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Steve McQueen, that film and that car…

It is still considered the greatest car chase in film history, but 50 years on, what has happened to the car itself? That has long been the question about the amazing Mustang driven by the legendary Steve McQueen in Bullitt, the 1968 movie that all petrolheads will remember so fondly.

When shooting was over, one of the studio executives bought the car, then sold it to a police officer who later shipped it to New York, where he sold it on for $6000 in 1974 via a small ad in a magazine. From there the trail went cold… until now.

Half a century on, and in time for the 50th anniversary of the film’s release, the Mustang has re-emerged and is now valued at $3 million to $5 million!

The owner, Sean Kiernan, is the son of the man who bought it back in ’74 as a car for his wife to use on a daily basis. After six years, when the clutch went, they put it in the garage, and there it remained. McQueen had been in contact in 1977, hoping to buy it back at a reasonable price, but the family ignored his approach. Now Sean has made it roadworthy once more – while maintaining the bodywork untouched – to celebrate the film’s half century. Odds-on it won’t be long before it turns up at auction.

The magic of Allingham now at the Watts Gallery

I’m very proud to say that our saleroom in Fernhurst has been the scene of several memorable auctions of the works of Helen Allingham in recent years. This remarkable artist, who lived in Sandhills near Brook and died in Haslemere in 1926, was an inspiration for Vincent Van Gogh, no less, who studied her illustrations in The Graphic newspaper, which included those for the serialisation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874.

It was while she lived in this area that Allingham conceived her extraordinary and heart-stoppingly beautiful scenes of rural life, perhaps most notably her cottage scenes, with herbaceous borders and country maids.

Such was her talent that in 1886 she became the first woman awarded a solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London. Entitled Surrey Cottages, it depicted scenes in Witley, Haslemere and other villages stretching towards Dorking from Guildford. Just four years later, in 1890, she was the first woman admitted to full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society.

Since November, The Watts Gallery in Compton has been championing Allingham in a dedicated exhibition that runs until February 18. It is a must-see, so if you haven’t visited it yet, take some time off this Sunday or next and make the trip. The teas – and especially the home-made cakes – at the gallery add to the pleasure.

Home is where the art is

I visited a friend’s new house over the holidays. He’s pretty wealthy and had spent the past two years having it built to a Dynasty meets Dallas spec dreamed up by his wife. A marble palace with every latest technological convenience, including a home cinema with surround sound, it shouted money and luxury. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, to me, it was rather a depressing sight: not an antique, collectable or decent picture in sight; no atmosphere and all the charm of a mausoleum. Every room was vast, with brand new furniture that cost a bomb yet added nothing. Despite the digitally controlled heating system it was a cold place. I’m not saying that everyone should follow my taste, but as far as I’m concerned a house should, first and foremost, be a home, not a platform for showing off.

When I look at what a decent piece of 18th century, hand-crafted furniture can do to lift the spirits of a 20th century living room, or how a well-framed Modern British print can add focus to a hallway, it tells me that the world of antiques is here to stay in 2018 and beyond. When you consider the money lavished on my friend’s contemporary vision, art and antiques at auction look like a very good bargain indeed. Happy New Year.

Time is of the essence

The International Date Line, separating yesterday from today, or today from tomorrow, moved seven years ago. In 2011, Samoa lost December 30, moving straight to New Year’s Eve from December 29, so that instead of being 23 hours behind New Zealand and 21 hours behind Australia, it shifted to one and three hours ahead.

In leaping ahead of the rest of the world, Samoa aligned with its two most important markets. Until then it shared only four working days a week with them, so while everyone was at church on Sunday in Samoa, Monday business was roaring ahead in NZ and Oz.

There was a price to pay, however. Samoa had long attracted tourists who were able to stand on the rocky promontory that is Cape Mulinu’u and gaze across the International Date Line into tomorrow, just 20 miles away. Not any more.

Such is the ethereal nature of time, which evaporates into the ether without man to intervene with the steady hand of a ticking clock. And so it is with antiques at auction. The common definition of antique: something over 100 years old.

For the time being that discounts Art Deco and any number of other collectable genres. Nonetheless, despite the absence of any physical change, there is something magical about the moment the clock ticks past the century marker to transform a wonderful object into a wonderful antique object.