Sunday 23 August 2009

Builth Wells, A great antique fair

The Entrance to Builth Wells

Sitting in the garden with his feet up, the sun warming his nose Mouse is in a very relaxed mood. I thought you would be out antiquing I say. "I like to pick and choose the fairs I go to and at the moment I am looking forward to the start of September. Builth Wells is great, one of my favorites".

The BBC film here quite a bit, Bargain Hunt is one of their favorites. The Tardis is not for sale!

That's right in the middle of Wales, is that a good place for a fair I ask. "Oh yes, dealers come from all over, and a lot of buyers save their pennies for this one. It is certainly the best fair in Wales so you have the excitement of the local catchment plus those that travel. The other great thing about it is the quality spread. There is everything from the simple to the very best, antiques and collectibles as well as quirky decorators items. It is large and there really is something for everyone.

One of Outside stands setting up for the hoardes

The countryside is lovely, it is one of the most unspoilt regions in Britain let alone Wales". I gather you will be going, so when is the next one I ask. "Saturday and Sunday the 5th and 6th September, I can't decide whether to make a weekend of it". Not been great weather I comment.

One of the indoor 'barns' just as the gates open.

"I have found 19th century gilt bronze, Wedgwood Majolica, Webb Cameo scents and a fantastic range of furniture". He muses for a moment, "and there is some really good cheese made in Wales..." I think the decision is made.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Banksy vs Bristol Museum, Banksy defaced

Entrance to Bristol Museum

The door slammed as Mouse strolled in triumphantly, sunglasses in one paw, and a box of cream cakes in the other. 'I have been out studying graffiti' he announces, giving me that kind of nod which suggests someone should put the kettle on and it's probably not going to be him. He has of course been to the Banksy exhibition, Banksy vs Bristol Museum. It is busy.

The start of the queue

The middle of the queue

The end of the queue

'The museum is a fine museum in itself' he declares ' and it holds a pretty decent collection of artwork'. So what do you make of the Banksy exhibition I ask whilst the kettle bubbles in the background. 'Banksy is phenomenally effective in the current art scene. He makes a big impact, assuming it's a he', he chortles with half an eye on the impending teapot filling. I am again reduced to ask an inane question about art. 'Wrong question' he says somewhat definitively, 'it's not a question of "is it art", ask the Youtubers, the question is, is it any good?'

A daubed Banksy on Park Street compared to the original

'What I find puzzling is the graffiti. The Banksy at the bottom of Park Street has been daubed and there is £ note symbol scribbled across one of the poster holders for the exhibition.' There is an irony I offer?

An unmarked poster

A marked poster

'Perhaps although it is not the first example of such an act, is it a statement, an act of jealousy, stupidity or a search for fame of a sort'. The tea is looking good as I pour some into his mug although his cakes are looking better as he extracts his favorite eclair onto a side plate. 'Can you create art by destroying art' he muses. I mention KLF to him, 'Burning or destroying the profits of art is one thing, destroying art another,' he pauses glancing down at his plate, 'on the other hand devouring this eclair is an act of mercy.' Even Banksy can't compete with the art of patisserie.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Antiques, collectibles and the recession (2)

'One answer', Mouse declares, 'are car boot sales'. This seems a bit obvious to me and less than the usual Mouse insight. Treading carefully I suggest this is pretty obvious, and that of course they are going to become more popular when times are tighter. Smiling he nods ' but it's how you go about it, now is the time to be open minded and explore beyond your field'. I catch his drift, so what you are saying I venture, is that you need to be expansive, look for what there is, not just in your niche field and if you see something special go for it. 'Exactly' he adds with some satisfaction. 'You need to push the boundaries. Take Castle Coombe, a good booter by any measure. Here you can get a nice bacon sandwich, a new set of drill bits and a piece of early Spode all within a few feet. But you can also get the unique and the unusual. And it also gives you a chance to explore new fields and do a little research too.' I look quizical, so with a sigh he shows me a couple of finds. One thoroughly marked, one not. 'Take this' he says, ' a piece of sculpture?' Well it is very attractive I note, and well carved. What is it.

A sculpture found at Castle Coombe car boot fair (about 30cm high).

