Saturday, 3 April 2010

Mark Hill has moved...

I have a new website!
As such, I will no longer be updating this page, but you can continue to read my new blog, and so much more, on my new website - click here to visit it!

Please bear with me though - it's all new to me, and I'm still getting to grips with it. So please excuse any teething problems or glitches - they'll be sorted out soon.

For those of you who like to know such things, my new site was built by KoalaCube using the Archeronne theme for Wordpress.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Exciting New Ceramics & Glass Fair in London

I love a good fair, especially those run by Specialist Glass Fairs. The dynamic duo behind the rapidly expanding portfolio are delighted to announce an all-new fair to be held at Dulwich College in South London on Sunday 28th March. To be held in the beautiful and aptly Modernist style Christison Hall from 10.30am until 4pm, the fair sees the addition of ceramics dealers to the usual stable of fabulous glass dealers. Visitors will be able to browse all types of decorative and collectable glass and ceramics from across the centuries; from Powell to Poole, Moorcroft to Murray and faience to Fat Lava.
Specialists in 18th century drinking glasses, stylish and hotly desirable Scandinavian and Italian pieces, antique continental glass such as Gallé and Lalique, and British art glass will exhibit alongside trusted quality ceramics experts and contemporary glass and ceramics makers. Amongst them, these two stunning pieces will be displayed. The first is a rare 1960s Poole Pottery 'Tree of Life' charger by Tony Morris, available from Mark Hitchings, and the second is an Arts and Crafts candelabra in 'Straw Opal' glass by James Powell and Sons, c1890, which will be available from Nigel Benson.
I'll also be there signing a full range of my books and the new edition of the Miller's Collectables Price Guide and Handbook 2010-2011, together with a limited quantity of the book that accompanies my new BBC2 TV series, 'Cracking Antiques'. For more information, check out the fair's website at Make a note in your diary, and I hope to see you there!

They're still out there...., I mean. Too often do I hear the moan that 'There's no point looking, everything that can be found has been found...' Not true! Last month my glass collector friend Bob discovered this gem in his local charity shop in South London. Designed by Frank Thrower in 1967, and numbered 'FT23', it was part of the first range offered by the now world-famous Dartington Glass. Produced in the company's characteristic early Kingfisher' blue, Flame red, Midnight grey, and colourless glass, it was expensive at the time and did not sell well. Compared to smaller Dartington, few were sold before it was withdrawn in 1970. Examples are rare today, particularly in colours. I think it would cost from £200-300 from a specialist dealer - so the couple of pounds hawk-eyed Bob paid could really pay off!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Are books dead...?

I work for a publishing company, and also publish my own books. I'm also a big believer in the internet as a way forward for publishing. Will it replace books, magazines and newspapers, as many say it will? I don't think so, but it'll be an important part of how we work in the future. Publishing doesn't just mean books, but audio, video and web-based content too - publishing will integrate the many forms of media available to us in the future. This short video was produced by DK, a company I used to consult for. I think it's brilliant. If you have two minutes to spare, I'd urge you to check it out. Click here to view it.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

To the circus!

With a bit of Polish blood flowing through my veins, I've always been fond of decorative arts produced in the former Eastern Block. Amongst my favourite areas are postwar avant garde Czechoslovakian and Polish film and event posters. Over the past two decades, those from the former country have become widely popular and highly desirable meaning the best pieces can cost a pretty penny - or thousands of them! Polish posters can offer better value for money. For example, Wiktor Gorka's iconic 'Kabaret' poster is often considered amongst the best, but originals can still be found for around £500-600.
There are many artists to consider, most of them mouthfuls, from Franciszek Starowieyski to Lucjan Jagodzinski. I'm particularly fond of Waldemar Swierzy, and his name was brought to my mind again recently after I stumbled across this handsome design by him in a country antique shop. The circus (or 'Cyrk' in Polish) was a popular form of entertainment in Poland right up to the fall of the Iron Curtain, and numerous artists produced posters to market the event from 1962 onwards.
Styles and inspirations were diverse, and there's something here for everyone within this smorgasbord of avant garde design. An award-winning designer, Swierzy produced a large number of different designs across his career. I think his star is still to rise, but the market is still young and defining itself. The poster I saw is considered by some to be very rare and was priced at just under £200 (attractively framed), but examples have sold for over double that, undoubtedly due to its appealing and decorative nature that has a strong whiff of the Art Nouveau about it. Flicking through a Christie's catalogue today and seeing an Edward McKnight Kauffer newspaper poster valued at £20,000-30,000 made me feel that the mileage still to go with these posters is rather extensive. It's long term rather than short term. But if you like the look and sound of this area, you can read more here and here.

