by Geoffrey Baxter, it represents both the popularity of Scandinavian glass at the time, and the influence that this glass had on his designs. No doubt Baxter thought that if people wanted fashionable Scandinavian glass, why not produce a British version that was inspired by it? He wasn't alone, both Frank Thrower at Dartington Glass and Ronald Stennett-Willson at King's Lynn Glass were thinking along the same lines. Even the austere 'Ocean Green' colour echoes Scandinavian designs. First appearing in the landmark 1957 catalogue, and made until 1962, it's not a common shape. By courtesy of the excellent, you can see the shape as appeared in the 1957 catalogue (above), together with its model number, 9491, and it's height, below. I must remember to trust my instincts more often. Given this attribution, and the popularity of Whitefriars, I'd see it fetching over £70 if it sold to the right person.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Muppets do Bohemian Rhapsody

Going to and from work in the dark over and over again at this time of year can prove to be a little joyless and depressing. Then I found this. I used to love them as a child, and now I love them all over again...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Friends Doing Well - II

Back in January, I was delighted to come across my friend and old Sotheby's colleague Sara Covelli and her new business Covelli Tennant. This week another one of my old friends and erstwhile colleagues at Sotheby's, James Bridges of Martel Maides in Guernsey, hit the news.
Undertaking a house contents valuation for a Channel Islands family, James found three Chinese famille rose porcelain bowls; a pair of the bowl above, and the single one below. Their six-character marks identified them as being from the Yongzheng period (1723-35) and these marks did indeed represent the period these bowls were made in.
This gourd and bat pattern (above) is extremely rare, and represents a long, rich and happy life. A single bowl bearing the design sold at Christie's in 2006 for over $700,000. Understandably, James and Martel Maides had high hopes for this pair! Catalogued by consultant expert Julian Thompson, and with an estimate 'On Request', they sold at a stunning £1.02 million.
The single bowl (above), depicting Shou Lao, the god of immortality, riding a stag and accompanied by an Immortal, is not quite as rare, with the pattern sometimes being found on later Kangxi wares. It also bore a crack. As such, the estimate was pitched at a cautious £10,000-15,000. Showing the strength of today's Chinese demand for early and desirable 'mark and period' porcelain, the bowl fetched £280,000 on the day. Both went to the same Far Eastern buyer, and most probably went 'home'.
Well done James - from spotting these rare Asian treasures to marketing and selling them for a record £1.3 million!
To read more about the bowls, click here.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Funny images

Every now and again, I get sent an amusing image. Two arrived in the same week, so here they are for your delectation. The first is thanks to my friends Marc & Maiken at the marvellous Utopia2000 in Germany. It shows their dog on top of his new friend - a sheep designed by Hanns-Peter Krafft in 1982. The second is thanks to Dan, and is taken from a page in a 1960s edition of Czechoslovak Glass Review, and shows some glass designs by Karel Wunsch together with an 'interesting' arrangement of fruit...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Fat Lava at Bygone Times

I've just got back from the fantastic Bygone Times, in Eccleston, near Chorley in Lancashire. This really is one of my favourite places in the entire country to visit. Two truly enormous warehouses literally crammed with everything from Georgian to modern await you - with prices from as little as a pound or two. The centre is best for vintage, retro and antique ceramics, glass and homewares, although you'll find a fair few bits of furniture to tempt as well.
What a surprise to find, on this visit, a new (to me, anyway) stand literally filled with fabulous Fat Lava! I was lucky enough to be able to meet the owner, Stuart, who is a real fount of knowledge and a true enthusiast. Prices are very competitive, especially when you consider postage and packing costs when buying online. As well as offering a huge selection of standard sized vases by makers including Ceramano, Carstens, Scheurich, Bay and Ruscha, there's a great selection of whopping floor vases that are becoming harder to find undamaged condition today.
I couldn't help but buy a few (well, seven) pieces to add to my collection, which I am delighted with. If you visit Bygone Times, even if Fat Lava isn't your thing, I challenge you to leave empty handed!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Fantastic new must-have book

