Ten years ago today, the first retrospective exhibition of West German ceramics of the 1960s & 70s, featuring the Graham Cooley Collection, closed at the King’s Lynn Arts Centre. Over 500 ceramics were included, and over 3,500 people came to visit. It was accompanied by a catalogue of the same title, written by me, of which three editions, totalling several thousand copies, have now sold out. Together they launched ‘Fat Lava’ into the world. As well as bringing these ceramics together for the first time, the exhibition and book also revealed factory and designer names, ranges – and the sheer variety available out there. Since then, the term has gone on to become commonplace in the retro, vintage, collectables and antiques world. No vintage or 20thC design shop in the Western world worth its salt hasn’t handled at least a few, or has some in stock, and there are dozens of specialist dealers – and many thousands of collectors. Fat Lava has been featured in prestigious interior design magazines from Elle Decor to World of Interiors, and pieces …

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Wilhelm von Eiff Glass

I’m a great fan of the Glass Fair at Knebworth and The National Glass Fair, and have been a regular visitor (and buyer!) since it was based in Cambridge years ago. They promise over 300 years in glass in one day, and they and the dealers who attend have always delivered it too. It’s the sheer variety available – there truly is something for everyone. I’m always on the look out for pieces that are unusual, rare and of a certain quality and I certainly found something that fulfills all those aspects last time. It was the small size of 5in (12cm) and finish that first caught my eye. The matte finish caught the light, and it almost glowed white. Looking closer, the finely-worked detail provided a feast for the eyes and for the mind. The pleasingly proportioned body is carved and engraved nearly all over with frieze of a man, a kneeling woman holding a bowl, two lions and a tree. The style perfectly combines the Antique with Art Deco – it’s a little …

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Helen Grunwald Painting Thumbnail

I’ve been collecting inexpensive pictures, and etchings in particular, since I was about 15 or 16 years old. I’m sure my friends thought I was weird. In fact, I know they did. What attracted me, apart from the prices I could afford as a schoolboy, was that there was usually a story of some sort lurking behind. Be it about the artist, the place, the person or the scene depicted, or any combination of them. Some two and half decades later, I’m still doing that. It’s fun and leads me down avenues of learning I’d otherwise never know even existed. Wandering around my local auction house recently, I spotted this rather murky brown, abstracted oil on board, mounted on a hessian covered board, described simply as ‘A Helen Grunwald oil on board religious study.‘ I knew nothing about the artist, but she appeared a few times in a quick Google search. I spotted a few other groups of rather good and more finished paintings and drawings of London scenes, and left low bids on them all. Which wasn’t …

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Millers Collectables Price Guide 2016

Now in it’s 27th year, the all new edition of the Miller’s Collectables Handbook & Price Guide is hot off the presses, having been published this week. I say all new, because every edition is entirely new – over 4,000 completely different collectables hand-selected by Judith and I are featured in glorious technicolour in this 432-page book. This means that every edition builds to create a unique library of collectables from across the world. Each and every item is accompanied by a price guide, a full description and often extra information, expert opinion, and tricks of the trade to help you become a canny buyer and seller. Features such as ‘Judith Picks‘, ‘Mark Picks‘, ‘A Closer Look At…‘ and ‘Miller’s Compares‘ enable you to learn more about why one object can fetch ten times the price of a (seemingly) similar one. Forthermore, hundreds of footnotes draw more of the veil back, giving easy to understand and practical tips on buying, selling – and spotting a bargain. All the collectables featured are taken from verified dealers, auctioneers and …

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Milvia Flower Painter

The identity of the so-called ‘Flower Painter’, who decorated a wide range of mid-century modern Italian ceramics with quirky, colourful and cool stick people, animals and other objects during the 1950s & 60s, has long been a mysterious enigma. When building Graham Cooley’s ground-breaking ‘Alla Moda’ exhibition of 2012, and when I was compiling my book during the previous few years, nothing could be found about the identity of the artist behind these distinctive and characterful works. Over the years since then, a couple of collectors have guessed, and some have suggested leads based on other marks found on ceramics. The lead that had the most potential led to a company called Il Quadrifoglio, based in Florence. You can learn more about that by clicking here and reading my blog post. The evidence found suggested that the mark wasn’t in fact a flower, but it was a four-leafed clover – which matches the Il Quadrifoglio (four leaves) company name. There were also two intriguing names connected with the designs – ‘Milvia’ and ‘Simmo’. I was …

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It’s not the sort of thing that I’d buy usually, but it was the artwork on this packet of 1940s Atomaid Hosiery nylon stockings that caught my eye. At first I almost thought it was a modern ‘vintage’ joke, but looking closer, it was clear from the material of, and wear on, the packaging that this was a period piece. For £3, I couldn’t say no! So what’s the story here? Before the 1940s, a lady couldn’t step outside her home without wearing stockings. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to be bare-legged in public, unless sunbathing at the beach. Coloured darker than skin, silk was the most common material used until the proliferation of Nylon, developed by Wallace Carothers at DuPont in 1935, and Rayon which was developed decades earlier. Nylon snagged less, so held up and lasted longer than silk, even if it was less shiny. They were also a good fit, as the packet shouts, ‘SUPER QUALITY – SUPER SHEER – SUPER FIT’. During World War II, such materials were …

