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.
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!
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.
...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 Whitefriars.com, 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.
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...
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.