SkrdloviceOlympiaVase1797-300x429

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved with the cataloguing, valuation and sale of a small collection of Murano glass once owned by the legendary businessman, politician and collector Lord Alistair McAlpine (1942-2014). Built up from the 1980s-2000s, the collection was acquired by his friend the writer and curator Karun Thakar, who has taken the decision to sell it. iInnovative online auction house The Auction Room (part of a group also including Bloomsbury Auctions, Dreweatts and Mallett)are handling the sale – which is online for viewing and bidding now. The majority of the pieces from the collection were produced by Carlo Moretti, founded in 1958. They’re most notable for their acid-finished matte display and drinking goblets, footed jars and vases in vivid colours such as light blue, yellow or red, which were released c1959. Often lined with translucent white glass, they have an unusual plastic-like appearance typical of the 1960s & 70s. Other notable designs include bi-colour swirls in white and a strong colour, in vase, ashtray and bowl forms. The …

Read More
SONY DSC

It’s a charming twist that could have come from the pen of P.G. Wodehouse. Upon the death of his indomitable, aged socialite aunt Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe (right), 80-year old TV personality and ertswhile host of ‘University Challenge’ Bamber Gascoigne ‘accidentally’ inherited the stately pile of West Horsley Place in Surrey. Once described by its aristocratic owners as a ‘cottage’, this oft-ignored country house dates back to the 11th century and is unusually contructed in red brick with a ‘rustic’ version of the Classical architectural features that became popular from the 16th century onwards. Previous owners include King Henry VIII, Viscount Montagu, the family of Sir Walter Raleigh and, most recently, the Crewe family, from which its last owner was descended. It’s even reputed that Raleigh’s severed head was kept there for a while by his distraught wife, before being interred in St Mary’s Church opposite. Local legend has it that there was (is?) a secret tunnel that led from West Horsley Place to the  church, to enable the encumbent Catholic family to worship secretly in …

Read More

Monumental BlenkoBIG COLOR!

CovelliTennantLiberty

I’m a great fan of Blenko glass due to its stunning, vibrant colours and array of quirky forms. The pieces that attract me the most are the large floor decanters, with their voluptuous, sculptural curves and extravagently large stoppers. I’ve only been lucky enough to own one piece – the 22in (56cm) high Turquoise decanter shown here, which I spotted on holiday once and hauled back home – all the way from St Louis, Missouri! Alas, I sold it some years ago – all part of the perils of being a dealer and a collector I guess. I regret it as we don’t see much Blenko here as it was rarely exported from the US into the UK, and I’ve always wanted to learn more. So I was delighted when my friend Toma Clark Haines, the Antiques Diva, introduced me to Damon Crain, a researcher, dealer and collector of Blenko and other American art glass based in New York. Blenko was founded in 1921 in Milton, Virginia by British expat glassmaker William Blenko as The …

Read More

I don’t look at this sort of thing usually. Those of you who know me, my books or my site know that I’m a ‘twentieth century boy’, and forays into other periods are scarce. It might surprise you to learn that our home is far from the mid-century ‘Madmen’ paradise that you may think, but is in fact filled with a huge variety of objects from many different periods – many of them 18th & 19thC. Most of our furniture is Victorian, for example, and I can’t resist etchings. They’re things that I picked up on the way because I liked them, or because they caught my eye or, as is the case with so much ‘brown furniture’ they were inexpensive and well-made. Visiting Past Caring in Islington, one of my favourite central London hunting grounds, this weekend I happened on this rather chocolate boxy Victorian pastel of a rather serious looking lady. It’s not the usual thing I’d buy and it looked rather out of place amidst the mid-century miscellany that the shop …

