Collectors Clubs

This week something very exciting occurred. The newspaper contacted me to say we had a letter from an interested reader. What was interesting was that it came from a collectors club and only last week I had written about collecting.

It wasn’t, as it turned out, my most interesting and highly informative missive relating to collecting that had caused our reader to get in touch, but an earlier penned and equally captivating discourse on the joys of Old Hall stainless steel. Now, as it happens, there was an ulterior motive to our interested reader’s contact, but it was non the worse for that.

The messenger wished to draw attention to a specific collectors club. This made me realise that I had missed a very important ingredient which could be used to help bake the perfect collector; the collectors club. These clubs are everywhere and they are a vital link between a novice in his or her collecting field and a seasoned professional.

What was the club our interested reader wanted me to mention? It was a flourishing club for Old Hall, which our intrepid reader runs. The website he gave us was www.oldhallclub.co.uk. Needless to say I went on the website and it takes you through a myriad of useful information for the novice and the seasoned collector.

The moral of the story is, use the collectors clubs. No one knows more about their subject than the gallant founts of knowledge who run these wonderful institutions. From egg cups to fork lift trucks, they are out there. Last week I ended on the worry of boring family and friends with your collection, which in some instances can be a real possibility. That will never happen with a fellow club member.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Collecting

It is many years since I have mentioned my DIY skills, but last weekend they once again came to the fore. My wife had decided that the repositioning of some of our paintings was imperative and so my drill was searched for, dusted off and along with a somewhat frayed extension, plugged in. Unlike many men, I only possess one drill bit and mainly through lack of interest, have never managed to acquire the correct plastic plug to fill the hole in the wall it makes. The result; my holes are a mess and only half of them are successful.

“I think they look fine where they are” I suggested. “Fine” was a silly choice of words and a discussion ensued. My argument was that we should put our efforts into researching some new artists and genres and replacing some of the paintings we have. This, I explained, would be a double helping of joy as we would have the excitement of the sale and the satisfaction of the purchase. I have to say I did well and we are now looking for some new pictures to hang on existing hooks.

The whole episode made me think generally of the joys of collecting. Collecting is different from investing, financial gain is not the object. Pick a subject that is of interest or has always held a fascination. Don’t choose a genre that is so rare examples never appear or one so common the market is flooded. Enjoy the research and always keep the first piece purchased, this will show how far the collection has progressed in the years that follow.The investor is always interested in the perfect example, but the collector is interested in just the example.

The auction room is a wonderful place to expand knowledge and enhance collections. In these present Covid times everything is virtual, but descriptions are still there and bidding is possible, full catalogues with numerous illustrations are available. With fingers crossed, post vaccination, things will get back to normal and that is the time to touch and examine as many examples as possible.

One word of warning. All collectors must learn to recognise when someone is losing interest in the collection they are waxing lyrical about. Nothing is more interesting than hearing an informed collector on a subject that is of interest to the listener. But, nothing is more boring…….

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Old Hall Stainless Steel

News of vaccinations beginning for Covid is very exciting for us all and if we cast our minds back almost a year it all started in a research laboratory. We have a lot to thank research laboratories for.

In 1913, Harry Brearley working in a just such an establishment in Sheffield discovered ‘rustless’ steel and became credited as its inventor. Originally stainless steel was developed for use in the military, or for medical equipment and industrial tools but in 1934 it was first advertised for domestic use at the ‘Ideal Home Exhibition’. At that exhibition by far the biggest and best stand was for a company called Old Hall.

William Wiggin, son of James the founder of Old Hall, had been experimenting with stainless steel tableware for some time, making the first stainless steel teapot in 1930. However, gaining support for the products from retailers was difficult and the Ideal Home Exhibition was the final stage in trying to get trade and the public onboard with his new venture.

The appointment of Robert Welch as Design Consultant in 1955 saw changing fortunes for Old Hall. Welch was not only a specialist in Stainless Steel production design trained at the Royal College of Art but had also qualified as a silversmith and his skills as such were evident in his designs. Welch’s work was seen as ‘British contemporary’ and earned him three Design Council awards. His notable designs included the hollow ware for P&O’s Oriana cruise liner as well as Old Hall candlesticks and the Alveston cutlery range which won him one of the awards in 1965.

The height of popularity for Old Hall was the 1960s when it was considered a shining example of first rate modern British craftsmanship. These golden years saw Old Hall found in most homes and possibly one of the most common wedding presents received by happy couples across Britain.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Music Boxes

I love listening to music. Anything from opera to punk, I love almost all of it. With the exception of a small vinyl collection my wife has, all this music is on my mobile phone. I find that absolutely amazing and incredibly convenient. I wonder if 18th century man found the music box just as amazing.

