Thursday, 26 March 2009

BBC Antiques Roadshow at Hopetoun House

I've just got back from the glorious and spectacular Hopetoun House, outside Edinburgh, which was Wednesday's location for the Antiques Roadshow. Billed as 'Scotland's Finest Stately Home', it certainly didn't disappoint, although I've always been a sucker for anything with a long gravel drive, Classical columns and a garden with a ha-ha. Arguably even better than the house were the people.
Peering out through the window shortly before our 8.30am safety briefing, the queue had already begun to stretch from one side of the house to the other. And it remained like that for most of this beautifully sunny day - Edinburgh's antiques and collectables hunters and fans turned out in their droves. By the end of a challenging but highly enjoyable day, every single person had seen an expert, and many went home grinning broadly and clutching their bags just a little bit tighter.
Amongst the many items I saw, was a collection of 'The Broons' and 'Oor Wullie' comic books in truly mint condition, a nice early 19thC Sunderland Bridge glass, and a rare Royal Doulton 'Marietta' figurine from the 1930s. Values ranged from a couple of hundred pounds for the glass to a fair few thousand pounds for the comic books. But value doesn't always matter - I was perhaps most excited by a selection of mid-20thC whaling memorabilia carved by the owner's father that was nothing less than charming. With all of this in mind, I'm really looking forward to coming back on Thursday 2nd July for another Roadshow, just down the road at Abbotsford House in Melrose. Hope to see you there.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Czech Glass in top BBC magazine - Out Now!

Last month I was delighted to be asked by BBC Homes & Antiques magazine to write an article on postwar Czech glass design, a hot collecting area also known to collectors as 'sklo'. The magazine's photographers have really excelled themselves, and you'll find a lavishly illustrated seven page article packed with useful information and tips.
Not only that, as you can also read superb articles by Paul Atterbury on the illustrator Eric Gill, Jon Baddeley on Peter Beard's studio ceramics, Will Farmer on early 19thC card tables, and much more from the Antiques Roadshow. All for the princely sum of £3.60. Now, if that isn't a bargain, I don't know what is!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Market Intelligence - Fat Lava

It's done! I'm delighted to announce that the second, revised and expanded, edition of my ground-breaking and sell-out bookalogue 'Fat Lava: West German Ceramics of the 1960s & 70s' is now at the printers. Phew.
Since the first edition went out of print, demand for copies has been consistently high, leading to the decision to revise and reprint.
Some 'inside intelligence' now. Graham Cooley, my friend and owner of the collection shown in the first exhibition, was at the Kempton Park Antiques Fair earlier this week, and met up with a number of his German dealer contacts with a view to buy. All said that the supply in Germany has completely dried out. Nevertheless, demand is still rising, meaning that prices are increasing quicker and higher than ever. My advice? If you like it, get in there now, before it's too late and prices rise too far.
The second edition of my catalogue will be available from mid-May, and will be launched at a second Fat Lava exhibition to be held at Mid20C from Saturday 30th May. To reserve your copy from this strictly limited print-run, email me at

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Yves Saint Laurent Auction

I had to read the price twice. Then a third time, just to make sure. Yes, Eileen Gray's Art Deco 'Dragons' chair really had sold for £17.7 million!
For me, the most surprising aspect of the recent Yves Saint Laurent auction held at Christie's in Paris was the level of prices being paid for furniture and decorative arts. The hundreds of thousands, and often millions, of pounds paid for vases, chairs, tables and other decorative objects has finally shown that prices can reach those paid for paintings and modern art - traditionally the most valuable items sold in the art and antiques world.
This was particularly resonant with me last weekend as I walked around the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The spiralling main gallery was, with few exceptions, filled with what I considered to be the very worst of modern and contemporary art - over-complicated, un-appealing, unattractive, elitist clap-trap.
I left disappointed, seeing a wasted opportunity and thinking that so few high profile museums or exhibitions devoted to decorative arts exist. That led me to feel disappointed again. Although it did a great service to the profile of the area, it's a shame that Saint Laurent's fabulously wealthy partner Pierre Bergé decided to sell this incredible collection. Instead he could have opened the house they shared and the collection they lovingly built to the public, or donated the collection to a museum, where it could have been enjoyed by all of us for centuries to come.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A second bite from the Big Apple