I've just got back from the wonderful National Glass Fair, held at the Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham. Apart from meeting many friends and colleagues, the highlight of the day was buying a copy of Charles Hajdamach's new book '20th Century British Glass'. If you love glass, go out and buy a copy - now!
This weighty tome, some three decades in the making, is an undoubted masterwork. Chapters cover tableware from Deco to Modern, cut and engraved glass from Stourbridge, the vibrant studio glass movement that began in the 1960s, 'modern designer greats' such as Ronald Stennett-Willson, Frank Thrower, Keith Murray, and much, much more. The coverage is breathtaking, and the detail awe-inspiring. Pieces by every factory or designer covered are illustrated with full colour, specially shot photographs, accompanied in many cases by original catalogue pages or photographs. A treu treasure trove of information.
As I leafed through it whilst talking to Charles, my feelings were mixed. I felt envy, admiration and wonder. This is a book to be picked up and read again and again - there'll always be something new to learn. There's no doubt that this will become the essential standard reference work for 20th century British glass for decades to come.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Starbucks goes antique?

In today's Evening Standard, City Spy revealed that global coffee chain Starbucks was excited about the imminent redecoration of all its UK stores. Rather than the bland, blond wood, laminate floored, Ikea look we're all used to, a "retro" style will be ushered in. Apparently the "antiques" to be used were sourced in Turkish bazaars, with each of their 750-ish shops gaining a truly unique look due to the individual pieces used. Although I'm somewhat suspicious, it just goes to show that even corporate giants are adopting the increasingly fashionable eclectic, retro and antique look...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Antiques: The History of an Idea

I haven't found too many books that discuss antiques from social, historical, economic or, indeed other, perspectives. So I was delighted to stumble across this book in Waterstone's last Sunday.
Professor Rosenstein is a philosopher who also has also dealt in antiques for the past 25 years, so offers us a unique view of the subject. His text is lively, easy to read and thought-provoking. Subjects covered include the definition of an antique, the cultural history of antiques and their links with civilisation and aesthetics, and the increasingly ignored skill of 'connoisseurship'. It's making fascinating and highly enjoyable reading. If you love antiques, this book crystalises and links thoughts you may already have had, and opens up a great many new thoughts too.

Friday, 30 October 2009

National Antiques Week

Hot on the heels of the Antiques Are Green campaign comes the first 'National Antiques Week' in Britain! To be held from 23rd-30th November, the week aims to encourage more people to visit their local antiques shops, auction house or fair and buy and enjoy antiques, collectables and 20thC design. A high profile team of companies and individuals, including BBC Homes & Antiques, The Antiques Trade Gazette, AntiqueNews, LAPADA, and BADA, is also actively pushing the government to support and promote the antiques and collectables industry - which contributes billions of pounds to the national economy. On that note, why not show your support and love for antiques by clicking here to sign up to the online petition now? I've just joined the hundreds who have already.
Details of all the many supporters and events will be published on and AntiqueNews, and you can even download a free poster to show your support!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Brilliant Bushwood Antiques

I've just returned from a visit to the wonderful Bushwood Antiques, and am truly excited. Based in the beautiful countryside near Hemel Hempstead, the drive there is fantastic enough, but not as fantastic as the place itself. Over 7,500 pieces of antique furniture await you, ranging in date from the 16th to early 20th centuries, and priced from as little as £200 to over £20,000! There truly is something here for everyone from chairs to bookcases, bureaux and sideboards.
The reason for this post is that I believe Bushwood to be one of the best dealers in Britain for sourcing antique furniture gems. With over 30 years of experience, owner Tony Bush and his staff make you feel welcome and offer friendly and practical advice making it an ideal destination to buy, whatever your level of experience. So-called 'brown' Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian furniture is really making a comeback today and, although prices are beginning to rise, they're still highly affordable - especially when compared to something you might buy on the high street or in a retail park. You'll get something unique, individual and indicative of the high quality of hand craftsmanship you just don't see today. What's more, the money you 'invest' is certainly safer in a piece of antique furniture than it is a modern piece of MDF or chipboard.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Antiques Are Green

I don't ask for much, but I do ask that you support a new website and growing movement promoting the fact that antiques are green.
Furnishing your home with antiques and 20thC design not only allows you to express yourself and build a truly individual look, but it also helps save our environment. Consider the carbon footprint left by a new chest of drawers made from trees cut down in the Far East, transported to a factory, and shipped across the world for sale. When this, or an MDF or chipboard wardrobe, invariably collapses after a few years, it causes yet more environmental issues. Antiques and 20thC design have been 'green' for decades - and even centuries. Furthermore, you're not wasting your money - most high street or retail park pieces are worthless after a few years whereas, by comparison, antiques and 20thC design typically hold a firm residual value. Recycling by shopping at an auction, dealer, or fair, is wiser, more rewarding, and truly environmentally friendly.
So please visit the Antiques Are Green website as quickly as your fingers will type and sign up to show your support.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Vladimir Zahour

