Welcome to our Articles page. Here, you can find a wealth of information on different subjects relating to antiques and collectables, along with amusing anecdotes and interesting little snippets and tips. We are opening our portfolio with a couple of simple guides to collecting but please come back and check out this page from time to time as there will be a lot more to see!
A SIMPLE GUIDE TO COLLECTING CHINA
My interest in collecting china started quite by accident. I had accompanied by husband to a local auction, having little interest in these events myself at that time, and was killing time by sorting through the various boxes of china on offer. Then I spotted a box which contained a couple of nice serving tureens and, since I liked to have nice tableware when I entertained friends or family, I decided to wait and see what happened when the bidding started. Suddenly, I found myself raising my hand to bid for the box and, to my surprise, I won it! When I got the box home, I was thrilled to find I had bought several more pieces of china along with the tureens, mainly tiny cups and saucers, which I really liked. At the time, I knew nothing about china or china companies, so I went to the library to borrow a book on backmarks, or backstamps to find out more about these items. From there my interest in china grew and before long I found myself browsing around antique fairs and fleamarkets, being particularly drawn towards the pretty patterns on fine china.
However, at the time, I could only afford small or inexpensive items, so I started collecting different cups and saucers in various shapes and patterns - this way, I could gradually build up a collection on a small budget and it wasn't long before I had an attractive display of pretty china items to put in my display cabinet. As I began to learn more, so I became more selective and looked out for better pieces manufactured by prestigious companies, thus adding value to my collection. In this way, by checking the backmarks against the reference books, I began to learn more and more about the subject.
Since there is such a wide choice of design, subject matter and manufacturers in this field, it is good to decide first of all what kind of china you would like to collect. Is there a certain design, manufacturer or pattern that appeals to you? For instance, you may decide to collect antique teapots in different patterns, or you may be drawn to a particular design, such as Wedgwood Jasper ware - this is the kind of decorative china you may have seen which is often manufactured in blue and white but sometimes in other colours, such as black and white or green and white. Some colours are rarer than others and therefore command quite a high price, although nowadays it is possible to build a collection of the small blue and white items on a small budget, simply by scouring car boot sales and fleamarkets. There is a matt, or biscuit finish to the plain coloured ground of the pottery, then white coloured cameo figures, or a scene (often Romanesque) are applied to this to make a very effective decoration. Another popular theme with collectors is Willow Pattern, which is usually in blue and white and also displays very well. Or you may decide that your particular passion is for Royal Doulton figures (some of which are now very sought after because of being discontinued) or maybe Beswick animals or Beatrix Potter figures. Then again, you may have greater ambitions, such as to collect antique European items manufactured by companies such as Meissen, Dresden or Sevres. It really depends on your personal taste and what suits your pocket.
Personally, I found it very helpful to learn about the various companies by collecting items I could afford, or even buying some damaged pieces for a song, just to improve my knowledge on the subject. There is such a lot to learn about the history of china and porcelain and the various potteries and manufacturers that it is often best to do so piecemeal, or by concentrating on one subject at a time. It makes a very interesting project and a relaxing diversion, as well as an educational hobby.
In time, you will get to know how to identify a piece of china without having to turn it over and look at the backmark. This is when you know you are really getting to grips with your subject. As time goes on, you will also learn how to spot a fake, as there are many of these on the market, and you will be prevented from parting with a lot of money for something that is virtually valueless. Nevertheless, some of these were very cleverly executed and the backmarks were successfully imitated, so it takes a real expert to know the difference. Having said that, even experts have been deceived on occasion, which reinforces the fact that you need to take some time out to learn your subject well.
Collecting shouldn't become a burden, though - it is meant to be a relaxing passtime and it can be real fun just browsing around for that special piece and gradually getting to know about the type of china that has caught your attention and fascination. It's so exciting and satisfying when you stumble across the very piece you've been looking for over a long period of time!
