Thursday, 30 April 2009

Sampson Mordan Pencils

Having just compiled the pens and writing equipment section of the new edition of the Miller's Collectables Price Guide (out next Spring), my love for Mordan's marvellous silver propelling pencils has been rekindled.
In 1822, Sampson Mordan patented the propelling pencil with fellow inventor John Hawkins. Mordan bought Hawkins out, and then sold half the rights to a wealthy stationer Gabriel Riddle in 1823. With Riddle's money, the ingenious and commerically minded Mordan was able to build his foundling company into the 19thC success story it was.
Marks matter, and can help with dating, especially when useful hallmarks aren't present. Pencils made from 1823-37, when Riddle and Mordan parted, usually bear an 'SM GR' hallmark and the words 'S.MORDAN & Cos PATENT'. From c1838 until the 1860s, the wording 'S.MORDAN & CO MAKERS & PATENTEES' was used, with 'S.MORDAN & CO MAKERS' dating from the 1850s-60s. After the 1860s, the standard 'S.MORDAN & CO' mark was used.
The silver pencil shown here has hallmarks for 1825, making it a very rare, very early surivor. As such its value will be around £200-300. And you can pretty much double that if it had been even earlier. Standard later examples from the late 19thC to early 20thC can be had for £30-80 or so, but look out for Mordan's late 19thC range of novelty shaped pencils. Forms included owls, pistols, champagne bottles and more, and values generally range from £200-800. Not a bad sum for something only inches in size!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Books, books and more books...

...and a whole lot of business being done pretty much sums up the London Book Fair, where I have spent much of this afternoon. Hundreds of publishers and related businesses from across the world attend, from the big boys of Hachette and Random House, to smaller one-man bands, and the remainder businesses that feed off this multi-billion pound industry. I had an appointment with Octopus Publishing, owners of Miller's Publications, but also had a chance to wander (and wonder) around afterwards. Here's a picture of the stand, with it's vast revolving cone emblazoned with the company's minimalist logo.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Antiques For Everyone

I've just spent the past four days at the wonderful Antiques for Everyone Spring fair at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. This is the largest quality antiques show in the UK, taking out the higher-end Olympia fairs in London. Living up to its name, there truly was something for the thousands who attended (see the opening day entry queue above), from shipwreck cargoes, to Staffordshire, antique drinking glasses, Meissen and a wonderful array of fine Georgian and Victorian furniture at prices ranging from as little as £10 to over £10,000.
The four days kicked off with a short talk to an antiques group who usually meet in a countryside pub owned by a couple of antique-loving publicans. A couple of radio and TV interviews followed, as did a lot of talking and enthusing about the wonderful items on display. It was great to catch up with friends who were exhibiting, such as Mike & Debbie Moir, who sell fine Lalique, Daum and Gallé glass, and Sue & Alan Poultney of Scarab Antiques, who sell a superb selection of great quality glass, silver and jewellery amongst other items. Visiting friends it was great to see included Joy McCall of Christie's, Michael Jeffrey of Woolley & Wallis, and Nigel Benson of 20th Century Glass.
I was, of course, representing Miller's at the event, as well as selling the full range of Mark Hill Publishing books. Positioned at the end of an aisle, our stand (shown above) was busy with a constant stream of visitors coming to buy books and chat. And we weren't the only ones - the fair was packed, particularly on Thursday and Saturday. In fact, I was told by Tiffany Pritchard, the show director, that the opening day saw a record number of visitors! So much for the recession damaging the fact it only seems to have helped it. With banks offering record low interest rates and more people looking to beautify the homes they find themselves spending more time in, antiques and collectables look to be firmly set as a favourite purchase - and perhaps even an investment.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Blackpool Rocks!

With nary a week in between, I have just got back from a trip up north to do the Antiques Roadshow in the sunny seaside resort of Blackpool. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to a tranquil town, and took a constitutional walk along the beach to the location - the legendary Blackpool Ballroom underneath the world-famous Victorian Blackpool Tower. Parked outside was the Antiques Roadshow lorry, and all around I saw posters advertising the event, which seems to take place in the town every five years or so, the last event having been in the Winter Gardens.
And the advertising certainly did the trick, thousands turned up on Friday to have all manner of objects valued and considered by the team of specialists. As ever, the reception was warm and friendly and the items seen varied, and sometimes valuable. Everyone got to see an expert and get home in time for tea. The image below shows the grandeur of the ballroom just before the doors were opened. I enjoyed myself immensely as ever and, as for what was seen, you'll have to tune in in Autumn to find out! And don't forget to watch right to end for a rather charming finale!
After I had levered myself out of my room on Saturday, I decided to enjoy the town a little before heading off to nearby Chorley to visit some friends from university. On my way to lunch, I spotted a small (and I mean small) antiques and collectables fair, comprised of some ten tables in a building on a corner of the grand Winter Gardens. What a treasure trove I found inside. A superb selection of glass and ceramics was soon safely packed away, including a lovely pair of Ronald Stennett-Willson for Wedgwood amber Sheringham candleholders with three discs at what I think was a great price. Then back to the ballroom to enjoy a restorative coffee while watching experienced dancers young and old sway to the sound of the Wurlitzer, before heading off on what must be one of the warmest Spring evenings so far.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Ambleside Pottery

One of my favourite tasks each month is writing my regular column for Collect It! magazine. I'm lucky enough to enjoy free-reign on the target of my articles, which is a luxury indeed. Just before heading north to work on another Antiques Roadshow, I researched the history behind a little known pottery I'm rather fond of, called Ambleside. I've been collecting their work on and off for a few years now and, although my collection could be counted on one hand, they're up there amongst my favourite pieces of studio pottery that reside in Hill Towers.
For those of you who don't know, the pottery was founded by a certain George Cook and based in Ambleside, Cumbria from 1948 until the 1980s. They became known for their sgrafitto designs, such as the rather handsome vase on the left. Values and interest seem to be woefully low, but this may change if more people pay the pottery more attention. If you want to know why I think they should, then you'll have to read the magazine which hits the shelves in early May.