Dexter Loves Mdina

Regular readers of my blog will know I'm rather fond of spotting retro and antique pieces in TV series and films. After watching Tom Ford's beautiful, visually stunning and relaxing 'A Single Man', I had felt spoilt already this weekend. Poirot (lovely as it is) is too easy, so it's the less obvious ones that prove more of an enjoyable challenge. Like me, my German friends Marc & Maiken of Utopia 2000 are fans of US hit TV series Dexter. I'd already spotted the late 1970s-80s Mdina 'Earthtones' Fish vase that the anti-hero lead has on his desk, but for those who missed it, here's another shot from the latest series.

Monday, 15 March 2010

An Evening With The Chorleywood Bookshop

Last Friday Judith Miller and I were invited out to the heart of 'Metroland' to visit the charming town of Chorleywood. The owners of the independent Chorleywood Bookshop, Sheryl and Morag, asked us to speak at an evening event in the local hall, followed by a book-signing and an 'Antiques Roadshow' style valuation.
After perusing their marvellous bookshop on the smart parade over a cup of tea, we were ready. And we needed that cup of tea! When we pulled up outside the hall, well over 100 people had arrived and were patiently queuing, clutching bags full of treasures acquired or inherited, but most certainly cherished.
Judith kicked off the event with a talk that crossed Continents and history from 16thC Chinese porcelain to Lalique (and Lalique-alike) glass to treen snuffboxes. I then followed up with a talk that examined the effect of fashion on the market - both in terms of historic changes and changes today that affect desirability, and so values. Both of us brought pieces from our own collections with us, with me bringing some Fat Lava, transfer-printed blue & white ceramics, 'Flow Blue' ceramics, and postwar Czech pressed glass. I ended by introducing my new TV series, Cracking Antiques, and commenting on how the wheel is turning once again and traditional, 'brown' furniture is becoming sought after once again after a few decades in the doldrums.
Then it was into the audience to see what they had brought in - and they didn't disappoint! A truly wonderful, varied selection awaited us from mid-19thC was dolls to Chinese ceramics, a pocket watch or two and a superb micromosaic of St Peters that had to be worth over £1,500-2,000! A marvellous evening was had by all, and Judith and I finally left at gone 10pm to wend our way back to London. Thank you, Sheryl and Morag!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Country Weekend

Combined with my busy role at Miller's, the build-up to Cracking Antiques (my new BBC2 TV series due to air from 7th April) has meant that there's precious little time for a break right now. A short holiday was cancelled and replaced with a relaxing overnight break at the wonderful 'Ashdown Park' country house hotel in Sussex this weekend.
The drive there revealed Standen was nearby. For those of you who don't know, Standen was the country house of the wealthy Beale family. Built in the early 1890s, it was designed by Philip Webb, a close friend of William Morris. As you'd expect, it's an Arts & Crafts showcase, from the vases on the mantelpiece, to the mantelpiece itself, and the room that the mantelpiece is part of. Indicative of so many core themes of the Arts & Crafts movement, it's exactly the sort of country house I'd love to live in. Set serenely in picturesque rolling hills which it doesn't dominate, it's quirky, comfortable and built on a human scale. A home rather than a house.
My love for this style movement was instantly rekindled as I wandered around rooms bedecked with original William Morris wallpaper, furnished with comfy-looking period furniture, and embellished with tapestries, embroideries, ceramics, and glass of the period. In 2008, a truly eye-wateringly beautiful bedspread was returned to the Beale's bedroom. Said to have been embroidered by May, William Morris' daughter, the superb condition and vibrant colours have remained as it spent most of the last century hidden and forgotten in a chest. So dazzling was it that I forgot to take a photograph, but I rather liked the cheery motto on this firescreen.
Downstairs, my eyes were instantly drawn to a very modern set of wall lights. The form and 'straw-opal' colour of the glass fittings instantly suggested Powell & Sons, but the overall design and embossed copper backs were more intriguing. It transpired that they were designed specifically for the house by Webb, and made by that modernising marvel in metalware of the period, W.A.S. Benson. The stylised flower on each panel was different, and I was told that the gentle, warming light they give is magical at night. A bright and breezy walk around the grounds in that type of clear, blue skied Spring day that England does so well finished off a perfect weekend and left me refreshed for the week ahead.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Cambridge Glass Fair