So, decide what you personally would like to collect and then take some time out to know your subject. Make sure you know what the going rate is for a certain piece, so that you don't end up paying a lot more than is necessary for it. On the other hand, don't be so retiscent about buying an item that you miss out on a golden opportunity, because it may be that it will take time to come across that item again, if ever. Remember that the condition of an item is important - try not to buy items that are damaged as this affects the value: however, if there is a piece you really like and the value isn't of paramount importance because you only want it for display purposes, there is nothing wrong with that, provide you haven't paid an over the top price for the item.
However much advice you may be given, you will find that the best way to learn about your chosen subject or passion in the field of china is to go and find out about it through reference works and by practical experience. It's true to say that you are bound to make some mistakes along the way but this is also part of the learning process - so don't let it rob you of the fun of collecting.
Some English manufacturers and designers to look out for: Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Mintons, Carlton Ware, Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper, Beswick, Royal Worcester, Crown Ducal, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Winton, Shelley, Burleigh Ware, Poole, Crown Devon, SylvaC, Wade, Portmerion. There are, of course, many more companies but I have mentioned a few of the more popular or prestigious names.
It is always good to bear in mind that, strictly speaking, only items that are more than a hundred years old can be described as "antique" but other items would fall into the category of "collectables". Nevertheless, if the subject matter is highly sought after or desirable, it will command a high price, whichever category it falls into, so don't let the age of an item be the sole motive for your collecting china, unless you really prefer antiques, because you may find that there are more valuable "collectables" to be acquired. Again, the value of an item need not be the main motivation for collecting - you won't be able to enjoy your collection unless you buy items you really like.
So, whatever your choice in china collecting - enjoy the journey and, once you have arrived, enjoy the prize!
Author: Frances H. Thurley, Proprietor, Inglenook Antiques & Collectables.
A Simple Guide to Collecting Glass
The first time I really began to take notice of decorative objects made of glass was when I visited a small craft market where one of the stallholders was a professional engraver. It was obvious to me that she not only enjoyed her craft but really loved her chosen material - the way it looked, felt, its uniqueness and the fact that it displayed so beautifully, with or without added artwork. From then on, I began to view glass design in a different way and it has fascinated me ever since.
Because of its versatility and the fact that it can be shaped and moulded into a wide variety of different products and designs, there is a huge array of items from which the potential collector can choose - it really is just a matter of personal taste. If you are into, for instance, Victorian glass, there are items made from the following types of glass: satin, frosted, opaque, cranberry, ruby, bristol blue, uranium (or vaseline), opaline, opalescent, lustre, cloud, and so on. Then there are the different methods of design and manufacture of glass, such as cut, flashed, cased, etched, cameo, pressed, moulded, blown, etc. It is important to recognize the difference between these types of glass as they are many and varied and it can be easy to be misled unless you know your subject well. For instance, you will sometimes see opalescent or opaline glass described as "vaseline" but this is not strictly true, even if these types of glass remind us of the creamy quality of Vaseline ointment. Literally, vaseline glass has a very small amount of Uranium Dioxide added during manufacture, giving the glass a yellowy-green appearance and always turns fluorescent green when under a UV or "black" light. Sometimes glass can be manufactured with one or more of these properties - for instance, some ruby, cranberry, pressed and opaline glass, etc., may also have vaseline qualities, so this can be quite confusing to the untrained eye and can even be a challenge to the expert, unless they are able to test the glass under blacklight before making a purchase. Only slightly more confusing than this is the huge list of manufacturers and designers that produced the massive range of glass products available.