People keep saying to me that "everything that's worth something has been found" and "it's not worth looking as there are no bargains any more". Well, it's just not true. Only last month a superb, and rare example of a Modernist chair found for £25 sold at auction for nearly £3,000! Similar, but not quite in the same league, is the large cut glass display goblet shown here. It was acquired by a friend of mine on eBay, where it was described as 'A large crystal balloon vase, hand cut, very unusual'. The seller went on to say that he had never seen anything quite like it before.
Not surprising, really, as it's a very rare example of a late 1960s design by Vladimir Zahour, a master of postwar Czech glass design.
During this period, the cut itself was the most important factor, rather than it being used as a means to an end, to produce traditional naturalistic or heraldic designs. Simple, geometric cuts in abstract patterns that reflected the brilliance and purity of Czech lead crystal dominated.
The design is hard to find, but this form is even rarer. Decanters and ashtrays covered in the pattern crop up from time to time, as do vases. I've only ever seen one example of a goblet before, but at 6.5in (16.5cm) high, this could probably take nearly a whole bottle of brandy! I believe this cross between a (largely impractical) display piece and functional drinking glass makes it much scarcer as fewer would have sold. The price? My friend paid £13. The value? I'd cautiously estimate it at at least ten times that price, and could see it fetching in excess of £150. And that's today. If the market continues to grow as much as it has done, I can see it comfortably exceeding that in five years' time. Not a bad return - try making that sort of margin trading in stocks & shares today!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Taxidermy is IN!

I know it's not everyone's taste, but taxidermy seems to be seeing a firm return to fashion. Although I've been a long-time fan, I first covered this area professionally in the DK Collectables Price Guide 2007, published in 2006. Since then, the small seed of a trend has turned into something much more. Even to the point of the illustrious newspaper The Evening Standard publishing a long article on the subject. Their focus was the innovative and unique work of artist Polly Morgan, who uses stuffed animals in unusual and striking situations and poses quite unlike those found in dusty old Victorian museums.
But it's not just Morgan's work (which can sell for over £3,000!) that has seen a style revolution - those dusty old Victorian and Edwardian animals have also risen in price. If they're humorously posed, like the clever squirrel above, so much the better. You see, it's the quirky, eccentric nature of these beasts that appeals - they add a truly individual look to a room. If they're well stuffed, true to life and perhaps by a good maker such as Spicer or Roland Ward, prices rise again. Certain breeds of animal or bird can also be rare, which increases the price amongst knowledgeable collectors.
On that note, by no means am I promoting the killing and stuffing of animals today, particularly endangered species. I love nature too much, and there's plenty of choice out there in salerooms, junk shops and antiques fairs around the world. They've been dead for a while now and it seems a shame not to display them, and wrong to destroy them. Values range from around £30-300, but can be as low as £10 for a more common beast. Only yesterday, I found a rather cute looking badger for £40, who is now positioned emerging from behind my sofa!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Avengers' Style

My sharp-eyed friends Marc & Maiken at the excellent Utopia2000 in Germany are currently selling an opaque white large Holmegaard or Kastrup 'Gulvvase' designed by Otto Brauer in 1962.
In another instance of seeing great vintage design on the small screen, they spotted an identical piece in Emma Peel's fashionable 1960s house in the first series of 'The Avengers'. The pictures here show the indomitable John Steed, with the bottle in the background, and Emma peering in wearing what looks like to be a fab psychedelic dress!
The Gulvvase is an iconic 1960s glass design, with prices ranging from £30 to over £250 depending on colour and size. The most desirable are opaque, and colours include white, light blue, red, green, and yellow. It was also produced in different transparent colours - but watch out for 1970s reproductions retailed by Cascade in the UK. These less desirable and valuable reproductions can be distinguished by their colours - kingfisher blue, colourless, pewter grey and smokey topaz - which are quite different to the originals.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Mumbai Oasis

