Roadshow Miscellaneous specialist Mark Hill goes behind the scenes of the BBC Antiques Roadshow as it celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017…

Click here to view the 2017 dates and venues for filming the Antiques Roadshow

A set of Beatles autographs, a battered teddy bear, granny’s beloved china tea set, a diamond ring, a plastic doll, a tribal spear, a Dinky toy, a unicorn’s horn, and an old sewing machine…no, not an offbeat episode of The Generation Game, but part of the stream of many hundreds of objects a specialist may see during a typical filming day for the Antiques Roadshow. This year also sees my tenth anniversary as a specialist on the show and I’ve seen every one of those objects – and many, many more. I never tire of it, I always want more, and every filming day is like Christmas. You never know what you’ll unwrap next and you never know to which distant lands or parts of history you’ll be transported. It’s the closest to being Doctor Who that I’ll ever get to be. …

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Opalescent Sunflower Vase

It’s usually the things that nobody knows about that attract and intrigue me. If they’re of a certain (good, or fine) quality, or have an interesting look, I want to know more. Browsing around the Cambridge Glass Fair, I came upon this rather unusual looking small posy vase. Somewhat etherial, it’s also rather appealing. But it looks like a child painted it!“, I hear you cry. You could indeed say that. But look closer and think. The enamelled flowers and leaves are rather evenly applied and don’t waver all around. The sunflowers themselves are placed directly opposite each other and, most importantly, the enamel is baked on, rather than just being painted on. So unless someone had access to a kiln or furnace, this was done in a factory. So, arguably, a child couldn’t have done this. Furthermore, the colour tone of the enamel is similar to those used at Haida (Nový Bor) in today’s Czech Republic. As well as its factories, the town is known for its glass school (fachschule) founded in 1870. Then there’s the …

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Mossy Dwarf

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m a huge fan of etchings and have bought them since I was schoolboy. I never spend much, I just buy what I like. The more bizarre or bonkers they are, the better. I usually buy without knowing much or anything about the etching or the artist, and I enjoy the research challenge when I get home. Most end up being professionally mounted in secondhand frames I also acquire inexpensively. My two latest purchases are both unframed, and cost me £15 and £20 respectively. The first (above) is reminiscent of a book illustration and is superbly quirky – it made me smile. It shows a line of finely dressed 17thC or 18thC ladies and gentlemen approaching a seated bearded dwarf in a hat. Behind him are two cats and a strange imp standing in a flower pot with his arms outstretched and a sun and moon above his hands. Above them is a partial face of an old bearded man, who I presume to be God or Old Father Time. The …

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Artist and caricaturist Fougasse is best known for his iconic ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives‘ posters, produced during World War Two to caution the public against gossiping and accidentally spreading information that may be of use to German spies during the War. Fougasse was the pseudonym of Cyril Kenneth Bird (1887-1965), a qualified civil engineer, who turned to drawing while convalescing after suffering serious wounds at Gallipoli during World War One. He chose the name as it was the bread-derived nickname of a French landmine, the effectiveness of which was “not always reliable, and its aim uncertain“. Adopting a quirky, almost sparse, style laden with quintessentially British humour, he was successful and became one of the best known cartoonists of the day. As well as illustrating various books, he contributed to Punch, The Graphic and Tatler, and was editor of Punch from 1937-49. During World War Two, he worked for free producing poster designs for the Ministry of Information, including the ‘Careless Talk Cost Lives‘ series, where each design contains a ‘hidden’ Hitler and/or Goering, listening in to potentially …

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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. It laid …

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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 technique isn’t …

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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 kindly …

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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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