Sunday, 31 May 2009

Just one more thing...

...before we move on from Fat Lava. Many collectors choose one shape, and then try to find as many different glazes as they can on the same shape. In the past year, Graham Cooley has found 136 different glaze treatments on the popular Scheurich 401 jug vase - he and independent filmmaker Nigel Edwards of Inhouse TV have just produced a unique 2 minute video showcasing this collection within a collection. You can see it below - well done Nigel & Graham!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Fat Lava II Exhibition

If you're into Fat Lava, the crazy and unique ceramics produced in West Germany from the 1960s-70s, you simply must take a trip to Reading this month. I've just got back from the grand opening today, and my jaw is still on the floor.
Eminent private collector Graham Cooley and progressive dealer Al Baynham of the mid20c Retro Shop (left) have literally pulled out all the stops to present you with a truly eye-popping and mouth-watering display that leads on perfectly from the ground-breaking first Fat Lava exhibition held in King's Lynn in 2006.
Al has devoted his entire shop to the exhibition, which is divided into two rooms. Everything in the large, light and airy front room is for sale and, given the colourful and crazy shop window display, I'm amazed there's haven't been any minor accidents on the road outside! From floor vase to bud vase, Roth to Scheurich, Bay to Jasba, and prices that range from £15 to £300, there's something here for you whether you're looking to build your collection, or buy a single statement piece. Break free from the boring uniformity of Ikea and high street chains and say something about yourself and your avant garde tastes!
The back room contains an exhibition put together by, and featuring vases from, the vast Graham Cooley Collection of some 2,500 examples (left). Rather than just repeat the success of the first exhibition, Graham has pulled together a new array focusing on recent discoveries and learnings. So, Übelacker Keramik, Jopeko, ES Keramik and Roth are amongst the names that have benefitted from his skilled and experienced eye. You'll also see fantastic forms and great glazes from more widely known names such as Scheurich (the 'Wien' series in particular) Dümler & Breiden, Ruscha and Carstens. Although none of these pieces are for sale, you'll learn plenty to help you as you build your collection.
I attended today to launch the second, revised and expanded edition of my Fat Lava catalogue, and copies flew out of the door like the proverbial 'hot-cakes', usually accompanied by carefully chosen and wrapped vases! Over 60 people attended the opening throughout the day, and Al made everyone feel welcome, offering drinks and snacks. Light-hearted banter was punctuated with laughter, with the sunny terrace outside becoming a hotbed of discussions and exchanges of information.
I was delighted to see Kevin Graham, author of a new encyclopedia on the subject to be published soon, major collector and dealer Martin Rosam, Paul Bishop of the Cambridge Glass Fair, and many other friends and colleagues. Of course, we weren't the only ones having fun. At 11am UK time, three other exhibitions in Australia, Germany and the US opened simultaneously online via Fat Lava had truly gone global. I've never heard of an online/offline event quite like this before, so a round of applause must go to dealers and collectors Patrick & Petra Folkersma of Outernational for masterminding this innovative event. All four locations remained online throughout the day, and attracted a great many online viewers keen to see the exhibitions and chat to the collectors who built them.
Did I have a favourite? Although it's very hard to choose from the eye-popping array, it would have to be the range of Roth vases shown here. Although little is known about this factory, the designs speak for themselves. Out of all the different designs produced in these incredible two decades, these have caught collectors' attention the most. Prices have risen from under £100 to nearly £300 in a matter of months, with collectors old and new falling over themselves to add a piece to their collections. These rises are partly due to their scarcity - despite their period look and feel, these pieces can't have sold in large numbers at the time, and are not common at all. If I have one regret, it was not buying these in 2006, when I could have had an ovoid vase for £30-50. Now I'd have to part with £150 for the same piece. As my friend Judith Miller says, 'It's the ones you don't buy that you regret'. Don't let that happen to you - hot-foot it to Reading now!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Fat Lava II is here

It's finally here! The second, revised and expanded edition of Fat Lava has finally arrived! After a couple of glitches, a long lorry drew up outside today to deliver a palette of boxes. The moment it did this, the clouds opened and the rain poured down. With no trolley, each and every box had to unloaded by hand - thankfully the delivery driver was patient! On the other hand, he had his warm and dry cab, while I soaked myself to the bone.
Come an' get 'em! If you'd like copy, click here to place your order and pay now. The first edition sold out in just over 18 months, so don't miss out!
I'm now all set for the opening of the second Fat Lava exhibition at Mid20C in Reading, Berkshire, on Saturday, and the month of online events that follow it. For more information, check out
I hope to see you there!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Journey's End...

