Faberge

Forty three years ago last week my wife and I plunged headlong into life together. For our honeymoon I treated my bride to four nights in the Lake District, in a little known hostel, costing the princely sum of six pounds a night, which I excitedly told her included breakfast, an evening meal and en-suite facilities. I loved her so much I would have bought her one of the missing Faberge Imperial eggs, but she seemed happy enough with our room.

Peter Carl Faberge was born in 1846 and he gained a reputation for elegance and originality in his jewellery design after taking over his father’s shop in St Petersburg at the tender age of twenty four.

In 1884 he was commissioned by the Tsar Alexander III to make the first Imperial Easter egg. These projects became top priority for the company and were planned and worked on far in advance, sometimes for over a year. Fifty six Imperial eggs were made and the location of all but about ten is known.

This relationship with the Imperial family blossomed and lasted right up until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and it opened up many doors of influence for Faberge. Perhaps his greatest success was expanding production to include purely decorative objects, called his ‘Objects of Fantasy’

Many of the Faberge pieces sold today fetches huge prices on the international stage with a ‘jet set’ following. However it is still possible to purchase some of the more ‘modest’ brooches or smaller jewellery items such as tiepins and cuff links in salerooms at more reasonable prices. The miniature enamel and jewelled egg pendants are still far and away the most popular of all these ‘more affordable’ gems.

What about fakes? Well, fakes are so common in the field of Faberge that the Fine Art world came up with a special little phrase, ‘Fauxberge’ to encompass them all. They include everything from near perfect matches to disastrous copies.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Art Nouveau

Throughout the history of art and design there have been a great many different styles, all championed by different characters. My favourite is the Art Nouveau style.

Art Nouveau describes a style used in architecture and the arts from the last decade of the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th century and it had essentially two main aims.

One was a rejection of the historical retrospective styles so prominent in the latter half of the 19th century. Art Nouveau was of the here and now and the future, not an imitation of past styles. However the style did at times use ideas and motifs of medieval origin.

The other aim was a rejection of another trend, that of naturalism, which was basically an imitation or copy of the natural world and everyday life. Art Nouveau did embrace nature but not in the form of imitation. Some of the most characteristic and recognisable images of Art Nouveau are the undulating or waving lines and the stylised foliage motifs.

The style, as with all styles, does have many variations and these depend on several factors, including country of production, techniques and materials. Also many items produced did not live up to the aspirations of the style. Many, for example, included too many New-Classical influences or relied too heavily on Japanese or Eastern themes.

Art Nouveau can provide a wealth of collecting themes. There are many well known names to be found including Galle, an important artist in the French Art Nouveau who is known for his polychrome glass vases; Tiffany from New York who also did wonderful things with glass and Lalique who truly raised the level of applied arts with his ability to turn even a piece of jewellery into an intricate work of art.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Ocean Liner Memorabilia

During these troubled times when travelling anywhere is challenging, it might be pleasant to contemplate a luxury, multi person type of travel. What about the ocean liner?

Ocean liner memorabilia brings alive the more glamorous era when the only way to travel the world was by ship and in style. It is nostalgia from a bygone era and it is that that attracts the collectors.

At the beginning of the 20th century the giant luxury liners of the shipping companies such as Cunard, White Star Line and Canadian Pacific plied the transatlantic trade. In general collectors focus on the best known liners and their memorabilia command the highest prices. Memorabilia from the lesser known companies or those that didn’t travel the transatlantic route are usually less costly.

Notable ships include the Olympic, and the Mauritania, but by far the most desirable collectables come from the ill fated Titanic. The market for such memorabilia increased dramatically after the love affair of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1997 film. Items owned or used by survivors or rescuers such as, watches, spoons, menus and plates generally realise the highest prices.

Postcards and photographs are often the most reasonably priced items as they were produced in high quantities. Hand written cards are collected and value depends on the condition, the message and the sender.

Essential ocean liner memorabilia for any collector includes playing cards featuring the liner or company logo, timetables especially those with period artwork and menus especially first class or special occasion. Other items of value are original fixtures and fittings, brochures and souvenirs. Items taken from the ship as a memento tend to be more valuable.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Auctions Covid Style

I remember many, many years ago, when my father was alive and computers were in their infancy, having a discussion with him about the internet and he said to me “one day we will sell a whole auction on a computer and no one will be in the saleroom”. I remember laughing with him in a “Yeh, right Dad?!” sort of a way. Well Dad…. you were right.

