Times change and tastes change with them; this is why so many people now confidently claim that brown furniture is dead as a market. I disagree. While some of the heavier monumental pieces in mahogany and other dark woods may struggle to find buyers these days, other lighter designs with clean lines and beautiful proportions can still command strong prices.
Craftsmanship has never been more valued, which in part explains the continuing success of Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson, whose Kilburn workshop turned out a wide range of lovingly carved utilitarian furniture, honed in the Arts and Crafts tradition, embellished with the artisan’s signature mouse.
The Edward Barnsley workshop near Petersfield still creates beautifully crafted works, while bidders will chase pieces by Ernest Gimson and Gordon Russell to the ends of the earth. Don’t even get me started on post-war Scandinavian design!
So what should we look for when trying to predict what will become the valuable antiques and collectables of tomorrow?
Whether it is furniture or any other discipline, I would argue that the same rules apply. To a greater or lesser degree the important factors are rarity, craftsmanship, materials, aesthetic appeal, condition, historic association, maker and condition. Of these, rarity is possibly the best indicator. Apply these measures and you may well start to spot tomorrow’s auction treasures today.
Sometimes collecting and auction values can take a strange turn. While I can understand the potential value of hair and nail clippings from the likes of Elvis Presley and Neil Armstrong – modern day equivalents of holy relics – neither is the sort of thing I would want to buy; but each to their own.
Now we have the extraordinary market in trainers. That’s right, limited edition footwear that has become a billion-dollar-plus collecting market over the past few years. It still follows the same rules as other collectable markets, with values being determined by creator, rarity and association, as well as condition. Strangely, it has close parallels to the limited issue collectable whisky market, with ranges being deliberately engineered to create demand via highly publicised timed releases. Perhaps more importantly, the trainer market is largely populated by young people who have become almost instantly adept at trading in their purchases via specialist apps and platforms.
This is good news because it shows the timeless appeal of collecting and dealing; only the commodities and collectables themselves change, while technology simply adds to the variety of ways in which they can be traded, including online auctions.
Anyone who thinks the antiques market is out fashion is wrong; it’s just that it moves with the times. Hurrah for that.
As The Ashes get underway, all the pundits have been dedicating acres of space to the minutiae of everything from tactics and teams to sledging and spirit. One of my favourite articles is the inevitable All-Time England Ashes XI – the first of these I read this year named Sir Leonard Hutton as captain and included players from as long ago as 1901 (Sydney Barnes) and as recently as 2009 (Andrew Flintoff).
Passions run high and deep when it comes to cricket, so it is no surprise that passions run equally high and deep when a really rare and desirable piece of cricketing memorabilia comes up for sale.
Perfectly timed for this year’s Ashes series is the newly announced sale of a bat once owned by arguably the greatest cricketer ever to emerge from Australia – and possible the greatest cricketer of all of the 20th century: Sir Donald Bradman.
It’s not just any old bat either; alongside Bradman’s signature are the signatures of 16 England players, including that of Douglas Jardine, captain of the notorious Bodyline Ashes series of 1932-33, which is still talked about today.
Picked up for a few hundred dollars by a now unemployed man from New Zealand, the bat is expected to sell for up to $35,000. That still seems cheap to me.
As Edinburgh prepares for the world’s biggest culture festival, its bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants will doubtless be stocking up to feed and water the estimated 400,000 visitors who will descend on them before and after they have satisfied their hunger for music, theatre and comedy. Doubtless, too, one of the most popular drinks to be downed will be whisky, a drink that gets its name from the gaelic usquebaugh, or ‘water of life’.
As the market for whisky shows today, this is no old man’s drink. Imbibers and collectors are often in their twenties and thirties, and the auction and investment markets for whisky see active buyers from these age groups too – more so than the wine industry.
In fact, for all the fuss made over gin in recent years, whisky has stolen a march on it as a collecting and investment marketplace.
Many other nations have been getting in on the act and making their own to a very high standard, from England Wales to, most notably, Japan and Australia.
Really, whisky operates two markets: one in age-old rare bottles and casks left over from defunct distilleries or held back as one-off specials from decades ago; and another comprising short-run bottlings or casks, often to celebrate anniversaries or special occasions.
With Bourbon, rye whiskey and other creations adding to the mix, this is an exciting market to become involved in.