...and I inadvertently saved the best for last. Before I travel anywhere, I always spend an evening trawling the web for places to visit. This time I found a new gallery, Gallery 567 on Benczur Utca, which I hadn't come across before and looked right up my street. Open by appointment only, it's well worth waiting for and I really can't recommend a visit enough.
The owner, Peter Langh, is the perfect combination of charm, knowledge and experience. And as we know, collecting is a disease (albeit a nice one!), and Peter has it bad! He started collecting seven years ago and has built what has to be the best collection of postwar Hungarian ceramics, glass and furniture in the country, which is augmented by examples from Czechoslovakia, Poland and other old Eastern Bloc countries. Backing this up is a huge reference library, and Peter sure knows his stuff.
I spent nearly three hours browsing thought his vast basement emporium, even purchasing a piece or two that I need to hit my own library to research. Exciting stuff!
Walking back up into the sun after an enormously enjoyable and educational experience, my stomach began to rumble. The only solution was to take advantage of the special brunch at Hungary's top restaurant Gundl, which was thankfully only mere minutes away on foot. Usually out of my price range, this 'eat as much as you would like to' buffet is both a bargain and entirely delicious, and even comes with a complimentary glass of champagne.
A couple of relaxing hours later, the banker and I decided to pop next door to Budapest's recently re-invigorated zoo. Although the animals are naturally an attraction, design and architecture lovers will love the elephant house and a couple of other truly fabulous Art Nouveau buildings, such as the gatehouse. Cool collectables, fabulous food and amazing animals - what a way to end a long weekend in Budapest.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Back in Budapest

Spurred on by yesterday's success, I went once more into the sun to find more bargains in Budapest. I spent quite some time doing this in Summer last year, and you can read about my experiences by clicking here. One of my first targets today was the chain of state-owned 'BAV' stores that sell secondhand, retro and antique goods. The branch on Frankel Leó Utca in Buda is particularly good and always worth a visit, selling everything from the 1800s onwards. Here's a view of the interior to give you some idea of the variety available.
The cabinets in the middle of the picture made me smile, as they were packed with modern Czech glass. Not a place to barter, I noticed prices had risen markedly since the last time I was here. Still, it was great to browse around and see what others were buying, even if I couldn't find anything I simply had to have. In Pest, the branch on Bécsi Utca is always worth as visit, as is the branch on Falk Miksa Utca, which is Budapest's 'antiques alley'.
Indeed it was there I went next. I noticed the street had become much busier and also that many more shops had opened up sicne last Summer. One that caught my eye was Nàfsa Antik Galéria at no.22. Stocking a wide range of glass, ceramics and metalware from the late 19thC onwards, but specialising in the 20th century, there's plenty to look at. My eye was caught by a range of glass produced by Karcag, named after a town outside Hungary. Known as 'veil' glass, it's characterised by a layer of very brightly coloured 'crackle' glass, covered with a layer of colourless glass. Think vibrant yellows, blues and pinks that sparkle in the light due to the web of sealed cracks. Little is known about the factory or designer, with production peaking in the 1930s, and the factory apparently being closed by the Communists in the 1960s. As such, shapes tend to be modern, clean-lined and simple. This candleholder (above), shaped almost like an electrical insulator was my favourite, but I was also drawn to a cocktail shaker with a handsome Deco chrome top. At around £80 each, my budget didn't stretch that far, so they're still there if you want them!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Hard Trading

This bank holiday weekend, I find myself in Budapest, where it's very warm (32 degrees) and very muggy. A quick lunch after touching down left me ready to hit the shops. First stop was Kiraly Utca, where I had been into a truly superb (and also truly tiny) shop specialising in 20th century ceramics and glass last time I was here. Having chatted with the owner then, he told me he had over 3,000 pieces at home and changed his stock regularly. You can imagine my disappointment when I found his shop had been replaced by a building site! Asking around, it seemed he had gone away late last year, and nobody knew where.
My face didn't stay long for long - wandering back towards my hotel, I spotted this rather sizeable treasure in a shop that sold everything from bicycles to computers and ceramics. The heavily smoking shopkeeper told me the price was 50 euros, or roughly 15,000 Hungarian Forints. Keen not to appear too keen, I browsed some other interesting pieces before asking the price again - 80 euros! Not wanting it to rise any more, I began bartering, offering a grin and a cheeky 9,000 Forints, around 30 euros, to start. I expected some huffiness, of course, but this guy was tough and even enlisted a chap off the street (who I suspect was his business partner) to help him. Backing me into a corner (literally), I felt a little threatened as they countered with 13,000 forints, drawing ever closer to me. Keeping my smile on full beam, and trying not to look intimidated, I clutched my bag and politely offered 11,000 Forints. With a nod, the deal was done amidst much muttering. Asking for a bag was the final straw however, and I think I'm glad I don't understand Hungarian!
Whatever, £35 isn't bad at all for a piece of the Rhapsody range, designed by Frantisek Zemek in 1960, and made by the Mstisov, and then the Moser, glassworks. At over 16in (41cm) high, it's the largest I've handled - even better! I've shown it here next to the other vase I own. Based on my previous experience of Hungarians, this really was most out of character, and I'm sure it was just the unbearably muggy heat that caused any disgruntlement. Speaking of the heat, I think it's time for a celebratory and cooling glass of gin and tonic!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