Yesterday saw a nerve-shredding drive up the M11 to the 14th Cambridge Glass Fair at Chilford Hall. As ever, it was well worth it. I was one of many hundreds who braved the torrential rain and flocked to the event to buy the best in glass from 18thC drinking glasses to 21stC contemporary studio glass.
My collecting habits are somewhat obscure right now, but I was delighted to buy this piece of Czech glass from Italian glass supremo Massimo Marino. For those of you who don't recognise it, it's from the 'Flora' range, designed by Frantisek Koudelka and made at the Prachen Glassworks. This range is featured in a 1974 edition of Czechoslovak Glass Review, which describes it as lending a "refreshing touch to every modern home". It was inspired by Koudelka's 1973 'Karneval' range, which has similar decoration, and also by antique coloured glass from the Harrachov glassworks.
At 35cm (13.75in) high, it's the largest one I've ever seen but friends' responses were muted, with one even describing it as 'arty farty'! I'll leave you to make your own mind up, but I'm a fan of the abstract design, the shape that harks back to Czech Art Nouveau forms, and the high quality.
On my way around the huge fair, I also enjoyed chatting with dealer friends including Alison Snelgrove, Peter Elliott, Danny Walker, Ron & Ann Wheeler, Tracy Opie and Andrew Lineham.
I also spotted a lady buying this beautifully modern bull. Judging by the colour, I think it was made by Zeleznybrod Sklo in Czechoslovakia and, although I can't find a direct reference, I think it was most probably designed by Miroslav Janku. Of great quality, I think she did well at £60.
Paul & Christina Bishop run the most successful and enjoyable glass fairs in the UK - I really can't recommend visiting one enough. Click here to visit their website to see when a fair near you will be on. Next up on the agenda is the Ceramics & Glass Fair at the historic Dulwich College in South London on March 28th. If you do come, do pop over and say 'hello', as I'll be selling my own books as well as a range of Miller's books at the event.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Woman's Hour

Yesterday I was honoured to be asked onto BBC Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour', to speak about Jessie Tait and her 1950s-70s designs for Midwinter.
I was accompanying Professor Cheryl Buckley, who had been lucky enough to meet Tait herself during her research into the role of woman designers in the ceramics industry. If you want to listen to what we discussed, led by presenter Jane Garvey, you can do so by clicking here.

It's Out!

The all-new 2010-11 edition of Miller's Collectables Price Guide by Judith Miller and I is OUT NOW in all good bookshops. Priced at £19.99, there are even more full colour images and information than ever before. With thousands of collectables shown from advertising to ceramics, to glass and toys, there's truly something for everyone. Here're the first copies, spotted in Foyle's in London.
If you can't make it to a bookshop, order your copy direct, and save £8 on the cover price, by clicking here.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

BBC Antiques Roadshows I will be attending...

I am delighted to attend the following BBC Antiques Roadshows as a specialist on either the Miscellaneous or Collectables tables - please do dig out your treasures, come along, and say hello! Doors open at 9.30am (although queues start earlier!), and Roadshows run until 4.30pm - providing you're in the queue by 4pm, you'll be able to see a specialist.