'This carving with the apparent title 'No man's Heath' is by Jeff Aldridge'. He explains it is a model for a statue placed at No man's Heath, Malpas south of Chester erected in 1998. Jeff Aldridge is an interesting sculptor and painter. He has worked in the third World as an educator and this influences his work. Known as the Celia Fiennes Waymark it celebrates the life and times of a journey undertaken 300 years earlier which passed through here.

Celia Fiennes is a fascinating individual. She was born in 1662 at Newton Toney, Salisbury, and died in 1741. She made two remarkable and annotated journeys, probably for health reasons, through Northern England and Scotland. She records the great innovations of the day, the local specialities in production and the great houses: remarkable for the time. She has been highlighted by Southey and her work, whilst less refined than Defoe, pre-dated it. An unsung figure of which the sculpture at No mans Heath and this design are the only public tributes.

The Sculpture at No man's Heath courtesy of Cheshire West and Chester Council

'You must keep your eyes open for the decorative' Mouse continues, 'there are some charming finds. This poster cost just a few pounds. But look at the opportunities to learn', he leads me further down the path. 'Here we have a clearly Victorian themed poster with a hymn, 'Nearer My God To Me' advertising a local store'. The hymn was written in the mid 1880's. It was sung at the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The poster was printed in Scotland, supplying goods from Scotland to an agent in Wales.

Ystrad Mynach is a small town in Wales north of Caerphilly. A formerly rural place greatly affected by the industrial revolution and mining. This poster dates from when the change is taking hold. This period was to last until the Penallta Colliery closed in 1991 although mining was fading by the 1980's.

A Mining disaster memorial at Ystrad Mynach Courtesy of Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project

The cost of a suit is quoted as from 21s. This is pretty competitive pricing. According to "Life on a Guinea a Week" in The Nineteenth Century (1888) where the average price of a suit in 1888 was nearly double this although we have to bear in mind what 'average' means in this context. Lower middle classes could easily pay less than this. This also gives us another clue as to date. This advertises Campbell's Perth Dye Works which was one of two dye works in Perth, this one was destroyed by fire in 1919 and amalgamated with the other, Pullar's Dyeworks. (Hume, J R (1977a) The industrial archaeology of Scotland, 2, the Highlands and Islands London)

This is a chromolithograph produced by Maclure, Macdonald and Company, who were print makers to Queen Victoria. They pioneered the use of impressed graining to match the stones used in chromolithography. Chromolithography involved the use of a wax relief and multiple passes for different colours in order to produce the final image.

Now I understand; from the 17th to the 20th century via the boot of a car. 'So much to learn' Mouse mutters, 'I need energy'. He settles down for a well earned supper, lightly cooked asparagus, fresh eggs and a nice glass of red. 'There are times when even collecting and history should take a back seat', he says with a twitch of his whiskers. He could well be right...

Sunday 10 May 2009

Pots, Plays and Postcards; religion, clay and fame

Mouse always has his eye on odd things; things of interest. Never before had he seen a plaque by Anton Lang. He came across two in one day. Anton Lang was born in Germany in 1875 and died in 1938, and in his time he was a bit of a celebrity (a bit like Mouse). Anton was even on the front cover of Time Magazine (17th December 1923).

I think Mouse is secretly jealous of this. Lang was a controversial figure but a talented potter. Not only was Lang a studio potter but also an actor, "he became as well known for playing Christ in the Oberammergau passion plays as for his pottery" said Mouse knowledgeably. The New York Times dated 2nd April 1922, spoke about at least 100,000 American tourists going to Europe that year. "Remember", said Mouse, "this involved a trip to Germany just after the first World War." The local inhabitants, including Anton, would open their homes to the visitors, and in the New York Times, it mentions that there was some competition to stay at Anton’s. In all, Anton Lang played Christ three times, in 1900, 1910 and 1922.
Anton toured the US during 1923 and 1924. Although he probably never actually worked for Rookwood, Mouse says that when he passed through, he would throw pots at the factory. These bear both the Anton Lang and the Rookwood mark. All pieces by Anton have a special quality, as alive and as brilliant today as they were then.
Mouse admires the first piece. This is really a Christmas wreath, with such nice bright colours, "a little like Holdcroft Majolica" he remarks.