Perhaps you have heard of the 'pontil mark', which is sometimes found on the base of glass items. Pontil marks go back as early as ancient Roman times and indicate that a piece of glass was mouth-blown - it is simply the area where the glass blower broke off the finished product from the pontil rod, which enabled the maker to hold the piece of glass while it was being blown. It had to be long enough to prevent the glass blower from getting burned by heat transferrence from the hot glass - this rod was later snapped off, leaving a round scar. Generally speaking, a pontil mark or scar on the base of a piece of glass will indicate that it was probably made before the mid to late nineteenth century, although this is not always the case. With the advent of more sophisticated methods to hold glass during its manufacture, pontil marks began to disappear by about 1850 - 1870. However, studio made items that carry a pontil mark continue to be made down to this present time.
So, how do you date a pontil mark? Usually, the older the piece of glass, the rougher the pontil mark, especially on utility items, although there was a method known as "fire-polishing" which was used on some early 19th century items to smooth out any pontil or tool marks, so a discerning eye is needed for these items. Also, some modern, foreign, mass produced items show a pontil mark which is either rough, partially polished or ground down - again, the experienced eye will readily differentiate between these items, as well as purposely faked pontil marks, and those found on genuine antique pieces. Pontil marks came in different shapes and sizes, so this is an entirely separate field of expertise which is best checked out in specialist reference works.
So, with so much to choose from, it's simply a case of deciding what suits your personal taste, your pocket and your reason for collecting a particular type of glass. It's true to say that, with the current trend towards minimalism, home decorators have influenced the upturn in demand for the sleek lines of the brightly coloured retro glass decorative items of the 1950's, '60's and '70's. Young, career-minded people would rather invest in one or two of these highly saught-after designer pieces to feature in their elegant, uncluttered homes than to fill them with inexpensive knick-knacks and this trend has proven to appeal to other sections of society, too. Modern trends have therefore led to a huge following for designer glass items from those three decades, making them highly desirable and difficult to find.
One of the most popular glass manufacturers of recent times - if not the most popular - is Whitefriars. Most people have heard of the famous "Drunken Bricklayer" vase, by the designer Geoffrey Baxter, and many of his quirky pieces from the late 1960's and early 1970's command very high prices, often several hundreds of pounds, if not more. They were often very heavy pieces of glass in a bright colour, such as kingfisher blue, orange, red, green and cinnamon, with a textured finish. Of course, these items aren't to everyone's taste but they are very popular and cheerful and make a good centrepiece in a plainly decorated room. Certainly, they are well worth collecting at this present time - if you a fortunate enough to find a piece in good order. Watch out for "lookalikes", though - although decorative, they were usually manufactured by an English firm called Jones & Co. of Birmingham and manufactured in Sweden. The glass was usually thinner and lighter and manufactured in shapes that Whitefriars did not produce.
Murano is another name to watch out for - this is the very popular Venetian glass that continues to be manufactured in many unique shapes and sizes. Wonderful, huge glass sculptures can be seen in classy shops as you wander around the streets of Venice. Look out for signed pieces and especially those that retain their paper label, as this makes a difference to the value of the item, along with condition, of course. Scandinavian glass from the '50's and '60's, such as Holmgaard, is also highly collectable nowadays - again, signed pieces will command a high price and Per Lutken was one of their main designers. Kosta Boda, Orrefors and Flygsfors are some of the Swedish manufacturers to watch out for but there are many others and it may be a good idea to invest in a specialist glass reference book to help you to recognise the various designs in glass, so that you can make an informed decision as to what you personally would like to collect. You may still make the odd mistake from time to time but this is all part of the learning process and can be great fun.
Before you decide to part with your money, make sure you have studied the condition of the piece, as chips, cracks or wear and tear will affect the value. However, if you want to start a collection on a shoestring and simply want some pieces to display, you might be able to pick up some very attractive pieces with some slight damage for a song. Sometimes that is the best way to learn your subject and then you can save up for some really nice pieces in time.
Glass is cheerful, decorative and often stunning when it catches the light, so whether or not you are concerned with its value, it will always make a wonderful display - so go ahead and enjoy collecting this lovely, attractive, tactile material.
Author: Frances H. Thurley, Proprietor, Inglenook Antiques & Collectables.