Tuesday, July 31, 2012
An Enlightening Experience
Auctioneers the world over are in a very privileged
position. We are invited into clients' homes to advise on
their treasures for a variety of purposes and meet people from all
walks of life.
The visit may be to assist with the sale of particular pieces or
to offer advice on their value. This can be for a number of
reasons and will often be a valuation for insurance replacement
purposes or for inheritance tax following the death of a family
Usually there is someone at the property to greet you and, in
some cases, to provide a provenance or history of the particular
piece. The story of where it was bought, who might have owned
it or how it has been passed down through the generations of the
family adds to the interest. It creates a fuller picture of
the real identity of the object before the factual description is
entered on to an inventory or included in a catalogue.
A wonderful insight into everyday life both at home and abroad
can be gleaned from the detailed knowledge of an object and its
uses, which creates a social history.
As you can imagine, one man's or woman's treasure would not be
given house room by another. Many is the time something
described as silver turns out to be electro plate or the
description of gold needs to be replaced by gold coloured
metal. How many Ming instances have there been and were they
more Campbell than Chinese?
The same is true of furniture where the addition of "style" can
make a huge difference to the catalogue description of what was
thought by an owner to be a period piece.
To provide an opinion requires a mix of ingredients. The
evidence must be gathered up by listening to the story and debating
its merits. The visual inspection is vital, clearly assessing
the make up and feel of the object you are inspecting, searching
for the tell tale signs of wear and use.
All this is set against the knowledge gained from the
experience, from reading and research and from handling items in
the past. It is then that all becomes clear and the light
And, talking of light, this reminds me of a valuation we were
asked to undertake many years ago of the contents of a property
housed in a former Vicarage in a rural village not so far from
Framlingham in East Suffolk.
Having been to carry out the initial inspection of the property,
it was evident it was going to be a difficult task as this was not
an occasion where we could indeed see the light. There was no
I suspect this will be the only case in my career when it was
necessary to arrange for a rudimentary electrical installation so
that we could undertake the valuation. The "circuit" resulted
in loops of cable linking the various naked bulbs. I am not
sure how "Health & Safety" would have reacted today!
Scrabble around and put a little treasure on the
Those with an interest in antiques may like to consider adding
to their library with what I regard as a little gem.
The book is entitled 'The Collectors' Glossary of Antiques and
Fine Arts' and was compiled by a Fellow of the Chartered
Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute. This excellent
Professional Body was subsequently 'swallowed up' by the Royal
Institution of Chartered Surveyors', so thank goodness there's an
alternative - the National Association of Valuers' and Auctioneers
- which "does what it says on the tin" as they say!
The little tome was put together by John Bernasconi and includes
an array of knowledge with sections on furniture, silver, gold,
Sheffield Plate, pewter, porcelain, pottery, glass, jewellery,
One of the more unusual chapters revolves around emblems and
symbols used in Chinese Art. Chinese antiquities have
become widely prized by those in their homeland in recent years,
reflecting the growth in their nation's economy and the desire to
"repatriate" items which had left their country during previous
decades and centuries.
With this in mind, it might be useful to appreciate
interpretation of some of the emblems and symbols used in Chinese
So, in alphabetical rather than no particular order, a butterfly
is an emblem of conjugal felicity, a conch shell indicates a
prosperous journey, fishes represent domestic happiness, while a
leopard appropriately reflects power and energy.
Somewhat surprisingly, a magpie is a bird of good omen, while
more intriguingly a parrot instructs wives to be true to their
husbands - how cultures vary!
Less contentiously, spring can be portrayed by a peony, by a
Prunus or peach flower - but with no leaves - summer by poplars,
pinks and pines, while winter can somewhat confusingly be
represented by Prunus as well! Early roses or winter scenes
are apparently equally appropriate.
So, if you wish to broaden your knowledge in all things antique,
then it's a volume you might like to search out. It can be
difficult to find, but then the 'thrill of the chase' should be
rewarding …. And you will no doubt enjoy being able to look
up the definitions of 'ecu,' or 'estoc', so you can use them in
your next game of Scrabble.