Musical mechanisms were first fitted in Swiss clocks and automata in the 17th century. However, the musical box, which was either powered by clockwork or operated by a handle, came into being in its own right in the 18th century. It comprised of a rotating cylinder that produced sound when raised pins plucked a row of fine steel teeth on a comb-like metal plate.

By the 19th century the musical box was firmly established as an affordable form of entertainment and was produced in large numbers. As techniques improved, seven or eight tunes could be set on one cylinder. The cylinders were housed in wooden boxes, often with plain sides and decoratively inlaid tops. The better the box, usually the better the mechanism was with more special effects like butterfly bells, cymbals and drums. Specialist makers like Nicole Freres also add value to a musical box sold in today’s mechanical market place.

The problem with the music box was that the cylinder could only hold so many pins and thus the number and complexity of the tunes, or “airs”, was limited. A simple, often rather basic model
( like a car without satellite navigation) would have less pins in the cylinder and so play fewer and simpler tunes. These are today the lower value models which can be purchased for much less.

A more complicated model with many multiple pin tunes together with bells, drums and cymbals by a maker like Nicole Freres will be at the other end of the money scale.

As a final thought, if contemplating the purchase of one of these beautiful boxes, always view with your ears.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Vinaigrettes

Recently, before Covid, on an Irish holiday of track, trace and view my wife’s relatives, the evening meal found her reminiscing long hot summers (we never seem to remember short cold summers) on the farm and the smell of silage that no one in the farmhouse seemed to notice. I said a vinaigrette would have proved useful, just as they were to the Georgian ladies as they traversed the smelly city streets.

At the end of the 18th century a combination of poor personal hygiene and disastrous sewage control made walking through streets a rather smelly business. Enter the vinaigrette. Used by many in polite society, it was a tiny hinged box which opened to reveal a decorative grill trapping a perfume soaked sponge. When held close to the nostrils the smell was considerably more pleasant than the surrounding odours.

The earliest vinaigrettes were simply the tiny boxes already described. The interior of the box was gilt lined to prevent the acidic liquid from destroying the metal. A side ring would be added, which enabled the owner to wear it as a pendant on a necklace or as part of a bracelet.

As the earliest vinaigrettes were so small their decoration was little more than simple engraving or bright cut patterns. However by the early 19th century vinaigrettes had grown somewhat and now at an enormous 4cms there was room for much more elaborate decoration. They were decorated with intricate scrollwork, flowers and foliage and figural and animal designs. The borders were often cast raised with flowers and shells and the lids could sometimes be engraved with initials or personal Coats of Arms.

The basic rectangular form was eventually abandoned in favour of more exciting shapes and designs. These varied widely from tiny purses and fob watches to books, flowers, fish, animals and shells. These are the details that make the collecting of vinaigrettes such an exciting and vibrant hobby for today’s collector and why they always sell so well in the saleroom.

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

Cutlery

With the advent of the dishwasher the demand for electroplated cutlery has sadly declined. I feel that today’s diners are missing out on the unprecedented joy (perhaps a slight exaggeration) of owning and using such fabulous flatware. That fact aside, the history of cutlery up to the development of electroplate is actually an interesting one.

In medieval Europe most people had a wooden or pewter spoon at home and if visiting friends or relatives they took it with them. The wealthy tended to do the same, but theirs were silver. Later a knife was added, but spoons, especially silver ones, hammered from a single small ingot, have survived in much greater numbers.

With the exception of Apostle spoons, spoons were not made in sets until the end of the 17th century. Many were, however, given as presents on special occasions, which could account for why so many have survived today.

When Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660, he brought with him the idea of setting a table for eating. This was a wonderful idea which not only dispensed with the embarrassment of forgetting one’s spoon when visiting, but also made the whole dining experience much more enjoyable. As with all good ideas though it took many years to catch on and it is unusual to find complete sets of cutlery that date much before the late 18th century.

Individual designs all have their own names. In Britain, the Trefid pattern gave way to the Dog Nose pattern circa 1702. Throughout the 18th century the Hanoverian pattern was followed by the Old English and finally the Fiddle pattern. The 19th century started with the Kings pattern. These patterns and their variants are still produced today.

Collectors have great fun collecting full canteens by matching patterns and periods. What is even more fun is to collect one maker.

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

Murano Glass

As a man with no talent whatsoever for the practical or the artistic, I am both jealous and in awe of the lucky gifted individuals who possess these gifts. The world of art and design is full to overflowing of just such talented individuals and Paulo Venini is a perfect example.

