Whilst it would be easy for me to say read as much as you can and watch educational videos, and of course you will learn a certain amount through doing this, there is one definitive answer…….handling the goods!
I have found that for most people their love of art and antiques becomes rooted at a young age, say 11 or 12 years old, so by the time they’re ready to leave school they are often set on following their passion to work with what they have grown to love. So where do they start?
Naturally, the first thing they would be likely to do is look at the options available within higher education and with many universities, colleges and indeed private institutions offering courses it appears that the options are there. However, most of these courses are in Fine Art and therein lies something of an issue! Now these programs are by and large run by extremely knowledgeable academics and by the time a student has gained their degree or diploma they’ll be able to recognise and date paint types and canvases and probably be able to give a fairly respectable opinion on the whys and wherefores of whether a newly discovered El Greco is genuine or not. BUT stop and think just for a moment! Let’s go back to that 12 year old child going to the local monthly antiques fair and immersing themselves in their love of all that surrounded them. A Georgian walnut lowboy, a Beswick figure, an Edwardian nickel plated police whistle or a trio of World War One medals……..but NOT an oil painting claiming to be a lost El Greco!
So these courses are fabulous if the intention is to move into the world of high brow fine art but not particularly useful if you see yourself working in a provincial auction house, which rather ironically is where most of these graduates end up!
So, on leaving school where should they be looking? Well lets use me as a perfect example, not a perfect example of manhood of course…..although I do have my admirers!.....but a perfect example of the ideal route to follow. Like many others before and since I really had no idea what to do once I had finished my education but I had always been interested in history and ‘old things’ so when my father came back from the local auction house and told me that they were looking for someone to fill in for six months and perhaps I should approach them I jumped at the chance. I was duly taken on as a temporary junior porter and ended up many years later as their Senior Valuer!
From day one I learnt ‘hands on’, so for instance after a short while I was able to recognise different woods through not only looking at the polished finish but by being able to open a drawer and look at the interior where it was unpolished. After a year or so I was able to tell from sight alone whether a piece was likely to be solid silver or silver plated or if a porcelain figure was German or French by looking at the scroll work on the base. After a while I was trusted to do some basic cataloguing and within a year or two of this I was lotting our entire general sales which included the lesser antiques and art as well as household goods. And so it went on, although obviously it did take a good few years before I was cataloguing entire antique and fine art sales which encompassed everything from furniture, through paintings, ceramics, glass, silver, rugs, militaria, toys and much, much more!
In my line of work you really do learn something new every single day and this still applies with me, even though I’m now well into middle age. In fact, the one piece of advice I always give to young valuers is “Don’t ever think you know it all…..because you’ll learn something new tomorrow.”
So, once again lets go back to that 12 year old who wants to learn about and maybe forge a career in antiques. Approach your local auction house and offer to work at their evening viewings or perhaps during the school holidays. You’ll be starting at the very bottom but theres a lot to learn and you’re lucky enough to have a whole lifetime ahead of you.
You will never learn it all………..but you’ll have a lot of fun trying!
This is a question I get asked several times a day usually in response to me sympathetically telling a client that their much loved family heirloom is worth far less now than it was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. It’s a sad fact of life that many areas of the market are deflated to say the least and in some cases are seemingly at ‘rock-bottom’, so let’s take a look at this and try to make some sense of it.
To start with let’s blame the Swedes! Yes, over the past 20 years the Ikea model of clean lines and minimalism has had a major effect on how we decorate and dress our homes. To the vast majority of the under 50’s the very thought of walls filled with pictures, cabinets full of ornaments and shelves packed with clutter is anathema and this is largely because Ikea gleefully swept all this away and told us “No, you must not have a house that resembles that of your grandparents”. This of course meant that in a virtual blink of an eye antique furniture in particular became all but obsolete to an entire generation! A Victorian chiffonier once worth £400 was suddenly £100, a Georgian bureau which would have set you back £600 in 1980 was readily available at £150, and worst of all perhaps, a good Edwardian inlaid mahogany display cabinet which many once aspired to own was now all but impossible to sell. The reason for the latter of course is that now we were living in a clutter free world, nobody was buying the ceramics and glass to fill the darned things! That beautiful stylish cabinet which once took pride of place in every lounge in the country was now replaced as the focal point by a 50” TV!
So it’s all about how we live our lives and view our homes today which leads me on to Art. When I started in this business many moons ago I would enter the house of an average client and there would be pictures in the hall, pictures up the stairs and pictures filling every nook and cranny in the lounge, whereas today other than the obvious family photographs the fashion seems to be to have two or three large pictures usually in the contemporary style taking pride of place and surrounded by empty walls. Not only that but these pictures are entirely transient in that it’s not about how well loved they are, but about how well they fit the current colour scheme. Try selling a typical Victorian English landscape today and you will seriously struggle. Even artists that used to command prices of say £500 - £1000 can often be picked up for £100 or so. So traditional art is out and contemporary art is very much in…… but often only until you change your wallpaper!
So just what do people want to buy and collect in 2019? Well there is no simple straightforward answer to this so let's address the point loosely. I have a theory that means looking at things from a male and female point of view. Firstly, it seems that ladies particularly those of retirement age are largely speaking simply not collecting. Those empty shelves and lack of clutter have become heaven for the housewife and it seems that she doesn’t want to return to the days of moving copious amounts of china and glass before she can dust the shelves……, and before you accuse me of chauvinism this does too apply to the average househusband!. So traditional feminine collectables such as chintzy bone china, figures of crinoline ladies by Royal Doulton and others, cut glass and Wedgwood Jasperware are deemed old fashioned and therefore completely undesirable. BUT if we move onto what I would term masculine or men’s’ collectables then there are areas that are thriving. For instance in recent years there has been an upsurge in collectors of Militaria and all its off-shoots, medals and vintage cameras. This suggests to me that whilst ladies are blissfully content in their retirement provided they are not surrounded by the aforesaid clutter, men need to shut themselves away and indulge themselves by becoming sexagenarian geeks!
Another area of course which is growing more rapidly than any I have ever seen is the nostalgia driven Vintage & Retro market. But that’s for another day!