Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ship of Fools

A few of you polite people asked to see a picture of my latest early candlestick after it had been cleaned, so here it is. Not a huge difference to the previous picture, but you can see a lot more of the original silvering now that all the old, dark wax and soot has been cleaned off. It also seems that the metal is closer to bronze than brass, which is interesting, and may help to date it a little more accurately. This is as far as I am going to take it, because - as far as I'm concerned - this patina is part of it's rich history, and I know so many dealers who polish metal to within an inch of it's life, thereby destroying 50% of the charm of the object. Now, about those decanters...

When I was collecting the candlestick from the dealer, he mentioned that his brother was selling a pair of 'ship's decanter's, and promised to email me pictures of them, which is what the one above is. He knew I had an interest in antique glass and I also made the mistake of saying that, although I was not interested in them, I knew someone with a ship who might be.

They are called 'ship's' decanters because the extremely wide base makes it impossible for them to be tipped over by the high seas when sitting at the Captain's table on board. They might slide from one side of the cabin to the other, but they will not topple over.

The pair above look - to me - like well made decanters dating from around the first half of the 19th century. There are quite a few around, and over the last few years, most good-quality decanters have come right down in resale price so that only the really unusual ones fetch decent money.

I said that I had received the photos, now all I needed was a price. About three days later, he sent another message saying that his brother was looking for something in the region of £3000 for the pair, and I replied by wishing him luck, adding that he would be lucky to get £300. I started my message off by telling him not to be so silly.

Next evening, he sent another message saying that he was not being silly, and a similar one had sold in a famous London auction house for £2000 + premium, in 2003. I replied (hopefully for the last time) that I had spend well over a quarter of a million pounds in the same auction house during the last 4 years, and I knew - first hand - how they could inflate and magic-up prices seemingly at will. I also told him that the identical decanter had sold in a Bath auction house for about £45 a few weeks ago, and this reflected it's market value somewhat more accurately.

Here in the UK, there is a TV program called 'The Antiques Roadshow'. It is watched by many antique dealers, purely for it's comedy value. A team of 'experts' tour the country with a film crew, and advertise that they will be in a certain town hall or wherever, inviting members of the public to bring in items that they suspect may have value in the antique category. These items may have been in their family for years, or they may have been recently acquired at a car-boot sale. A typical valuation may go as follows, with the owners of the item sitting at a table with the TV personality discussing it at length as the camera lingers over certain salient features of the object. The couple sit like shy children, occasionally answering pertinent questions from the expert as a crowd of about 300 bystanders look on from behind:

"So tell me - how long has this item been in your family?"

(They whisper that their grandfather used to own it, and that must have been about 100 years ago at least)

"And how long have you been using it as a door-stop?"

(By this time, the couple begin to suspect that they have been mistreating it for many years, and show signs of remorse. Someone in the crowd behind begins to pick their nose)

"And how much have you insured it for? Oh - it isn't insured at all. What if I were to tell you that you should take great care when you leave the hall today, and make sure that you get it insured as soon as possible for..... £50,000!!!!"

At this point, the couple either: scream, faint, burst into tears, have an epileptic fit, wet themselves, shit themselves - or all of the above simultaneously, and the crowd goes wild. This is also the point when the antique dealers - sitting watching TV at home - fall around in uncontrollable laughter. As far as I know, none of the fortunate participants of this show have gone round to the expert's place of business when the show is over, and asked him to put his money where his mouth is by giving them anything like the amount of money for the item that he has valued it at, by purchasing it from them on the spot.

I also mentioned to the seller of those ship's decanters that he should not take episodes of The Antiques Roadshow as gospel truth when dealing with potential fools like me. Everyone is trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of everyone else these days.


  1. I don't know anything about candlesticks, but I can't see any silver!! When you say you can see the original silvering I am not sure waht you mean.

    I think that Oprah did a show on the people whose treasures were unveiled on the Antiques Roadshow and whether they sold them after and how much.