Thursday 29th April - Victoria Hall, Saltaire, near Shipley, West Yorkshire
Friday 14th May - Beverley Minster, East Riding of Yorkshire
Thursday 3rd June - Brighton College, East Sussex
Thursday 10th June - St Fagans, Natural History Museum, near Cardiff
Thursday 1st July - Hutton-in-the-Forest, near Penrith, Cumbria
Thursday 15th July - Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
Thursday 9th September - Blair Castle, near Pitlochry, Scotland
Wednesday 29th September - Colechester Town Hall, Colchester, Essex

Saturday, 13 February 2010

BBC's Cracking Antiques is announced

Cracking Antiques is on a myth-busting mission to prove that people can add style and glamour to any type of home by investing in second-hand, vintage and antique furnishings – without breaking the bank.

The prime-time series, coming to BBC Two from April 7th at 8.30pm is presented by interior designer Kathryn Rayward and antiques expert Mark Hill.

Kathryn and Mark want to take the pain and shame out of buying old. From town houses to terraced houses, 18th-century French Rococo to shabby chic, they want to show that antiques and vintage furnishings can help create a stylish, fashionable home and are often the better buy.

Cracking Antiques shows that spending wisely on second-hand objects can be a cheaper and unique alternative to much of what the High Street has to offer, and in comparison, antiques are well-made and built to last so are also a much more environmentally sound investment.

The nation loves nothing more than trawling for trinkets and treasures at the thousands of antiques fairs, car boot sales and auction houses up and down the country, and as a result the British antiques industry is highly lucrative. But are people buying the right items, at the right price?

Mark Hill says: "Unique investments in quality and craftsmanship that will last a lifetime, prices that have never been more affordable, and individual statement pieces that will make a house your home, tell a story, and shout out your true personality. Antiques need to be taken off their pedestal and we should allow them to become exuberant and enjoyable parts of our lives."

Kathryn Rayward says: "Buying antiques is recycling at its most glamorous! Purchasing second-hand goods means we're not cutting down trees and damaging the planet. Embracing unloved family heirlooms or giving a quick lick of paint to a cheap and cheerful junk shop find can create a beautiful and utterly unique home."

Throughout the series, Kathryn offers interior design ideas and practical suggestions on how to customise and revamp the tired and the distressed to transform them into glamorous and modern pieces. Meanwhile Mark is on hand with his top tips and helpful advice on the items to buy now, that could go up in value in the future.

From furniture to light fittings, curtains to crockery, Cracking Antiques provides the all-important guide to furnishing a home with classic pieces, how to bag a bargain and how to buy an investment piece for the future.

BBC Commissioning Editor, Jo Ball, says: "Mark and Kathryn are great talents and I hope they will make the world of antiques accessible to everyone."

Cracking Antiques is a Silver River production. The executive producer at Silver River is Dan Adamson and the series producer at Silver River is Donna McLaughlin.

The 6x30-minute series will be broadcast on BBC Two, from 7th April at 8.30pm.

Image of Mark Hill & Kathryn Rayward courtesy of the BBC and Silver River Productions, and text courtesy of BBC Press Office, the original is here.

A comprehensive book will be published to tie-in with the series, priced at £18.99, click here to find out more. Image of cover courtesy of Mitchell Beazley.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Beware Online!

It's easy to think that you can trust what you find online. However, always bear in mind that the information you read there may well be misleading, or just plain wrong. Never has the familiar auction term 'caveat emptor', or 'buyer beware', been more applicable.
The internet is open to everyone to post information - and also their opinions and beliefs, regardless of what they're founded on. It goes without saying that some people are more knowledgeable and reliable than others.
As an example, I spotted this vase on eBay last night. Described by the seller as being Murano glass, it has a 1960-70s foil label on the base to prove it. But that's wrong. It is, in fact, a 1980s Isle of Wight Studio Glass Azurene range small Lollipop vase, in the hard-to-find 'Azure' colour. As to how the Murano label got there is anyone's guess.
I'm certainly not saying that the vendor (who has thousands of positive feedback ratings) intends to mislead or deceive but it's not what it the label says it is! The interesting thing is that if it was catalogued correctly, the seller would almost certainly sell it, even if he didn't quite reach his £150 + P&P asking price.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Priceless Antiques Roadshow II