It's always worth doing your homework properly, checking any marks on a piece against your research. A few months ago, I found a rather amusingly mis-described item for sale. The seller knew exactly what it was, and described it accurately as an "Isle of Wight Studio Glass Fish vase designed by Michael Harris". They also noted that it was numbered 36 from an apparent edition of 500, and bore the inscribed range name of 'Mumbai Oasis'.
Any piece of Isle of Wight Studio Glass inscribed with such numbering identifies it as having come from the batch ordered by an American department store in around 1986. Each was inscribed with a number under 500, giving the impression of a limited edition. In fact, this means that it was one of 500 pieces ordered - and the batch included all manner of different shapes and sizes from many different ranges produced at the time. Expensive Fish vases were very much in the minority, with only a few being included. Each piece was also inscribed 'England', to comply with export laws.
As to the unusual 'range name' - that's easy! All these pieces were also signed by Michael Harris. Read quickly, his scrolling signature can look like 'Mumbai Oasis' to the uninitiated. Those in the know know that his signature adds a hefty premium to a piece, as he so very rarely signed his work. At this time, Michael was the only person with enough skill to make Fish vases, backing up the fact that this was certainly made by him. Interestingly, he only used gold leaf on this piece, presumably as it made more contrasting visual impact than silver leaf. Add to this the fact that it's a large example (9.5in/25cm high), and it's in the beautiful deep Azurene Blue that was only produced during Michael's lifetime in that form from 1985-87, and you have a VERY rare piece indeed.
But that hardly matters. The Fish vase is undoubtedly Michael's most iconic shape, and this treasure is truly stunning to look at - it's a great piece the owner should enjoy for many years to come.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Bargaining in Beijing

Our first stop was the capital city of Beijing, known as Peking until the Revolution in 1949. After a recouperative night's sleep following the 9 hour flight from London, I set off mid-morning to enormous Panjiayuan antiques market in the south east of the city. Although many flea markets are overrun with tourists, particularly in or near the centre of the city, this is more authentic and apparently many centrally based dealers buy here.
The market compound is divided into two main sections, wide alleyways lined with permanent shops, and a truly vast open sided barn where sellers spread out rugs or blankets to display their wares for sale. I'm told that many are peasants who make their way into town after buying in the provinces, but I think most are really canny professionals.
By the time our taxi pulled up mid-morning, only a fifth of the space was still occupied - trade seemingly starts and tails off very early, and Saturday and Sunday are the best and busiest days. But there were still over 200 'stalls', so the hunt was on. I had a good look round first to see what items were repeated across stands - obviously these would be factory produced contemporary pieces. Almost dizzy from the enormous selection, I spotted an appealing blue and white ceramic bottle vase at one stand, and a bright, three-coloured 'Peking glass' vase at another. Although I also wanted some bronze and jade, the quality of these looked either too poor or too obviously 'old'. Plus I also collect glass, and I've always liked blue & white porcelain and been interested in the marks on the bases.
Bartering is obligatory here. The problem is that, as this isn't really on the main tourist trail despite the dual language signage, nobody speaks English! The universal languages of gesticulation and facial expressions come into play, along with a calculator to indicate the price.
The blue and white vase (18cm/7in high) was up first and the seller stabbed 1,200 yuan (£110/$175) into the calculator. I countered with a cheeky 120 yuan (£12/$18). In a second's time I was given the calculator again and the new price was 900 yuan. I typed 120 yuan again. Huffing and puffing ensued and led to an offer of 600 yuan. Holding my position, I firmly retyped 120 yuan, accompanying it with a grim expression. He took the calculator back and turned his back on me with a theatrical shrug. I began to walk away. He grabbed my arm gently and thrust the calculator back in my face. The screen read 150 yuan. I smiled and took out a 100 yuan note from my back pocket and rustled a 20 yuan note out of my wallet which I had previously prepared to only contain small notes. He turned away, and I began to walk away again. This time he shouted and grabbed my arm, nodding to accept the cash. Within seconds the vase was wrapped in torn newspaper and in a plastic bag and I had handed over my cash. I guess it's sometimes good to go late in the day, even though it was early for me!
Onto the glass vase (15cm/6in high), which was one of only two I saw in the whole place. After I pointed it out, the lady seller proudly shouted out 'Older!' with a grin. The calculator price was 1,800 yuan (£160/$260). Fired by my last bargain, I typed 100 yuan (£9/$15) in and unsurprisingly nearly blew the deal! After I smiled to show the game had opened, the calculator was returned with a 1,500 yuan price tag. I pushed my luck and went to 120 yuan. The next price was 920. I began to turn away and the immediate next price was 600. I tried 120 again, but was met with a serious 'NO!' type of expression. Clearly it was time for me to move again, so I typed 150 yuan. The deal was back on track. The price dropped again to 450 yuan, as she pointed out the birds and flowers on the vase and reiterated the 'Older!' exclamation. I shrugged and looked bored and the price became 300 yuan. I immediately countered with 180 yuan (£17/$26) and ran my hand firmly across my neck to show this was my final price. She barked at her colleague and within seconds the vase was wrapped in scrumpled newspaper and in a bag as she looked theatrically distraught, shaking her head. We shook hands, and vase, cash and smiles were exchanged. Wow - an intense and rapid experience again!
We then took a calming walk around the rest of the mini-streets inside the market compound, looking into the many shops that stocked everything from Ming dynasty style furniture to yet more ceramics, bronzes and jades. Prices seemed higher, but shop owners were very keen to get bartering going by proffering calculators and motioning at pieces that I had looked at. Everyone has something to sell, and they're admirably not shy about trying to sell it to you, showing the country's centuries' long experience in trading. A tip though - as with any bartering, always be polite, respectful, cheerful, gentle and show good intentions. Rudeness will get you nowhere.
By midday, the market appeared to be slowing down. A few other Westerners had arrived by taxi and browsed around. Many seemed taken by the bright, jaunty colours of the more modern pieces on offer, but a shop selling (surprisingly) apparently original gramophones, cameras and Bakelite radios also attracted plenty of attention.
As the market is somewhat out of the way, hailing a taxi back to the centre (25mins) was more of a trial than bartering. Many guide books, such as our excellent and thoroughly trustworthy Moon guide, recommend booking a car for the return trip and this seems like good advice. As we sped away to the sound of Chinese pop blaring from the radio, I though about showing my new purchases to a couple of colleagues on the Antiques Roadshow.
Although I have no doubt that they are modern reproductions from the £27 ($43) total price and suspicious presence of mud on the bodies, I want to know exactly how an expert can tell, and what the marks on the bottoms (one shown above) mean. I also wonder how old they actually are? I'll let you know when I find out. Still, none of this matters to me - both are pieces that I like, and they make affordable souvenirs of a highly memorable experience.