Last Monday at Sheffield Auction Gallery that happened. No one there, but everyone there, no need to distance because everyone was at home. It was amazing and the prices were exactly what we would have expected from a “regular” auction and in some cases, better.

One thing Covid-19 has done for us all is to make us think outside of the usual box our thoughts tend to be restricted to. The pub pulling pints of beer from the back of a van, until it was stopped. The restaurants turning into takeaways. Endless small shops delivering food, filling a gap the supermarkets can’t cope with. The list goes on and on.

Believe it or not, the auction fraternity is also thinking outside of it’s own little box. Well, some of us are. Now it is well known in many circles that my ability with and love of, all things IT is questionable, so it is difficult for me to take any credit for Monday’s auction, but by golly I am still going to bask in it’s glory. It was brilliant.

This is the way forward through our Covid-19 experience and ourselves along with some of the other Auction Houses around the country are marching onward. When the present crisis is a dim and distant memory these sales will still be running alongside the regular auctions.

Collection of goods following the sale will still be very controlled with strict distancing observed by all and of course the postal delivery service will take a great deal.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Bakelite

In our dining room we have a Bakelite telephone. Once upon a time this was connected to our extensive ‘two phone’ telephone system. The problem was because of a fault on the receiver we were forced to shout to be heard, resulting in conversations being somewhat stilted. Repair was always discussed but never enacted so a modern replacement now graces our dining area. The Bakelite telephone is still around though and the grandchildren love it.

Plastics and Bakelite really epitomise the energy of modern design between the wars. Their bright colours, exciting styling and new affordable materials caught people’s imagination at the time and now their appeal is being rediscovered because these early plastic items are an easy inexpensive way to achieve the Art Deco look.

Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, was developed in1907 by a Belgian, Dr Leo Baekeland. In the 1920’s and 1930’s it hit its peak in popularity and was known as the ‘material of a thousand uses’. Bakelite and its imitations ushered in a new age of colourful and stylish, yet inexpensive household goods.

Bakelite can be identified by the strong carbolic smell it gives off when rubbed. It was made in mottled and plain browns, black, green, red and blue. Colours other than brown and black make any plastic object more desirable and larger objects, particularly in Bakelite, are rare and so more valuable.

Styling is also very important and pieces that reflect the Art Deco style of the 1930’s – typified by stepped forms, streamlining and clean lines- are especially collectable. Plastics from the 1950’s onwards tend to be less desirable and so less valuable as styling is not as strong and the quality is generally poorer than the early plastics made between 1910 and 1930.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Carriage Clocks

I love the motor car and I love all the gadgets and accessories found inside the motor car. Had I been born in the 19th century I am sure I would have been just as passionate about the carriage and without doubt one of the first “in carriage” accessories I would have purchased would have been a carriage clock. They were a marvellous little mechanism.

If the basic carriage clock had had a tin, it would have done exactly what it said on it. It was a clock, it told the time and it could be taken into a carriage. A standard carriage clock is plain, made of brass, has clear glass panels and a white enamel dial. It stands about five inches tall.

Following the invention of the coil spring in the 16th century the carriage clock and other portable clocks became far more attractive propositions. The French were leaders in carriage clock production, although we English did make some larger heavier examples. The 19th century was the hey-day of the carriage clock and when the First World War began in1914 production faltered greatly and never really recovered

Value is influenced by many things. Quality, as always, is a great barometer. Size also affects value, with small and tiny clocks being very desirable. Enamelling on the brass frames adds to collectability.

A carriage clock with a repeater mechanism is always more highly prized and the minute repeater is the best of all. In the dark, through the case the weary traveller can press a button on top of the clock and then listen to the time. First count the hour strike, then count the quarters striking and finally count the minutes past the last quarter being struck.

Simple, very technical and very expensive.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Chamber Music

With self isolation very much at the forefront of people’s minds at present, this week my thoughts turned to a way of life rather than an artefact. Before the radio, the television, the internet, the telephone, not to mention the mobile phone and the gaming craze whatever did people do?

They invited a few friends round for an evening of music.

In the past chamber music was a private affair in which the privileged few were entertained with sonatas and string quartets. The very wealthy sometimes employed their own composer to write music just for them, but the general public had no access to this wonderful world.

Gradually however, over many years the piano became a more affordable instrument for the middle class family, which in turn encouraged the market for chamber music. Soon the music for piano duets and simple songs was being purchased everywhere. Opera goers could now buy simple arrangements of their favourite operatic arias and perform them at home.

Less popular were the violin sonatas and string quartets as they demanded a high level of musical training. But as the standard of tuition improved, so the demand for instrumental chamber music increased.