The excellent and highly enjoyable Priceless Antiques Roadshow continues its second series on BBC2 at 6.30pm. If you've missed any, catch up online on iPlayer. If you missed the episode I was in and mentioned below, here's what I bought for the ceramics challenge. I was delighted with my find, and feel pretty comfortable in saying that the £11 I paid was a real bargain.
Last Monday my friend and Roadshow colleague Andy McConnell appeared on the show in a spot I really enjoyed. Regular viewers will love Andy's fascinating glass valuations, and his passion for glass is clear. Although he's a renowned expert in the field, he had never actually made any glass himself, despite having watched it being made many times before. So he visited Isle of Wight Studio Glass to work under one of Britain's most skilled and experienced master glassmakers, and a friend of mine, Timothy Harris. The results are educational, informative and quite frankly sometimes hilarious. I really think he did a great job, with incredible results, so click here to see how he got on.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Umbrella Stand Estimated to Fetch Half A Million!

Just imagine walking home on a wet and windswept evening balancing an umbrella and your bag precariously as you try to shelter from the elements. You just want to get home, shove the umbrella in its stand, make a warm cup of tea and dry out.
Just imagine if that neglected 'umbrella stand' turned out to be an 18th century Imperial Chinese vase valued at up to half a million pounds!
Exactly this happened to a couple who recently invited auctioneer Guy Schwinge of Hy Duke & Sons in Dorchester to their home for a routine valuation. Just imagine their shock! Schwinge believes that the vase was almost certainly made for the Emperor Qianlong around 1740, and it may also have been owned at one time by Florence Nightingale.
Given to the couple as a gift around 50 years ago, it is sadly damaged as one would expect after a few wet, wintry evenings of being irritated. Had it not been damaged, it may have fetched up to £1million.
The vase comes up for auction on Thursday 11th February - I wonder what it will fetch? Fresh to market, fine quality and rare Chinese porcelain has been soaring in the auction rooms lately, with literally millions of pounds exchanging hands. Only last year, my old colleague and friend James Bridges of auctioneers Martel Maides found two ignored bowls in a house on the Channel Islands which went back home for a total of nearly £1.2million. One to watch for sure.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Priceless Antiques Roadshow

The second series of Priceless Antiques Roadshow, the BBC's fantastic spin-off show from world-famous Antiques Roadshow reached its fifth episode this evening, with another twenty to come. Perfect tea-time viewing, the show looks deeper into the Roadshow, one of Britain's best-loved TV programmes, and with a 32 year heritage.
You'll learn more about the experts and their personal passions and favourite fields of expertise, glimpse behind the scenes at Roadshows across the country, take a look back through the archives at some of the best and most fascinating finds and the stories behind them, and also see special features unique to the series.
I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in one of these, and one of the spots we filmed aired this evening. 'Expert Eye' takes three specialists, Katherine Higgins, Steven Moore and I, and pits us against each other to buy an antique or a collectable from three different subject areas against a set, and realistic, budget. First up tonight was ceramics, with each of us being given the task of finding something we believed to be a good, bargain buy for a maximum of £30. I visited the Shepton Mallet Flea Market, Katherine went to Alfie's Antiques Market, and Steven was at the Lincolnshire Antiques & Home Show. Tune into iPlayer to find out what each of us bought and how how we got on.
The two remaining 'Expert Eye' spots yet to come cover furniture, and whatever we individually believed to be 'useful'. I'm delighted to say that I came in well under budget for all of my finds, each of which I'd have been more than happy to buy myself and display or use at home. After you've seen it, I hope you'll agree with us - it all goes to show that there really are so many fantastic bargains out there if you look.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Vibrant Venini Glass

The latest issue of the consistently enjoyable BBC Homes & Antiques magazine is out now, and includes an 'Instant Expert' article I wrote on Venini glass. A truly legendary name from the Italian island of Murano, the company has a global reputation for its fabulous glass. Read about the history of the company, the most prominent designers, the best designs, and learn tips on how to identify and date Venini glass. If you're inspired to buy after reading it, then I can certainly recommend visiting the excellent Cambridge Glass Fair on 28th February.
Elsewhere in this bumper issue, you'll find Judith Miller's regular 'Object Lesson', this time on upholstered chairs, a fascinating article on antique textile restoration with the lovely Penny Brittain, the usual insider tips and valuations from the Antiques Roadshow team, and plenty to inspire you to have a super 'Spring clean' in a few week's time!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Vintage Filofax & Mulberry II