Bye Bye Atlantique City

Billed as 'the world's largest indoor antiques show', the wonderfully named Atlantique City, held twice a year in Atlantic City, New Jersey has been cancelled by owner F+W Media. I'm sure I'm amongst many thousands of dealers, collectors and auctioneers who are extremely sad to hear this. In compiling the DK Judith Miller Collectables Price Guides, I spent a number of years visiting the show in Spring and Autumn, which never failed to leave me inspired and in awe - and my bank account drained.
Although I haven't been for a few years now, it was also the place I met many people who I am now lucky to count as colleagues, including watch expert Mark Laino of Mark of Time, Barbara Blau of the South St Antiques Market, Sharon & Joe Happle of Sign of the Tymes, marble and glass experts Bob & Mark Block, costume jewellery supremos Roxanne Stuart and Bonny Yankauer, Barbara Lauver and Dotty Ayers of The Calico Teddy, and Esther Harris of Vintage Eyewear of New York City. I also encountered many other great experts and characters, including a US Senator!
The Miller's team are also grateful to Ted and Diane, the organisers who managed the mega-show for many years until 2005, for allowing us to go the first time. With over 2,000 dealers from across the US and visitor numbers running into the tens of thousands, it really was a major event up there with the New York Pier Shows and Brimfield. Here are a few images of an avenue in the fair itself, the Judith Miller book stand in 2006, and Judith, photographer Graham Rae, and I outside a restaurant inside one of the massive casinos.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Holidays in China

