Last Thursday Alfie’s Antiques Market in Church St, Marylebone, London hit a major anniversary when it turned 40. It’s almost as old as me! A day of festivities, including a lecture on 20thC Glass given by me, culminated in an intimate party, held as part of the London Design Festival. Exhibiting in a pop-up shop was London’s glass legend, Peter Layton, who was also celebrating 40 years of business by selling some of his newest designs in stunning black and white, as well as much-loved favourites including jewellery and his gorgeous Aeriel range of stone-forms and dropper bottles. The Antiques Young Guns also created a pop-up shop just 2 minutes walk away, with a varied stock that showcased the future of antiques, from posters to taxidermy to 18th & 19thC furniture and decorative accessories. For those into antiques, fashion, jewellery, mid-century modern design, and collectables with a leaning towards the 20th century, I can’t emhasise how wonderful and unique Alfie’s is – especially in this day and age of identical high streets across the world. I’ve …

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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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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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West German pottery of the 1960s & 70s, better known as Fat Lava, is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or hate it – there’s no middle ground. Although I’ve seen huge installations in art galleries and stylish illustrations produced for magazines or calendars, I haven’t seen much other ‘art’ produced with it as a subject. Until today, when I was contacted by artist, bookbinder, framer, and ex-particle physics doctor, Joseph Lilley. Inspired by my book and his own burgeoning ceramics collection, he’s produced a series of prints in saturated, vivid, almost neon, clashing colours that capture the avant garde brightness of the ceramics themselves and are perhaps as shocking to our eyes today as the ceramics were when they first came out. I also rather like the way they are placed against a curtain, almost like some of the (often hilarious) staged family portraits of the period. To get the distinct look, Lilley used a Risograph machine. About this, he says, “This technology was designed for economical high volume printing …

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A few years ago, I bought a Minton majolica tile (above and below) at auction that, according to the handwritten labels on the back (see below), had a rather interesting provenance to the Great Exhibition of 1851. I wrote a blog post about it appealing for more information, which you can read by clicking here. I had a few helpful responses shortly after but was delighted to hear very recently from Michael Spender, a tile collector and the Museum and Arts Manager at Poole Museum. He was the original owner of my tile and had researched it and the other, similar tiles he owned. He wrote about his discoveries in 2004 in Glazed Expressions, the magazine of TACS, the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society. Michael was kind enough to pass on scans of the article and here is what I learnt from reading his in-depth research. Michael traced the source of the design of a stylised flower-head in an ogee arch to a row of tiles shown in an illustration …

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Having missed the opportunity last year, I was delighted to be able to attend the annual Hornsea Pottery collectors’ event last week, held as part of the Hornsea Freeport‘s ‘Nostalgia’ weekend. Organised by the Hornsea Pottery Collectors & Research Society, the busy event sees exchange of information and new learnings, as well as allowing members to buy and sell, and build their collections. My weekend started with a visit to the Hornsea Museum, in the charming seaside town of Hornsea itself. I was driven there by Pauline Coyle, author of the official biography of John Clappison, Hornsea’s lead designer (see below). This museum, contained in two pretty converted cottages, must be one of the best maintained and best organised small museums I’ve ever been to – and it’s all run by volunteers. The passion the curator Carol Harker and her team exude just shines through! Over 2,000 examples of Hornsea pottery made from 1949-2012 are organised by decade and type, with each smart cabinet containing carefully curated and beautifully displayed ranges of pottery. You …

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One of the aspects I love about my job the most is finding objects I love but don’t know anything about. It’s almost like a challenge – the piece taunts and teases me. Who am I? Where was I made? Who designed and produced me? When? What do I mean? Often looking at them periodically over a long period of time yields something I hadn’t spotted or considered, or else I stumble across something that helps as I go about my job and daily life. Although there’s a huge amount of rubbish to be found on the internet, sometimes just posting something and ‘putting it out there’, or scanning through Google Images helps too. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant lead can yield something. You just need to know where to start or, more precisely, where to start looking. My latest acquisition is this striking terracotta plaque, showing two men, one crouching and one standing above him holding sheaves of paper and with an eagle perched on his shoulder. The Communist star can be seen on the right hand side, …

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Stuff With A Story…

The other week I had an interesting conversation over dinner with one of my Roadshow colleagues at the first Roadshow of the most recent, and 37th, season. It’s one that held great resonance for me personally, as I’m a believer in synchronicity and this isn’t the first time this subject had come up. This particular colleague has had a shop for many years, having given up a lucrative job in the city ages ago to pursue his passions of dealing in and working with antiques.