Well, my last post seems to have caused quite a stir in the Filofax world! I've had rather a large amount of emails from Filofax fans who are, naturally, still using theirs and have pointed out the (many) obvious benefits to me. Perhaps I was a little hasty in saying that the smartphone and PDA 'have completely replaced' the Filofax and its ilk - I should have used the word 'largely', as there is still clearly a sizeable devoted following.
I also ought to point out that I'm the proud owner, and user, of a Mulberry Planner, which accompanies me to many of my meetings and lives in a drawer of my office desk. I also still own my original Filofax, which I would use apart from the fact that I find it too small - the Planner accommodates folded A4 sheets so well. Although I'm a heavy Blackberry user, my working life wouldn't function as smoothly as it does without my 'filofax'.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Vintage Filofax & Mulberry

I had to buy a new Blackberry last weekend, after my previous one died. Standing in the queue to pay, I mulled over how the PDA and smartphone have completely replaced the Filofax. A trusty companion of the Sloane Ranger and Yuppie (remember them?), the fad for these luxury leather small folders has almost completely passed. It's a shame, as they were very practical, acting as catch-all during a week's busy work. Although relegated to a drawer, mine is still perfectly useable. I wonder if they will become collectable in the future, representing, as they do, the fashions of a decade?
If they do, I am sure that brand names, condition and the quality will count towards desirability and value, much as they do for any antique or collectable. Filofax is at the top - like Hoover, the brand came to represent an object. There's a blog for Filofax fans, and you can see someone's amazing private collection here. The 'Winchester' seems to be the one to look out for.
Apart from Filofax itself, I think the big name to watch is Mulberry. Founded in 1971, the company has recently become globally renowned for its handbags, but the company's luxuriously large 'Planners' trounced Filofax, in my opinion, for years. I can see their hallmark brown or black 'Congo' mock-croc leather (shown here in brown) becoming amongst the most sought-after. Costing up to £350 new today, vintage and pre-loved examples are already fetching healthy sums on eBay - is this perhaps the start of something bigger?
Mulberry has always found inspiration in leather bags of the past, and it's perhaps this that makes their products so timeless and of such high quality. When I was a Junior Cataloguer at Bonhams in Chelsea, I would often see founder Roger Saul examining and buying antique luggage at our vintage textile auctions.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sam Herman & Studio Glass

I was recently quoted on the excellent ABJ Seattle Glass Online blog, talking about Sam Herman, "Arguably [he is] the greatest name in British studio glass - and pretty darned important in the global studio glass movement too. Unfairly in my mind at least, few recognise his incredible vision, abilities and importance. Without him, studio glass techniques would not and could not have spread to the UK and beyond."
I absolutely believe this, and think his star is still rising. His work has, without doubt, enormous potential for the future, marking as it does key points in the development of 20th century
glass and decorative arts. Shown here is a typical 'torso' form made and signed by Herman, dating from the 1980s, and worth £350-450.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Canadian Chalet Glass

Looking around the excellent Glass Message Board last night, I found a post relating to the lesser-known name of Chalet, who made glass in Canada from 1962-75. Two typical pieces are shown here, courtesy of Miller's Online. With its spectacular forms and vibrant colours, Chalet glass is often mistaken for glass made on Murano in Italy. With the recent rediscovery of postwar Czech glass, it has also become confused with the production of Czechoslovakia's Skrdlovice factory.
Well, thanks to a wonderful article on the company and its work, including two original catalogue pages showing shapes, this confusion may end.
The article turns out to be by my friend and fellow collector Conrad Biernacki, who is kind, charming, and extremely generous with his immense intelligence, knowledge, and experience. I first met Conrad a couple of years ago when, as programs manager, he invited me to lecture about Fat Lava at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Knowing Conrad, this article will be both well-researched and well-written - you can read it by clicking here.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Miller's Collectables Price Guide 2010-11