Looking at the pictures here, I'm giving you no guesses about where I spent my Summer holidays this year! Carefully saved air miles were cashed in, and at the end of August the banker and I went on a two week trip across China, a place neither of us had been to before. Although I did take some time off and away from work, I just can't tear myself away completely. As a result I was able to check out some of the best destinations for hunting for antiques and collectables in the four cities we visited.
I say antiques, but they weren't my target. Compared to the West, there are fewer authentic antiques in China due to the Cultural Revolution, and the enormous level of export of goods across the centuries. It's also illegal to export antiques made before 1795, and authentic pieces made after that date until the early 20thC need to be examined by government experts, have a red seal applied, and be officially cleared for export. But there's another concern for me with Chinese, or any Asian, antiques or works of art. Although I've been interested, I've never had to time to learn in depth about this incredibly deep and complex subject. So it's possible that, in China, I might not know what I was looking at, or whether I was paying the right price.
China has had a long history of reproducing historic designs and styles, partly out of respect for the people that made them, and partly for the obvious commercial reasons. Would I know if I was buying a modern reproduction, or even one made a century ago in respectful imitation of an Ancient design? Time will tell...
So I decided that my self-set task was to find the best modern and exportable reproduction or fake that I could. The trip was expensive, so I set myself a limit of no more than £50 per piece, and my budget only allowed me to buy a couple of pieces...

Sampson Mordan pencils in BBC magazine

A few months ago, I wrote a quick blog entry on a particular passion of mine - Mordan propelling pencils. You can read it here. You can imagine my delight when BBC Homes & Antiques magazine commissioned me to write an article on the subject. As well as a history of the company and its products, you can read my pick for 'An Investment', 'Three Of The Best' and an explanation of the different marks used by the company across the century or so they were in existence. As ever with this magazine, the photography is also stunning!
In addition to this, there's a special 'behind the scenes' feature on the Antiques Roadshow from presenter Fiona Bruce, the usual price guide feature and sumptuous interiors, and a fascinating 'Real or Fake' feature from David Battie on Chinese porcelain. The current issue is out now and costs a mere £3.60. If it inspires you find out more, I can wholeheartedly recommend visiting the 'London Writing Equipment' show on October 4th. Click here to visit their website.
Also, check out the 'Changing Rooms' box on page 23 for some exciting news...more on that to come!

Monday, 10 August 2009

My favourite artist... Richard Long. So I was delighted to finally find the time to visit his first major retrospective at the Tate gallery in London this weekend. At last, the right attention is being paid to someone I consider to be one of the great 20th century artists. I won't go into his art or the theories behind it here, as you ought to visit to discover it for yourself. As well as his photographic records of his work and relationships with landscape, he also produces text-based artworks which I adore from the memories, feelings and even smells they invoke to the marvellously modern font and colours he uses. Click here to read more about and see examples of his work. In the meantime, here's an image of his spectacular 'Line in the Himalayas', from 1975.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Read Experts' Secret Bargain Sources!

This month's BBC Homes & Antiques magazine is even more than packed than ever with inspirational and practical information about collecting and living with antiques and collectables. In this month's issue, insiders reveal their 'trade secret' favourite hunting grounds, be they antiques centres, specialists, auctions or junk shops. I was delighted to be asked to contribute, so buy your copy now to find out where I go to find bargains... You'll also be able to read about the favourite personal possessions of a number of Antiques Roadshow experts, a fascinating article from Roadshow colleague Marc Allum on vintage biscuit tins, and much, much more!

Friday, 31 July 2009

I hate 'word clouds'

* They look like something has gone terribly wrong with the website.
* They do not demonstrate linear thought patterns.
*They are confused and confusing.
* They are a typical, pretentious Web 2.0 gimmick.
* My eyes and head hurt when straining to read the smallest fonts.
* Half the population don't know what they are.
* Clouds are gaseous, nebulous, amorphous, opaque, and lack substance - hardly attributes that good content should take.

Okay, rant over.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Prehistoric Designs on Modern Ceramics & Glass

Having seen so many prehistoric, neolithic and paleolithic designs on modern ceramics and glass, I've often wondered how much these were inspired and driven by the discovery of some caves. In Summer 1940, four French teenagers out walking their dog in the Dordogne discovered a cave, the walls of which were covered with prehistoric cave paintings of animals and hunting scenes. Archaeologists soon found that this was just the start - there was a whole network of caves, all with perfectly preserved prehistoric art.
The sleepy French village of Lascaux became world famous instantly. In fact, by 1955, over 1,200 visitors arrived every day to see this ancient wonder, dating back some 16,000 years. The caves were closed in 1963, with a replica opening nearby in 1983. Much local pottery is decorated with similar motifs, and mades great souvenirs. But I think the inspiration spread further than tourist wares. Consider Eric Hoglund's designs for Boda, some Vallauris patterns, and particularly this 1960s-70s West German Scheurich 'Montignac' range vase, which really does resemble the original cave art. And to tie this example in even closer, 'Montignac' is the nearest town to Lascaux.