The core of our conversation was about the importance of the story behind an object, which could variously (but obtusely) be described as its authenticity or its provenance. Loosely described, what we were delighted to discover we shared was a belief that people are returning to wanting to own objects that actually mean something, that have a story behind them and that aren’t just beautiful to behold.

For many years now, the visual appearance of most antiques sold has been more important than any story behind it. Although always affected by fashion, antiques have now …

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I’m sad to report that, due to serious illness, my friend the pioneering Fat Lava collector and dealer Stuart Brownrigg is having to close his amazing stand at Bygone Times in Lancashire. To that end, he will be hosting a ‘25% off everything’ sale commencing on Sunday March 9th, 2014. Both Stuart and his stand (shown below) are well known amongst the collecting community, and it has also featured on two top BBC TV shows about collecting, retro and antiques. All West & East German pottery is included in the sale, and you’ll also find an amazing selection of Italian, French and British ceramics. There is also a good selection of art glass available. Stuart will be manning his stand at Bygone Times on the first day of the sale and can then be there on other days by prior arrangement. He needs your help to sell upwards of 3000 pieces! So come along all for those bargains as there’ll be something for everyone, regardless of your budget, and EVERYTHING MUST GO! For more information, please contact Stuart by email …

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As a typical Aquarian, I always favour the underdog. I love the unsung, the hated and the ignored. Wandering around the Portobello Gallery of contemporary art and crafts with my wonderful uncle and aunt on the stunningly picturesque Otago Peninsula, I spotted a couple of cabinets of vintage New Zealand studio pottery. As the banker was temporarily elsewhere and couldn’t enforce my ban on antiques while on this holiday, I dived swiftly, somewhat reminiscent of a hawk spotting a mouse in a field below. There was a fair bit of Crown Lynn, one of New Zealand’s most collectable names in 20thC pottery, but I wanted something more unusual. I went through a number of different companies until my eyes rested on a rather unusual double-handed cup. I was also a little peckish, and the swirling colours reminded me of fudge, toffee, cream and chocolate. That, the two handles and the fact it was ‘solidly proportioned’ (at 3in or 7.5cm high) made it seem like something I’d want to drink a hot chocolate out of on …

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Is ‘Antiques’ The Right Word?

“Antiques. I can’t afford them and I don’t understand them.”

Much has been made recently about the difficult state of the antiques market. In an increasingly fast-paced world led by interiors magazines and the pure, hard drive of commerce from high street and retail park retailers, some say antiques have fallen by the wayside. Even more so as these retailers build their offerings of new versions of the objects we love, buy and sell.

For many, the very word ‘antiques’ conjures up images of polishing heavy brown furniture, tweed covered gentlefolk from the shires, and the tick-tock of a grandfather clock in an otherwise silent antiques shop ruled by a rather grumpy looking dealer engrossed a newspaper. All once appealing, but now not so to much of the public. Then there’s granny’s china cabinet, bursting at the hinges with trinkets and bibelots. “Look, but don’t touch anything!” she cries as she serves a cup of tea in her precious tea service. “It’s very old you know, it used to belong to my granny, so be careful!” She says with a …

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I need help!

It’s a thorny one, this. I might not make many new friends, but dealers, auction house specialists and other ‘experts’ (if you really want to use that word) will undoubtedly nod knowingly. They may even sigh in agreement.

Let me start this off by saying that, like any normal, adjusted and sociable human being, most people who work in antiques, collectables and 20thC design are happy to help. They count themselves lucky to be working in the area they do, they enjoy it, and they’re keen to encourage others to find the magic they did. Thinking commercially, they may even gain a new client in the future. A rich seam of passion ready for mining runs through. But the problem comes when this help, be it a value, more information or advice on places to sell, is perceived as a free public service.

Take a fair, any antiques fair. A dealer is behind his or her stand, eagerly checking out the passing crowd around it for potential. Someone approaches with an item they own, a photograph or question about something …

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