Sunday meant the (reputedly even better) flea market between 38th & 39th off 9th Ave, which we went to after an 'interesting' visit to the stunning Guggenheim Museum near Central Park. To look after bodily hunger as well as collecting hunger, the banker and I booked ourselves in for brunch at the perfectly situated and very trendy HK Hell's Kitchen at 39th St and 9th Avenue.
As soon as we arrived it became clear to me that something was wrong. The entrance to the tunnel was busy as ever, but the streets around it were deserted. I realised it was cold and this time of year can mean the market isn't as large as usual, but where was everybody? Our wait-person revealed all.
With a snow storm threatening up to 8 inches of snow later that afternoon, traders had voted with their feet not to come and set up, just in case they couldn't get home afterwards. In turn, this made us concerned, just in case our evening flight was delayed, or even cancelled. We have work to do! Thankfully the storm blew in later than expected, and our flight managed to take off on time. I bet the dealers wished they had come into town!
The disappointment was tempered by a delicious extended brunch and, on the way back to the Thompson Lower East Side hotel to collect our bags I stopped off at the newly refurbished 'The End of History' on Hudson St in the West Village. It may be a grim sounding name, but there's nothing grim about the contents of the shop, which are colourful, varied and extremely exciting. Here I am in front of a selection of fabulous Blenko Glass bottles and vases designed by Wayne Husted and others. When you're there also make sure you check out probably the best and most vibrantly coloured selection of both Italian and Scandinavian glass on the East Coast. A real treasure trove of mid-century modern design, in the heart of the city, you'll love it as much as I did.
All of a sudden, the skies were darkening and it was time to return to London. Back at the hotel, I 'borrowed' a strong cardboard box from the porter and, armed with packing tape, I carefully packed my cider flagon amongst clothes to ensure it made the flight back intact. A yellow taxi ride and a dull check-in process later and the plane's wheels left American soil. I had fun, great fun. See you next time New York!

A bite from the Big Apple

This weekend, I flew to New York -- for lunch! I was lucky enough to be flying out to the Big Apple to meet my old business colleague and good friend Julian Ellison, founder and CEO of LiveAuctioneers.
Julian founded the company after leaving our alma mater icollector, which we both ended up effectively running for a period of time shortly after the dotcom boom. The sun was shining as I wandered up Broadway and into the trendy 'Meat Packing' district to meet him at Soho House for coffee, before heading off to Pastis for lunch. It's been some time since Julian and I have had a good talk, and this proved to be as invigorating, enjoyable and educational as ever. Thank you Julian! A visit to Philips de Pury to view their latest auction ended a perfect day.
Saturday brought a second highlight of the trip - time to go 'teekin' as they say in the States, or 'antiquing' to you and I. My destination was West 25th St, between Broadway and 6th Avenue, home to a famous open air flea market and a plethora of malls and stores. To be honest, the flea market was even more disappointing than last time I came three years ago. I'd really challenge any serious collector to find anything they want amongst the old (vintage?) clothes, knackered shoes, household appliances, and probably-quite-modern tribal art on display on trestle tables and rugs in the cavernous car parks between buildings. Still, the variety was excellent, and maybe I just didn't look hard enough...
Quick smart over to The Showplace for some proper hunting! This is an excellent source, and really must be visited if you're into this sort of thing. Over 130 professional dealers have stands over three floors, with a selection to die for. Although you'll know what you want to look at, I'd recommend Freeforms for Scandinavian Modern ceramics and glass, Mood Indigo for Deco and '50s homewares, barware and funky plastics, Waves for amazing vintage radios, Soren Jensen for Georg Jensen and Scandinavian Modern metalware and cutlery, and anywhere on the ground floor for amazing costume jewellery.
Despite the choice, I was taken by two Exbor glass 'obelisk' vases designed by Pavel Hlava and ranging from $500 upwards, something that looked like one but wasn't at a similar price, and a Ruscha 'Filigrana' vase, c1960, designed by Adele Bolz. The largest I've seen for ages, I managed to politely barter the price down to $160, but then realised that its vast size and fragility made it impossible to carry back in hand luggage!
Oh, as a final note, don't forget to pop up to the fourth floor. New since I came last time, this vast space is filled with glass cabinets packed with treasures, and also has appealing room sets on display to show you how you can integrate antiques and collectables into your home. I left feeling very happy indeed, even if slightly nervy as I tried to decide whether to buy any of the pieces I had seen.
With the dollar to pound exchange rate being unfavourable from my viewpoint, I decided to save my few hard-earned pounds for the 'best bit'. Undoubtedly THE places to go for true bargain hunting are the two large parking garage floors just on the corner of 6th Avenue. Rumoured to have been closed down, I can confirm that they haven't been, with signs just inside the doors stating a new lease has been signed.
I always get a shiver of excitement when I go up or down the ramps. There are over 200 dealers ranging from 'Mom & Pop' to professionals who have been in it all their lives. Price tags range from under a dollar to over $5,000, but are largely under $500.Whatever you find, always haggle, but do it politely and with respect.
Also always examine pieces thoroughly - trade starts at 6am and it's rare for dealers higher up 'the food chain' to pass over a true bargain. Keep your eyes peeled for damage!
After being tempted by plenty, I limited myself to a superb Winchcombe Pottery cider flagon, potted by Raymond Finch which, despite my luggage restrictions, really needed to be repatriated at $50 (£35), and also a rather sweet Scandinavian look-alike Russian 'Tekt' ceramic figurine that I just couldn't pass by at $12 (£8)!