This October saw my 20th anniversary working professionally in the antiques business. In October 1996, I was offered a full time role as a porter in Bonhams‘ Collectors Department, then based in Lots Road, Chelsea. Several months of being a general porter setting up and manning views for £50 per week were over, and I was delighted to accept a job for £7,500 a year. My first boss was Alexander Crum Ewing (above, on the rostrum, and still a dear friend), and my colleagues were Leigh Gotch (head of the toy department), his assistant James Bridges, Ted Owen (head of the entertainment department), his assistant Nicky Tonkinson, Elizabeth Carr-Wilson, and Sara Sturgess, who ran the pen department.

It was the closest thing to an apprenticeship that I could have found or desired and I was in my element, dealing with everything from vintage writing equipment, scientific instruments, and mechanical music, to a whole range of toys, dolls and teddies and entertainment memorabilia, including working on the now legendary Beatles and Elvis sales. …

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Henryk Albin Tomaszewski Glass

Attributions in the world of antiques and collecting change frequently, and across the board too, from porcelain to furniture to glass. This is particularly the case with ‘new markets’, like mid-century modern Italian ceramics and postwar Czech glass design.  A new source will be unearthed, such as a catalogue or forgotten book, or a piece will be discovered with a correct, original label. On rare occasions, the designer or maker themselves surfaces to set the story straight. The sculptural design shown here, in olive green and yellow, is usually attributed to the talented Czech designer Pavel Hlava. This is mainly due to the fact that he produced some blown glass during the 1970s & 80s with internal structures vaguely similar to these. It’s also because, along with Frantisek Vizner, he’s a well-known ‘big name’ and many are keen to raise the profile – and value – of their piece by attributing it to him. I never believed this attribution, as the glass is thicker than most of Hlava’s work, the machined base is different, the actual …

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Snowflakes Glass Vase

Browsing around the excellent and huge Hopkinson Vintage, Antiques & Art Centre just by Nottingham’s station after doing a NADFAS lecture, I stumbled upon this vase. I was delighted as it had a label – something I’ve been looking for for ages. When sold on eBay or in countless fairs, shops and antiques centres across Europe and US, they are always either labelled ‘Murano Glass’, or ‘Italian Glass’, indicating factories based in Empoli near Florence. None of this is true, but I needed to find one with a label to be able to prove it and write a blog post. As the original silver and black foil label on the example I found clearly indicates (below), they were in fact made in China. Stop gasping – and relax. Although most collectors eschew and pass over Chinese glass, most of which is derivative and poor quality, I think these are worthy of consideration. Marketed under the brand Snowflakes, this diverse range was made by The Dalian Glass Co. Ltd  which is one of many glass factories …

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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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Farnell Mascot Soldier Bears Pocket

Sometimes it takes the smallest of things to help children begin to understand a complex situation. In this instance, it was a small teddy bear. During World War One, Farnell (known as the ‘English Steiff’ by collectors) produced tiny 3.5in high bears which they called ‘Mascot Bears’. They were given as gifts and taken to the Front by soldiers, as mementos of home and loved ones as they endured the trenches and the terrors of war. A staggering quarter of a million soldiers were under 19 years old, the average age of a soldier was 24, and the average life expectancy in the trenches was only six weeks. I was first captivated by these tiny teddies after helping to sell the amazing Campbell Collection in 1999, when I worked at Sotheby’s, but it took me another 14 years to actually buy one for myself (above right). In 2014, the centenary of the start of World War One, I wrote an article about Mascot Bears for Homes & Antiques magazine, that appeared in their July issue. They’ve very …

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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, …

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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 – …

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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 …

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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 …

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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’.

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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 …

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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 …

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