+44 (0)1428 653727 sales@johnnicholsons.com


The extended legacy of the Duke of Edinburgh

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, although anticipated owing to his great age, nevertheless came as a bit of a shock as he seemed to be rallying after hospital treatment.

Tributes have poured in for what was a remarkable life in many ways, from its beginnings among the fading vestiges of European royalty swept away in the First World War and Bolshevik revolution to its completion as the standard setter for royal protocol globally.

Sacrifice, duty, honour and commitment were all instantly recognisable qualities in Prince Philip, who carved a path through life like no one before or since.

He was also innovative, forward-thinking, clever and brave, with little patience for time wasters or laziness.

With so much experience and having been central to so many memorable events as he supported the Queen over almost 75 years, what he saw and heard along the way would make the most fascinating biography. He is said to have kept meticulous records for posterity. If he approached them with the same no-holds-barred acerbic wit that he approached life, then they would be a best seller in the making. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for that.

Meanwhile, such close attention of a royal life like this can also have the power to create new fascination in nascent collectors. Items linked with royalty can already make very significant sums at auction. Reflections on the Duke of Edinburgh’s life may well encourage a new generation of fans to join the fray.


Why it can pay to turn detective at auction

Detective fiction, whether in print or on the screen, is possibly the most popular fiction of all. Think of everything from Agatha Christie to Line of Duty and you get the picture. Like crossword puzzles and treasure hunts, they challenge while entertaining, allowing the reader/viewer to exercise their “leetle grey cells”, as Hercule Poirot would say, as they try to guess whodunnit, as well as how and why, before the denouement reveals all.

In some ways, cataloguing items for auction present the specialist with the same challenge and excitement. The mystery can range from what an item is – we have had a few of those – to who originally owned it and where it came from.

If you consider that the value of an object can be heavily influenced by its past associations, finding out as such as you can becomes a vital task, especially if you are thinking of putting your own possessions up for auction.

In recent years, discovery stories that have made the headlines have often involved an old vase or plate that turns out to be an ancient Chinese rarity worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions.

One of my favourite stories involved the sale of a piano. Bought by the niece of the woman who had previously owned it for just $25, she discovered that one of the pedals kept sticking. On having it repaired, she found that what was causing the problem was a secret stash of 100 antique baseball cards, which appeared to have been concealed for 80 years – probably hidden by one of the previous owner’s children.

Among the cards was a real rarity of the great Babe Ruth. That card alone later sold for $130,000.

So keep your eyes peeled and get your magnifying glass out.

The unparalleled legacy of Sir William Henry Fox Talbot

The most expensive sold at auction for over $6.5 million; around one trillion are taken every day thanks to the ubiquity of the Smart phone; nearly all of us have taken them and own them. Few things are familiar to the average person than the photograph.

They are windows on the past, and where they have been faithfully reproduced rather than tampered with, provide us with the earliest unfettered and unfiltered clues to how we once lived.

When it comes to collecting, I can’t think of another discipline that it is as accessible or fascinating to the masses.

Vernacular or street photography has long been popular, never more so since then discovery of the extraordinary archive left by the unknown Vivian Maier (1926-2009), an American nanny who pursued a secret career as a street photographer for 40 years and whose work can now sell for thousands. From Victorian cartes de visites to anonymous everyday subjects that sell on eBay for a few pounds, this is a craze that keeps growing and keeps on giving.

So it is with some excitement that original works by the father of modern photography Sir William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77) come to auction at Sotheby’s in April.

Featuring people, objects and places, including his celebrated home, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, the images date back to the early 1840s and include one of Lady Elisabeth Feilding c.1841, who was born in 1773, three years before the American Revolution.

Photographs bring local history alive. Precious relics, they create a unique connection that never existed before Fox Talbot and his fellow pioneers worked out how to fix those images in permanent form.



Some reassuring statistics about the British art market

If you’ve ever wondered how much money is spent on art, antiques and collectables around the world each year, we have just been told: $50 billion. That may sound a lot, but to put that in perspective, the annual spend of the entire global art market is less than the market capitalisation value of all top 16 companies in the FTSE 100.

The value of the annual global art market has risen to almost $68 billion before, but as with nearly all other forms of commerce, the pandemic has taken its toll. Nonetheless, as this column has noted in recent months, art and antiques auctions have entered a booming new era thanks to the rapid acceleration of adoption of online sales.

The $50 billion figure was announced in mid-March by Arts Economics, the research company behind the eagerly anticipated Art Basel report, the Rolls Royce annual assessment of the art market and what is happening to it.

One of the report’s headline claims that online-only sales at auction doubled in the past year. Another was that although UK sales as a whole fell by 22% to $9.9 billion, it still held on to its top-three spot after the US and China as the world’s most important market for art and antiques.

It’s reassuring to know that even in troubled times, the knowledge, skill and expertise of British art market professionals still shines through.