In the saleroom today there is always a very good demand for musical instruments and in fact it would be fair to say that in a way the tables have turned since the very early days of chamber music and the piano’s popularity. Stringed instruments are generally speaking much the better seller in the auction room today.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Corkscrews

Recently my wife and I decided, for a fixed period, to stop drinking wine. This went well until we found ourselves in an Italian restaurant with two friends. We decided that eating out in company could be an exception. The following week our son and his family came to stay and we decided that eating in with visitors would also count as an exception. We are searching hard for further exceptions as the corkscrew awaits our next move.

Worldwide there are a thousand patents for different types of bottle openers, but the most common remains the corkscrew. There are essentially two types; the straight pull, which relies on strength and the mechanical versions which are more sought after and more valuable.

The interest in corkscrews comes from a mixture of things, including the mechanism used such as levers, crank handles and complex concertina styles, the handles made in a variety of materials and their individual style including decorative form and advertising.

The first English corkscrew patent was taken out by Samuel Henshall in 1795 for a T-shaped straight pull and it lasted for fourteen years. Early versions of the corkscrew are very rare and can be extremely valuable.

During the 19th century many patents were taken out for a variety of different corkscrews. Examples to look out for include Robert Jones’ design of 1840, which has a brass ‘worm’ or screw and three prongs to pierce and grip the cork. Jones’ design enjoyed limited success in its day, probably because like many of today’s tin openers, it didn’t work very well. Today however it is a rare and valuable find, sometimes realising more than four figure sums in auction, if intact and in good condition.

Corkscrews of the twentieth century are less valuable, due to the simpler less appealing designs and the volume of their production, but they would be a good place to start a collection. Unusual examples with fine mechanisms or beautifully crafted versions are always worth watching out for though.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Staffordshire Figures

We all have our favourite things. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens have never been on my list, but custard on fruit pie and warm summer evenings certainly have. If I had to make a list of my favourite things it would be endless and up there near the top would be the early Staffordshire figure. What an absolute joy those figures are.

The production of Staffordshire figures began during the reign of George lll in about 1780. The early figures are much better quality than their Victorian cousins and so always command a much higher price. By the early Victorian period the figures were so popular that corners had to be cut and production techniques altered to increase output. Demand remained high until the end of the 19th century.

To produce a model a skilled designer sculpted an original. From this a mould was made and this would produce about 200 models. The older the mould the more worn the details on the model became and this affects the price paid by collectors today. Quality from one factory to another can differ greatly. The flatback figure (with no detailing or painting on the back) was the result of even further cutbacks.

Staffordshire figures provide a social history of the period. They cover every type of person from the notorious rogue to the Royal family, celebrities, fictional characters, military heroes, sportsmen, and politicians.

One of the most popular models were dogs and in particular the seated King Charles spaniel. No Victorian parlour was complete without a pair of these comforter dogs by the fire. They are mainly white with painted features and of varying sizes.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Coffers and Chests

Recently we stayed overnight in a small hotel in a very small bedroom. After our stay we were pestered by management for a review. This is something we never do, but to stop being badgered we decided to report on the room for them. The hotel was dog friendly, but we don’t have a dog, however in the review I mentioned that if we had owned a cat we wouldn’t have been able to swing it in the room. What I think upset us the most was that after pestering us no one responded to our reply.

The medieval bedroom was a very different room to the modern 21st century hotel bedroom. There were no beds with slide out drawers and there were no fitted wardrobes. Where did medieval woman store all her medieval possessions?

The earliest form of moveable storage furniture was the hollowed out log and these primitive beginnings are still evoked by the name “trunk” for a travelling container. During the medieval period simple chests and coffers were used as containers for a wide variety of objects and items. However these chests were not exactly convenient forms of storage and during the 17th century more sophisticated methods of storage designed for storing specific items such as books, clothing and linen were developed.

The medieval period though saw the chest as the main storage method and it was made in huge numbers. Generally they were containers with flat, hinged lids usually with feet to keep the carcass away from the damp floor and usually with handles. Coffers were travelling trunks without feet but with handles. Chests were made by joiners and coffers were made by cofferers.

A simple chest consisted of six planks nailed or dovetailed together, with the vertical slab ends shaped at the bottom to form feet. Later, in the 15th century, the chest developed a framed and panelled construction and this style was immediately more popular with the everyday chest buyer.

The chest in a similar form has remained popular right up to the present day and throughout the centuries the framed and panelled construction developed in the 15th century has essentially stayed the same.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website