  2. There is a Canadian Antiques Roadshow, an American and a British Antiques Roadshow. We watch them all for the stories people have about their objects and the educated comments the appraisers make. Invariably, after an amazing evaluation, my husband will say, "yes..but..if you wanted to sell the thing could you really get that for it?".

  3. We have a few antiques Tom, but generally only buy what we want to look at rather than obtaining any investment pieces... my grandfather clock is my most treasured item and that was around 450£ at means so much to me as it stood in my best friend's home for years when we were growing up.
    I nearly wet myself hen I actually won the bidding
    (the auctioneer motioned me not to be so excited!)

  4. John, I have a grandfather clock that was made for my family in 1735. It will NEVER be sold, but some years back a valuation was made at aprox £2,000. Today I'd be lucky to get £500.

  5. You surely did nail that Antiques Roadshow persona. :)

    I don't know a darned thing about candlesticks, even the ones I own - but I know a little more after reading your post.

    Bath looks lovely. ...Marsha

  6. Something is only worth what the current market will pay for it.

  7. Thanks for the new picture of the candlestick!

    I'm one of those dumb people who pay way too much for old stuff because I'm afraid that someone else will snatch it up. And, boy, am I a sucker for the Antiques Roadshow! But I'm slowly learning. Local dealers here are asking an arm and a leg for antique furniture and then I see similar items go for an apple and an egg on ebay! - To sum it up: Rather pay in fruit and dairy products than appendages!

  8. If you look closely, Raz, you may (or may not...) see dull, silver deposits to the naturally brassy or bronzy surface of the metal. The whole thing was covered in some sort of silver, which was a precursor to mid-eighteenth 'Sheffield Plate', and a cheaper alternative to having the things in solid, real silver.

    You're absolutely right Olive - something is only worth what people are willing to pay - this is why a lot of late 19th century concrete statuary used to sell for 1000s, about 18 years ago, I try to buy only stuff which I really like, unless it is going for peanuts.

    It's not dumb to pay top whack for something you really like, Iris - it's just mean of the seller to exploit you for it. You are the true-spirited one, they are the sharks. Having said that, nomatter how rich people are, everyone likes a bargain.

    Remember that insult about the person who ",,knows the price of everything and the value of nothing" ?

  9. P.S. I paid £108 for this stick - about 3 times as much as my other, larger 17th century one, but I reckon it was worth it. About 2 years ago it would have fetched about £300, and in two years time - who knows?

  10. P.P.S - Have you a video of yourself screaming at the auction, John? - I would gladly pay good money to watch it.

  11. I love to watch our Antiques Roadshow. For me, it's interesting to see how each state has a certain cache of history, as America still has these sections that haven't quite met, you know? I like the Civil War items the best, I think.

  12. I came across a couple of candle holders a while back, they were Mateus wine bottles covered in Polyfiller adorned in sea shells, circa 1975. I was thinking of taking them to the next "Antiques Roadshow" and seeing what I could get for them.....unless you want to make me an offer? :D

  13. I think that candlestick is lovely especially now its been cleaned. I like the bronze sheen. I don't think I'd want to sell it. Just something nice to keep!

  14. Oh yes, Amy - believe it or not, I did not buy a steel 'tomahawk', made in England in the 19th century to trade with the Indians, a few months ago - what an idiot I was. These tomahawk axes were actually produced here in the UK, then shipped out to be used by Native Americans to kill each other and white settlers! I have a friend who has many Civil War guns in his collection.

    I won't make you an offer for that bottle, Joe, but I could make a suggestion.

    I won't be selling it in a hurry, Moll.

    Yes - please reinact it, John. I imagine it will be a bit like when the black 'housemaid' pops the Champagne cork in the original film of 'La Cage au Folle'.

  15. P.S. - Is that you hanging onto the shoulders of Hugh Heffner in your blog photo, Marsha?