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Primitive Indian Doll Head

I don’t usually buy wooden things, but I always pick up and look at things that catch my eye, regardless of what they are made of, or even are. There’s always something new to learn. Last time I went to the excellent antiques centres at Sawbridgeworth in Essex, I found this rather stern looking lady in the Herts & Essex Antiques Centre, priced at £15. Roughly hewn from from wood, she had a certain naive and primitive charm that said something to me. She also had a very good level of wear and a great patina, indicating that she had some age and had been handled a fair bit. You could say that my rough lady had been around the block a few times… As the Victorian period saw many revivals, and the production of furniture and objects in much earlier styles dating from the 16th century onwards, I thought she might have been made in Europe, maybe Britain, sometime during the 19th century. Perhaps as something that looked like it had been made in the …

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I recently wrote an article for The Daily Mail’s ‘Weekend’ magazine about my experiences behind the scenes of the Antiques Roadshow. Although I still see myself a a ‘new boy’, I’ve been a specialist on the show for nearly a decade now. How time has flown – and what stories have been uncovered and discoveries made! What’s more, the article made the front cover of the magazine. So a couple of us specialists were asked along to a grand house in North London to do a special photoshoot with celebrity photographer Nicky Johnston. You can see one of the results below. We had so much fun! Our much-loved presenter Fiona Bruce was interviewed, along with other experts including Eric Knowles, Joanna Hardy, and Ronnie Archer-Morgan. My article also covers everything from how filming really works to the research we undertake, and from the most valuable finds we’ve ever made to the most bizarre. For me, the most valuable was a Tiffany glass panel filmed at Towneley Hall in Lancashire that could fetch …

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I was once again asked by Homes & Antiques magazine to be part of an expert panel given the nigh-on impossible task of selecting the ’50 Best Antiques & Vintage Shops’ from across the UK. My colleagues were drawn from across the full spectrum of the modern antiques, decorative and vintage industry today and included homeware designer Sophie Conran, vintage specialist Wayne Hemingway, celebrity interior designer Nicky Haslam, and my fellow Antiques Roadshow expert Katherine Higgins. We raided our exclusive ‘little black books’ to come up with a list of ‘must-visits’ whatever your tastes or however deep (or shallow!) your pockets are. Where do you go to find a fabulous mid-century couch? Or an elegant Georgian sideboard? Homes & Antiques magazine’s article has the answers!

Click here to read about the UK’s 50 Best Antiques & Vintage Shops.

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Jonathan Harris Elvis Presley Cameo Graal Vase designed by Mark Hill

Me, Elvis Presley and Jonathan Harris? An unlikely combination, I hear you say. Well, I’d agree, it’s funny how seemingly disparate things can come together for some reason. But, quite often, when they do, amazing things happen. And that’s what happened here. In this instance, it was The British Glass Foundation charity that brought us together. Earlier this year, they set a ‘Doodle Challenge’ and asked celebrities, well-known faces in the glass world and local schools to produce a doodle that would then be translated into glass by a crack team of some of the best glassmasters in the country. Doodles came in from actress Emma Thompson, singers and musicians Frankie Valli, Tony Hadley, Robert Plant and Beverley Knight, chef Raymond Blanc, much-loved and recently knighted comedian Sir Lenny Henry and others. Oh, and BBC Antiques Roadshow specialists and glass addicts Andy McConnell and me. I was delighted when my doodle (left) went to my friend Jonathan Harris, the globally renowned and hugely talented and skilled cameo and graal glass artist. Looking back, he …

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Roger Fry Portrait

They lived in squares, painted circles and loved in triangles.” said American poet and wit Dorothy Parker about the many members of the Bloomsbury Group. A loosely (yet often very closely!) related group of artists, writers, critics, aesthetes, intellectuals and philosophers, I’ve been obsessed with them since school, and relished learning more about them at university. From colourful, avant garde pictures, to novels, biographies and, of course, details of their often complex relationships, this group of colourful people has absolutely fascinated me. I’ve always longed to own a ‘piece of it’ – but it has to be something proper, something real, and preferably something unique. Although I’ve enjoyed reading (and re-reading) books by Virgina Woolf et al, a paperback just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. And somehow a print doesn’t quite work either, which is very unlike me! Wandering around our local auction room last month, I spotted a painting of a young man (above) hanging relatively prominently on the end of a wall. As I passed by, I glanced at the signature – …

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved with the cataloguing, valuation and sale of a small collection of Murano glass once owned by the legendary businessman, politician and collector Lord Alistair McAlpine (1942-2014). Built up from the 1980s-2000s, the collection was acquired by his friend the writer and curator Karun Thakar, who has taken the decision to sell it. iInnovative online auction house The Auction Room (part of a group also including Bloomsbury Auctions, Dreweatts and Mallett)are handling the sale – which is online for viewing and bidding now. The majority of the pieces from the collection were produced by Carlo Moretti, founded in 1958. They’re most notable for their acid-finished matte display and drinking goblets, footed jars and vases in vivid colours such as light blue, yellow or red, which were released c1959. Often lined with translucent white glass, they have an unusual plastic-like appearance typical of the 1960s & 70s. Other notable designs include bi-colour swirls in white and a strong colour, in vase, ashtray and bowl forms. The …

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