Murano is one of a compact group of Venetian islands and has been manufacturing glass since the eleventh century. Glassmakers were forced out of Venice for two main reasons. Firstly because of the ever present risk of fire and secondly to keep some of their most innovative techniques secret.

The eleventh century is a long time ago and from then until now Murano has seen some of the best glassmakers in the world. One of the very best came along in the early twentieth century, his name was Paulo Venini and he was born in 1895.

In adult life Venini was a disillusioned lawyer and he gave it all up to become a glassmaker. In 1921 he purchased a partnership in the Murano glasshouse of Glacomo Cappelin and by 1925 he had overall control and renamed it Venini and Company.

He abandoned the Revivalist styles of other Venetian glasshouses, but never departed from the essential traditions of Venetian glass. Very quickly he established himself as the leading manufacturer of high quality decorative and table glass in Italy.

Not only was Venini brilliant, he employed some brilliant designers. Such people as Taplo, Wirkkala and Ponti.

When he died, the factory was taken over by his widow and his son in law, Ludovico de Santillana and the tradition for excellence lived on.

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

Ming Porcelain

Ming porcelain is always worth a small fortune. Such a bold statement and so wrong. It is however, a view very commonly held. Why is it incorrect?

To begin with the Ming Dynasty lasted from 1386 to 1644, which is almost 300 years, a very long time to produce an awful lot of pots. But an enormous amount of Ming porcelain is poor quality, provincially produced and naively painted and this together with the fact that they have no reign mark, adversely affects their value.

Taking the “reign” mark a step further, for a piece to have high value it must be a “mark” and “period” piece. The mark is the reign mark on a piece and is composed of symbols that denote emperors. These marks can easily be researched and identified.

The problem is the period. The habit of putting earlier reign marks on Chinese porcelain is common and was practiced for hundreds of years. It is not unusual, therefore, to find an 18th century item with a 15th century mark.

An item made during the reign of the emperor whose mark is on the base is referred to as “mark and period” and the value is often increased twofold or threefold. Better quality pieces which are mark and period are very much rarer than the provincial Ming and are highly prized by collectors.

These highly prized pieces are highly priced and that is the sort of piece people refer to when they ask expectantly “is it Ming?”

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

Marriages

As if she doesn’t have enough to do, my wife is a regular reader of my weekly missive and I have to say, an all too regular critic. As this weeks subject is marriage I feel it is therefore important to get a few things into the open in the first paragraph. I am a faithful and loving husband. Admittedly I don’t cook anything, but I have other more important attributes. There, that seems to cover things nicely.

The reason I mention this is obviously to say how wonderful married life is, but also to say some pieces of furniture are also married and it is something to watch out for. A “marriage” is the term used to describe furniture that has been “made up” from different pieces, often of a similar date.

Most frequently seen on bureau cabinets and bureau bookcases, but also on larger bookcases, marriages are usually betrayed by differences in colour, grain and quality of the timber, particularly on the sides. As a rule the backboards on genuine pieces should closely resemble one another, both in timber used and in construction techniques.

Married pieces are often out of proportion, showing a visual imbalance between joined parts. In addition, they can often be identified by an examination of the junction of the top and base sections, which may not fit tightly.

On veneered furniture, a marriage may be apparent when the top section is removed. The veneer should not extend far beyond the point where the base meets the top. Finally, a genuine piece will display a stylistic union and decorative embellishments should be identical in both design and execution.

In this instance furniture mirrors life and there are good and bad marriages. A good marriage doesn’t shout at you though it just is a good marriage.

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

Hallmarks

A friend recently asked me to look at a silver tea service he had acquired in a distant relative’s will. Apparently he always played with it as a small child. Not remembering the tea service and hardly remembering the relative, he was however interested in it’s history and I think more importantly it’s value. Sadly I was a disappointment to him as what looked to him like hallmarks were not and the service was silver plated not silver. The value therefore was greatly reduced. In an attempt to appear interested after his let down he asked the question, “Well what exactly is silver and how can you tell?”

Pure silver is too soft to be practical and is therefore combined with small amounts of copper. Ideal proportions of 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper have been used in Britain since the 13th century and this is Sterling silver. The use of Sterling silver is enforced by The WorshipfulI Company of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths and the proof of the purity of the metal is punched into items, making hallmarks.

In Britain, a hallmark generally consists of the Sterling mark (the lion passant) together with symbols to denote place of assay, date and maker. Full hallmarks are present on the main body of an item and detachable parts such as lids, but part hallmarks are used for other areas such as handles, which could be separated by removing a screw or pin.

By 1300 the hallmark was made compulsory and in 1363 every Silversmith had to have their own mark. Originally the first two letters of a Silversmiths surname were used and then from around 1720, the initials of the first name and surname became more common and are still used 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