I've had a lot of questions and emails lately about when the next edition of the Miller's Collectables Price Guide will be available. We usually publish it in Autumn each year but, partly taking into account the hard year we all had, we took the difficult decision to delay it until the official start of the new 'season' in Spring. As fairs, auctions and flea markets crank up a few gears at this time, it seemed more sensible and right.
So, the answer is that the all-new 2010-2011 edition will be published on March 1st - the rather handsome cover is shown here. The price will be £19.99 and it will be available to pre-order from all good bookshops or from Miller's Online in late February.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

New Year in Amsterdam

After an extremely busy, but very successful and highly enjoyable 2009, I spent the first few days of my Christmas break in a near catatonic state. Fully recovered, new year was quite different however, with a five day trip to celebrate the occasion in Amsterdam.
First stops for any self-respecting art, antiques and collectables fiend have to be the wealth of fabulous museums in the city. All are within easy walking distance of each other. The Rijksmuseum yielded its usual eye-popping highlights, as it is largely closed until later in 2010, but the Stedelijk was sadly completely closed for what looks like an amazing renovation. My personal highlight was the Rembrandt House museum, (above) where I spent a happy four hours surveying their exhibition on 'Rembrandt Reversed'. Here, his famous etching were shown reversed, revealing the design, effects and movement Rembrandt would have seen as he etched the copper plate by hand. Although some of the revelations were truly that, I wasn't convinced by all of it, and wondered if the reversal of the design was one of the reasons why his etchings are so captivating - and this was intended by the master to catch and hold the inquisitive and critical eye.
On to the Museum van Loon, a private palace to the Rococo style, and then the new Hermitage branch based in the city. Another five hours passed by in moments, as we surveyed the magnificence and grandeur of their inaugural exhibition on the Russian court at the turn of the 20th century. It's expensive to visit, but well worth the money as there's something here for anyone who loves brilliant ballgowns, cunning costumes and other fabulous finery. The 'treasures' room, filled with works by Fabergé and his contemporaries, was particularly unforgettable - most notably a solid lapis lazuli ewer embellished with gold and enamel, and the Rococo piano above.
And then antiques and collectables - with Dutch traders much more in evidence at major fairs this past year, I had high hopes. First stop was the famous De Looier antiques centre (left) on Elandsgracht, which is the largest market in the Netherlands. It didn't disappoint, as the stand shown here indicates - and that's just one of some 80 stands and 100 cabinets! Interesting to me was the fact that there was much more that could be classified 'antique' rather than 'modern' since my last visit in 2005. My only real criticism of the place is that it is very hard to navigate. My internal GPS is very good, but I got lost twice! Still, not a bad place to lose oneself in, I guess. With very little Fat Lava seen, look out for Mobach pottery - one to watch for the future?
The 9 streets, indicated by their overhead street lighting, provide many more places to hunt - and the many fashion shops may provide entertainment for a partner less interested in vintage or retro. In particular I'd recommend FiftiesSixties on ReeStraat for retro lamps and vintage toasters (!), the fabulous Brilmuseum of spectacles (even though the shop didn't have any of my favourite shape!), the nameless shop next door that specialises in amazing and often hilarious 1950s-70s kitsch, and Roerende Zaken, with its wide range of sought-after 20thC design. A newly discovered highlight was the 'The Totalitarian Art Gallery', on the Singel canal, with its powerful totalitarian artworks and decorative arts from 1930s-70s Germany, USSR and China. Prices were competitive, and everything was original - a rarity today. As to what is surely the future of bookshops, and indeed publishing in general, check out Mendo on Berenstraat, voted one of the 200 best designed shops in the world.
After all this, good food and drink is needed to recover. Quite apart from the enormously expensive, but also enormously luxurious and entertaining, original Supper Club, we found the French inspired Café George on Leidsegracht to be a lively and delicious mainstay. Thankfully, Amsterdam is small enough to walk easily and quickly between most locations - it's amazing what you can fit in to five days!