As we all know, snow can be your friend or foe, depending on whether you are a ten-year-old hoping for an unexpected day off school or the parent desperate to make sure lessons go ahead.
For me though, when I looked out of the window on Monday to see the season’s first fall, despite the difficulties even a few inches of the stuff can cause in getting things and people to and from our Fernhurst saleroom, the beauty of the landscape was enhanced further by the effect this type of weather has had on the collectables and the auction market. From snowshoes and skates to early skiwear, sporting specialists can plough a furrow in this fairly narrow collecting field, but the area that interests me is the one that has a much wider appeal: ski posters.
Christie’s pioneered these sales from 1982 and have built a healthy following of wealthy collectors looking to decorate their ski chalets or homes. Now others have joined the fray, realising that these fabulous pieces of art appeal well beyond the traditional collecting fraternity.
Resorts – Gstaad, Davos, St Moritz – artists, subject matter, condition and age can all have an impact on values. The colour, dynamism and graphic quality of these pieces make them burst with life, and prices for the best now reach well into five figures. Still, compared with other markets, that is pretty affordable.
Three of the lots that came up in our first December sale brought to mind one of the greatest ‘might have been’ moments in sporting history. They were a framed boxing glove signed by Henry Cooper, another by Muhammad Ali, and a programme for a 1974 dinner in honour of Ali, signed by both boxers.
The pair fought each other twice, in 1963 and 1966, but it is the first bout that made history. Ali was 20lbs heavier and had a 4½in advantage on his reach, but it was Cooper who drew first blood in the first round with his aggressive punching.
Ali fought back and by the fourth round Cooper’s brow was bleeding heavily, but he famously lifted Ali from the canvas with a left hook, with the American only being saved by the ropes, which he slid down, and then the bell.
What came next remains one of the most controversial moments in boxing history. Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee called the referee over to Ali’s corner to show him where the boxer’s glove had split. The interval had to be extended 20 seconds as they found new gloves, giving Ali more time to recover, before he went on to beat Cooper when the referee stopped the fight in the next round because of Cooper’s bleeding.
Had Dundee slashed the glove on purpose? We’ll probably never know. But without that delay, many think Cooper could well have KO’d his opponent.
As we turn into the home straight before Christmas, thoughts turn to Advent calendars and I have to say that this year has trumped all others for stretching the imagination and resorting to the ridiculous. The media have rightly been making quite a thing about the commercial exploitation of this corner of the festivities: Asda’s cheese calendar is just the beginning. What about the Edinburgh Gin calendar, complete with 25 miniatures for £100, or the Diptique limited edition calendar filled with skin and bodycare products, a snip at just £300? My favourite example of over-the-top nonsense was the one Porsche put on show in Harrods seven years ago: retail price $1m.
It’s all a far cry from the calendar’s rather restrained origins in Germany in the 19th century. Simple images posted behind the doors of a cardboard calendar dominated for decades until the first chocolate-filled calendars started to appear in the 1940s.
The market has now turned full circle, with reproductions of the traditional vintage German calendars available for sale.
Although there is quite a market in Christmas collectibles, Advent calendars remain a rather muted corner of it, but with the variety on offer now, especially some of the more unusual limited edition varieties, this is an area of collecting whose potential has yet to be fully exploited.
On November 25, 1952 what has since become the world’s longest continuously running play in history opened for the first time at The Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End. The world premiere of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap had taken place just over seven weeks earlier in Nottingham, but it was at The Ambassadors and then, from March 25, 1974, next door at The St Martin’s Theatre, where it continues to this day, that the play has enjoyed it unbroken run.
The production’s first star was Richard Attenborough, whose contractual arrangements meant that the programme billed him as appearing “By arrangement with the Boulting Brothers”, the successful duo who had discovered him and helped make his name in the 1948 film version of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and would continue to put him on the screen for the next decade.
The programme also promoted other theatrical productions, including Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in The Sleeping Prince at the Phoenix Theatre and Trevor Howard in The Cherry Orchard at The Lyric, Hammersmith – Halcyon days for theatre indeed!
Occasionally one of these rare debut programmes comes onto the market. The original price was sixpence, or 2½p in new money. Now it is a very achievable £10 or so – still, a reasonable uplift of 40,000% over the intervening 65 years.