René Roubicek Photograph

Browsing around my favourite hunting ground, Past Caring in Islington, with a TV film crew today, I stumbled upon this incredible photograph.
Although it might not look like much, the rather strange piece of glass the young man is looking at is a postwar Czech masterpiece. Simply titled 'Object', it was designed in 1960 by legendary designer Rene Roubicek, and made by Josef Rozinek at the Borské Sklo factory in Novy Bor. it was first exhibited at the Milan Triennale in 1960, and went on to become an icon of the revolution in Czech glass design that occurred after the war.
Photographs of such items are not at all common, and this looks to have been professionally shot, taking into account the dramatic angle, viewer's expression, and the reflections in the cabinet's glass front. Totally unmarked, its origins are a mystery, although it may have been a press photo for the Milan exhibition. If you can shed any light on it, and who shot it, please let me know.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Fat Lava in Canada

On my many visits to Canada, I've always been delighted by the enormous level of interest in West German ceramics of the 1960s & 70s. The country was a major export market for makers such as Bay, Scheurich and ES Keramik, and Fat Lava has become a firm favourite amongst collectors there.
My good friends Conrad Biernacki and Brian Musselwhite of the Royal Ontario Museum are fans, as is dealer Holly Gnaedinger of the wonderful 'Twice Found' in the trendy Mirvish Village district of Toronto. Although a busy schedule meant I never got to meet him after having spoken a few times, I heard great things about another dealer by the name of Marten Augsten. Naturally I was delighted to see that the Canadian 'National Post' newspaper had recently covered his gallery, aptly named the Rogue Gallery. Click here to read the article, from where this image is used with thanks.
While I'm on the subject of Fat Lava, it's only a few weeks until the 'Fat Lava II' extravaganza launches. Kicking off on 30th May with the opening of a selling exhibition at the Mid20C gallery in Reading, Berkshire there're also a number of exciting web and gallery based events planned across June. With contributions from leading experts from Germany, the US, the UK and Australia, it's not to be missed. Plus there's the launch of the second, revised edition of my bookalogue. Check out to find out more!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

World Record Price For Mdina

The Mdina Glass 'Crizzle Stone' signed by Michael Harris - rightly dubbed the Holy Grail for many Mdina collectors - being offered by Artius Glass on behalf of a collector has sold. And it stormed home, selling for a staggering £3,400! Representing the apex of collecting, less than a dozen are currently known to collectors, with only one of those being signed by Michael. This example was in the most desirable green and ochre colourway, with a nice, clear signature on its base. Developed from the iconic 'Fish', this treasure was brought to light after the vendor saw an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow, where my colleague Andy McConnell valued an unsiged example in brown and ochre at £1,000-1,500. Whoever the buyer is, they have my sincere congratulations - it's a cracker!

Monday, 4 May 2009

All change at the UK's leading glass fair

Founded by the indomitable Pat Hier in 1991, the National Glass Fair rapidly grew to become a firm favourite fixture on the calendar of any glass collector worth their salt (or sand). When Pat retired last year, the event was unsurprisingly taken over by glass fair supremo Oxbridge Fairs, run by my good friends Paul Bishop and Christina Glover. Best known for founding the immensely popular Cambridge Glass Fair, they both weaved their magic once again at the latest event held yesterday at the National Motorcycle Museum near the N.E.C. in Birmingham.
Divided across three rooms, one could literally progress from Roman glass in the first to studio glass produced last year in the third. That is, once you got there - the fair was packed! Although I was still firmly in the land of nod, I was told that the early morning queue to get in stretched around the block. Even when I did arrive, there was a lively thrum of activity, with the odd crowning sound of cheery laughter. Us glass collectors tend to be a friendly lot!
I enjoyed the fair immensely, as ever. I caught up with plenty of friends, ranging from studio glass dealer Richard Bebb, to the much respected Peter Elliott and Danny Walker. I bought very well and, judging by the number of bags being carried out, so did many others. Hardly surprising really, given that prices range from £10 to £10,000, and items date from the from 1st century BC to the first year of the second millenium! There really is something for everyone.
I also spent some time with Ron & Ann Wheeler of Artius Glass, who specialise in the designs of Michael Harris for Mdina and Isle of Wight Studio Glass. They have been asked by a private individual to sell the 'holy grail' for Mdina collectors - a rare Crizzle Stone signed by Michael himself. Only the second one I have ever seen (and the first isn't for sale!), offers are invited at sums in excess of £2,000. Remortgage now, as it'll be years before you see another - if you ever do. Contact Artius Glass to place your bid before tomorrow (5th May) by clicking here. Good luck!