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.

Shelley

Last week I looked at the incredible rise in popularity of 1960s teak furniture and this week I open with the demise in popularity of so many 19th and 20th century porcelain factories. Not however the products emanating from the doors of the Shelley factory, these have always kept their appeal.

The Shelley factory, established in 1872, was first known as Wileman & Co., then as Foley and as Shelley from 1925, becoming Shelley Potteries Ltd. in 1929 and finally Shelley China Ltd. in 1965.

Shelley, under the direction of Art Director, Frederick Rhead, produced a number of hand painted earthenware grotesques, animals and Toby jugs in the 1890s which were deliberately made to look ugly. These achieved great success, but it was not until the 1920s that Shelley pieces achieved their ultimate success. Their high quality Art Deco tableware became famous with the help of a national advertising campaign.

After the Art Deco success came the figures of fairies and other characters, as well as nursery wares based on the illustrations of Mabel Lucie Attwell.

Shelley pieces are always popular in auctions and the two main collecting areas are the Art Deco tea wares and the Mabel Lucie Attwell related pieces, which tend to represent children, the clergy and golfers.

Although Shelley figures are amongst the strangest ever produced they are still very collectable. The most interest tends to be in the chubby cheeked child studies accompanied by fairy folk. Many of these are modelled riding a variety of animals and birds, or standing on toadstools, sometimes with the addition of rabbits.

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.

Teddy Bears

Many years ago when, believe it or not, I was young, I recall early evening searches through the garden shrubbery in search of our eldest daughter’s small panda, as she would not sleep without him. I wonder how many parents, over the years, have done the self same thing. Many, I think and mostly I suspect in search of teddy bears.

America has always laid claim to being the birthplace of the “Teddy Bear”. Why is this? Well on a hunting trip in 1902 it is reputed that the then president Teddy Roosevelt, when having a perfect opportunity to shoot a bear, declined the shot refusing to kill the bear. It is then said that Morris Michtom made a small commemorative bear and gave it to the president in commemoration of the incident. This was Teddy’s bear.

It is though Germany who can lay claim to the most famous teddy bear maker of all; Margarete Steiff, who was producing jointed bears from 1902. A Steiff bear has the trademark “Steiff” embossed on a small white metal button in its ear. Classic Steiff bears have ears that are small, cupped and set wide apart, noses with horizontal stitching joining an upturned Y-shaped mouth and paws featuring four (or five on very early bears) stitched claws. An early Steiff bear in good and original condition can realise many thousands of pounds.

When teddy bear mania arrived in Britain, existing toy manufacturers began to produce their own teddies. The banning of German imports during the First World War led to an increase in the number of British makers including Chad Valley, Farnell and Deans.

By the Second World War British bears had become plumper with shorter legs and fatter faces. Synthetic fibres replaced the mohair plush. British bears always realise less than their German counterparts but still are and always have been very popular with collectors.

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

Paperweights

Recently, while discussing cars I have owned with a friend, I was reminded of a 1995 Land Rover Discovery I was driving in 1997 when we spent one of the worst holidays of our married life somewhere in the middle of France. My wife ended up in hospital 40 miles away from our cottage for the whole of the second week, our youngest wet the bed and we had to buy a new mattress and on the way home we learnt of Princess Diana’s demise. I still, however, love France and particularly French paperweights.

The French glasshouses of Baccarat, Clichy and St Louis were responsible for some of the finest and most inventive paperweights produced between 1845 and 1860. A limited number of English paperweights were made at about the same time at George Bacchus & Sons in Birmingham and examples of these in good condition can often realise high prices.

The main types of decoration are millefiori meaning “thousand flowers” and lampworking. Millefiori requires glass rods or canes arranged concentrically, formally or randomly before being cut and imbedded within clear glass. Those that include silhouette canes featuring animals and birds are always at a premium, as are dated examples.

Lampworking involves individually sculpted flowers, butterflies, fruit and reptiles, including snakes, made in coloured glass using a direct heat source before being captured in glass. Some of the most desirable weights are then overlaid with white and or coloured glass and facet cut to reveal the design inside.

The condition of a paperweight is important. Bruises and chips will make a paperweight undesirable to collect and therefore they will limit its value. Size is also important, in particular magnums at 10cm and miniatures, which are less than 5cm, are the most popular with collectors.

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

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

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

Secretaires

When our habits change the furniture and furnishings we surround ourselves with also change. A sad truth of modern life is that many eat their meals in the comfort of an arm chair beside the television and so demand for the dining table diminishes. A similar fate effects the secretaire and the bureau. In the age of emails and the internet few need the writing surface or book storage they provide any more.

I fully appreciate that in the modern home a large piece of ‘brown’ furniture that serves no useful purpose will not be on many lists of intended purchases, but it just seems such a shame for the poor old secretaire. What a wonderful piece of furniture it is.

During the 18th century the most fashionable item of writing furniture was the bureau, but the chest with a straight fronted writing drawer continued to be an alternative. Two buttons at each side of the drawer dropped the front to reveal a writing interior every bit as exciting as that of the bureau. The secretaire drawer gradually increased in depth and the chest was often surmounted by a bookcase.

The usefulness of the secretaire bookcase or secretaire cabinet ensured that it continued to be made throughout the 19th century, with infinite variations of detail in the style of pediments, glazing patterns and surface decoration.

The French developed the secretaire à battant in the late 18th century and it is generally considered more sophisticated than the British version. It was a full, flat, fall front cabinet, resting on a chest of drawers or cupboard, often constructed as one piece rather than two separate. As with everything though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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

Pembroke Tables

The Dowse Chest. This is a chest of drawers named after a twentieth century auctioneer from Sheffield who commissioned a chest of drawers with special handles and a new design of drawer closing. Through the following centuries the chest was always referred to as the Dowse Chest, with auction house catalogues using its proper name. I wonder just how special that would be. My grandfather has a street named after him, but this would be a piece of furniture.

All fantasy (except Dowse Avenue) but it makes you wonder how excited Lady Pembroke must have been, or perhaps she took it all in her stride. The history books never tell us that do they.

The use of a proper name in the description of a piece of furniture usually derives from an original commission and in this case the Countess of Pembroke required a “type of breakfast table with small drop leaves” and that is what she ordered. Eating breakfast from her table must have done her a power of good, because born in 1737, she continued to eat breakfast until her death, in her nineties, in 1831.

The Pembroke table is exactly as the Countess described. The drop leaves are usually about half the size of the top and four legs support the top, which usually boasts a drawer and a dummy drawer. Later, in George III reign, some Pembroke tables had a centre pedestal instead of four legs.

The Pembroke table is a very useful and an often underrated item. It can be used as a decorative side table, displaying ornaments and photographs, or as a small dining table seating four in comfort. This table was made from the mid 18th century and continued through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

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