The state of the market

My co-author, colleague and friend Judith Miller was recently interviewed by the prestigious Times newspaper on the state of the antiques market today. Contemporary up and traditional down? Read her opinion, and the opinions of other experts in their fields, by clicking here.


Last weekend was spent in Berlin, visiting friends, but also indulging in more than a little hunting around the flea markets and vintage shops of this trendy city.
First stop was Deco Arts in Motzstrasse, in the Schoneberg district. I had passed this shop many a time, and each time it was closed. Thankfully, this fourth (or maybe fifth!) time round, I was lucky, and the door was open. Charming interior decorator Marie-Pascale certainly has an eye for mid-century modern, and her smart shop is packed with treasures from around Europe, including furniture, lighting, ceramics and glass. One reason why I was so keen to look around was the price point there's plenty to buy at well under 100 euros, and prices in general are very sensible and excrutiatingly affordable. I was tempted by a rather lovely Ceramano vase at a bargainous 25 euros, but as the weekend was still young and hand baggage was tight, I grudgingly left it behind. I really do recommend a visit to this Modern, and Modernist, palace - I'll be back for sure.
Saturday continued with a visit to the famous flea market at Strasse des 17 Juni, near the S-bahn station at Tiergarten. Billed as Berlin's biggest and best, it had a lot to live up to. And meet it, this place did. Four long avenues of stalls selling all manner of merchandise offer something for every one, dating from the 18th century to sometime last year. Prices are all negotiable, but be polite, as a demand from a tourist that is perceived as rude will only end up with the seller clamming up completely. I saw it happen!
My two tips for this superb market are to look out for Turkish stand holders, who seemed to have the best stuff, and also to make sure you leave time to look through the book stands. There were plenty of incredibly good reference books for sale amidst the many on militaria. Throwing cares of the size of hand luggage to the wind, I bought what I consider to be a highly exciting object. The quality is very high and it's not something I can put my finger on. I even asked a fellow glass expert, and he had no idea but agreed with me that it really is very good. More on that one later
Desperately in need of some lunch, some four hours after I should have had it, I caught the S-bahn into east Berlin, only to be derailed again by a fantastically interesting shop called Fundus Verkauf, just of Freidrichstrasse, on Behrenstrasse 14. This emporium sells costumes, furniture and even partial sets used in Berlin's operas and theatre productions. A place to find something a little bit 'different' as a souvenir, it's also filled with tourists giggling as they climb into a silver sequin covered spangly jumpsuit, or try an 18thC dandy's costume on for size. Prices can be high, but it's not surprising as every piece is entirely unique. This twice life-sized harp and enormous gilt wood swan on wheels (above) were surely essential souvenirs!
I also popped in to the Berlin Antikmarkt, in a series of railway arches under Freidrichstrasse's rail station. I come here every time I visit the city, and always walk out empty handed. It's not that the 30 or more stands have nothing good, in fact quite the reverse, it's just that prices and quality are generally very high - too high for my pocket. Although the centre's focus is very much on the 'antique', I always enjoy a walk around Karin Schabel's beautiful stand where fine 20th century items are beautifully displayed.
Sunday saw a visit to the considerably smaller, but no less worthwhile, flea market at Arkona platz, in the Mitte district of east Berlin. Mitte is largely populated by trendy twenty-to-forty-somethings and, as you would expect, this market caters towards their 1950s-80s retro tastes. Many stallholders put a little more effort into their displays, and vintage technology makes an appearance amongst the usual lighting, furniture, ceramics and glass.
I bought a couple of things, including a Roth Keramik vase. It's small, and far from being the rarest piece, but for 10 euros, I could hardly leave without it. Prices for this desirable range have more than quadrupled over the past 12 months, so I think my investment is safe - this would fetch around £40 if sold online today. A cooling glass of wine and some delicious dim sum finished off a relaxing, and successful, weekend before the flight home.