The second piece must be something to do with saints and dragons. "But not mice", he sniffs, "it reminds me of Compton Potters’ Arts Guild". There is a lady and two dragons, perhaps St Margaret, who overcame a dragon when the cross that she was wearing irritated the insides of the dragon, which had swallowed her.

It is difficult to be certain when a piece is potted by Anton Lang himself, but, says Mouse, any piece with an inscribed signature is definitely by him.

These are from the matt plaque. The inscribed signature is in Anton's hand, the one on the right is a stamp. However the absence of the inscribed signature does not mean it is not by Anton Lang. The majolica piece is probably by him too as we know the provenance of these pieces but only has a stamp.

Mouse also showed me a strange kneeling Bishop faience candlestick piece. Weird, I said. Do you know what it is? "Nope", said Mouse, "but I like it. Signed with an N inside, difficult to tell if it is Rouen, Nevers, Nimes, Sevres, Nidervilliers, Naples….."

This item will be on sale shortly at Style and Design.

Is there anyone out there who could tell Mouse what this is?
"In these days of changing values and the state either against religion or indistinguishable from it", said Mouse, "religious iconography is one to watch". "I’ve put my money on it" he said and then started on his cheese and biscuits.

Monday 4 May 2009

Antiques and Swine Flu

It is not clear how serious this flu is going to be. His worry is that gatherings would be banned and his beloved antique fairs might suffer! A bit of a narrow view.

The Victorians had many medical inventions where quirkiness seemed to rule over commonsense. As Mouse points out they were deadly serious about some of them. Mouse likes these pages which give you a real insight of their variety and weirdness.

Madame Talbots website
Museum of Quackery
Museum of Medical and Quack Medical Therapy

Mouse hopes that nothing too serious comes of it all. In the meantime Mouse suggests you wash your paws and cover your mouth, nose and whiskers when you sneeze. A piece of cheese cake does no harm either.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Antiques, collectibles and the recession (1)

Where has he been for the last year? "Busy of course", he says scratching one of his ears. "I have had a couple of websites to sort out, making videos and various design projects. But now I am back, especially now times are hard". He is going to start with a series of thoughts about the recession. It goes without saying times are tough. This comes on top of a general malaise in the antique business. He is in a very outgoing mood, it is the cider and chocolate, I've told him they don't mix, but there you have it. Of course buy what you like, now more than ever.

1. He wants to get across a simple message. It is the same for both dealers and collectors, he thinks. He's said it before and he'll say it again. Quality sells. That does not mean expensive he says, but one of the best examples of the type.

This was a very competitively priced Parian Copeland bust by Hale. It is a neglected collecting area. You can pick up quality pieces at small fairs, something that has been difficult for sometime. But now these pieces are emerging

2. He does not think the collectible market is finished either. "Rarity matters.", so for example if your area is Beswick figures, then go for the special; he particularly fancies the the 'Banded Angus' for example. Or like a Beswick mouse, I say joking. He sniffs derisorily. "If you're a collector take this chance to grab the special pieces." That's easy to say, but with such uncertain times is it wise. "Well it is a matter of judgement and personal economics of course" he concedes. "But if you are brave, you have a unique opportunity to pick-up those items which will become unreachable, and all too soon".

This came from a classy car boot sale. Ayrshire Ch. Whitehill Mandate is a beautifully figured piece from a very knowledgeable dealer. Some real life livestock prices are healthy at the moment. This price strength is often reflected in the market strength of antiques with a rural link. Long live our farmers, the country's lifeblood.

3. Mouse is in full flow now, "and the beautiful and the ugly". He continues "Beautiful things will always perform regardless of fashion, I am with William Morris on this" he says with a wink. But what about the ugly I foolishly ask, "Some things are so beautifully ugly that there will always be a home for them".

The Cheshire Cat. Beautiful, ugly or beautifully ugly? Dated from 1911, she's a cat that is a friend to Mouse, a rarity indeed.

4. "We should all recognize the challenges, so collectors leave dealers some profit or they won't be there next week. And dealers lets get the stock flowing by competitive pricing." Not easy I say to Mouse.

His attention is wandering, "perhaps it's a good a time to buy shares in UK banks too" he mumbles. Is Mouse crazy? Not usually...