Read More

If I don’t find anything I want when I’m browsing antiques shops and fairs, I’m fond of hunting through glass cabinets for cufflinks. Whether or not I take any home depends on how much they cost. Last time I did this, I found this intriguing pair of brass cufflinks, that looked like they had been gold-plated at some point as some of the plating remained. I usually go for much more colourful enamelled examples, or those made from precious metals that the seller may not have identified…! But these intrigued me. The heraldic motifs of the seated large dog beneath a Latin motto begged to be researched and, well, the £2 price tag was hardly going to stop me! What I found after some judicious googling the Latin motto, and double-checking the information, was a rather charming canine tale. The cufflinks possibly related to William Phillips (1752-1828), who inherited numerous estates from his family, owned the leases on prestigious central London properties and possibly ran a wine merchant in the 1780s. One day, while bathing at Portsmouth, he …

Read More

As some of you will know, I’m very fond of wearing a bowler hat. I’ve had many over the years, which isn’t really the point. The first was an antique one from the early 20th century that, completely by chance, fitted me perfectly. When I left it in the dark boot of a hire car in San Francisco in a rush to catch a plane I was so devastated that I vowed only ever to buy inexpensive, easily replaceable modern ‘fashion’ versions in the future to avoid that dreadful feeling again. Six hats later, after leaving my last one in the luggage hold of a plane, I realised that that was the wrong path to take – I ought to buy the best to encourage me to pay more attention to it. And it ought to be antique, or vintage at the very least, considering what I do and love. Trawling through vintage costume shops didn’t yield anything that was a combination of good enough quality, good enough condition and the right size for …

Read More

Last year, I was delighted to be asked to contribute to South Korea’s bestselling travel guide to London. Just published by Wisdom House, British Classic is a beautiful and weighty tome packed with lavish, specially commissioned photographs showing London at its best. It’s a book that will tempt and tantalise before you travel, as well as being an essential companion on holiday. Written by Nari Park, chapters include ‘Royal Heritage’, ‘Afternoon Tea’, ‘Green Spaces’, ‘Antiques & Vintage’, ‘Pubs’, ‘Sports’ and ‘Behind Classic Icons’ and show many of the different facets of British life in our capital city. I think you can guess which chapter I contributed to! Each chapter begins with an interview with a specialist in that area where they reveal their ‘secret’ tips for shopping or visiting sights, their personal thoughts on the area, and their opinion on the state of that particular area right now. Apart from the obvious destinations, I was able to mention a number of my favourite haunts, including Grays Antiques, Alfies Antiques,

Read More

This has nothing to do with animals, obviously. Vetting is the process that occurs the day before certain, usually higher end, art and antiques fairs open. Teams of independent experts grouped by discipline (silver, glass, jewellery etc) move around the fair looking at every object in the fair in their category, closely examining any they feel the need to. Some are dealers at the fair, but most are not and travel in for the day. The point is to ensure that everything for sale is exactly what it is described as being – authenticity, condition, attributions and date must all be correct. Price isn’t included in vetting. That’s down to the dealer selling the item. A vetter may have an opinion, and/or experience, which they may voice to the dealer if they feel it’s appropriate, but generally a vetter is encouraged to keep their opinion on price to themselves. At some fairs I’ve vetted, thoughts on price are offered where a vetter feels that the object is under-priced in the market. Helpful stuff – as is when when a dealer …

Read More

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 …

Read More

“Mid-century modern. Give me a break. It’s soooo last year” A largely incorrect phrase I hear disturbingly often. So you wouldn’t think yet another book should be published on the subject. Well, think again. Mid-century modern maven Catriona Gray has teamed up with Octopus Books to produce a unique compilation of original period photographs plundered from the influential House & Garden magazine. Add to that a foreword by the legendary Sir Terence Conran, and you have a book that is sure to delight everyone from interior designers to hardcore design collectors. Rather than present the furniture, furnishings and decorative objects of the day floating against a white background and allied with explanatory text about designers and styles, the colourful photographs in this book allow you to see how these pieces were grouped together in domestic interiors. This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly it allows us to see how the designers and stylists of the day intended pieces to work together. How many vases to display on a shelf? Where were they …

Read More