The welcome return of Art Deco

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You may have noticed a new resurgence of interest in the Art Deco era.  To be fair, it is a style that has never really left us as its heritage, personality and principles can still be found woven into all our homes and offices whether via original features, later reinterpretations, or even just amid our continued respect for crisp design and open spaces. Though fashions come and go, Deco speaks to many of the warmth and confidence of halcyon days, of the successful merging of art and industry and of timeless elegance. And unlike later mid-Century Modern items, the Art Deco period also offers a far more mature and established field in which to collect.

It was Judith Miller who reminded me recently, at the launch of her latest publication ‘Art Deco, the glamour of the Jazz Age’, that Deco was our first truly democratic and global style. She is right of course. From the lofty exclusive heights of Emile Ruhlmann or Ferdinand Preiss, to the unknown mass-produced items that filled every department store of the day, there was indeed something for every pocket and continent. But it was also much more than just this. Today as we look to re-embrace the Art Deco style, it is worth considering its roots and ideology to help us better understand it and welcome it into our modern homes again.

The seeds of Deco:

Many still believe that Deco was somehow miraculously conceived at the opening of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art that took place in Paris in 1925, yet in truth it has roots that stretch back much further. What came together at the 1925 World’s Fair was a fresh global energy that wanted to forget the tragedy and austerity of the First World War, that wanted to embrace the newly emerging machine age, and that also wanted to open the windows widely to the stuffy legacy of cluttered Victoriana. Bauhaus, Thonet, the Secessionist designers and Rennie Mackintosh of course all played their part in creating the design language of Deco simplicity, but so too did the wave of expats newly returned from Europe’s now shrinking Empires. Indeed look at photos of any period interior and you will quickly see that Deco’s draw was not only its ability to declutter the lines and physical spaces, but to also embrace the cultures that these expats used to call home. Open plan rooms (that have been the traditional dwelling format for many tribal cultures) suddenly took off in the 1920s as a new, exciting and healthy concept, and amid the sleek new modernist furnishings encased in exotic timbers, nestled ancient motifs and antique ethnic artefacts. In many ways it was an era much like our own, one learning to co-exist in a global melting pot of ideas and designs.

Newark, Art Deco

Collecting Deco:

When it comes to collecting and integrating Art Deco into our homes then according to Jeroen Markies, one of the leading Art Deco specialists in this country, it is all about buying statement pieces with discernment. “There is a lot of interest globally at the moment in top quality English made items by the top designers such as Epstein and Hillie, and particularly in lighter timbers. Hollywood movies like ‘The Great Gatsby’ or programmes such as ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ have all reignited our love for 1920s frivolity and glamour, and it is a look that still works well in our modern homes”.  But as interest in Art Deco continues to buck the general downward trend of antiques, it is also an important time to buy well as supply of the best pieces continues to dry up. For anyone new to the field, then purchasing or at least discussing from reputable established dealers is strongly advised not only because most pieces were sadly unlabelled, but also because subtle variances in colour and form can have a very big impact on both desirability and value.  According to Jeroen, the savvy collector should also really focus on prewar pieces first as the build quality did drop off dramatically after WW2.

The Changing Face of Australian Pubs

Welcoming it into our homes:

Unlike Art Deco collectors of the past who were more puritanical in their look and interest, today’s buyers seem far happier to mix things up. And that’s the great thing really, as a style originally intended to complement a whole host of other periods and cultures, Deco just works. Whether your other interests are African masks or Chinese porcelain many items simply look better juxtaposed on a crisp deco sideboard. For the academic amongst us, there is also lots of literature to be found.

So go on and Deco-rate your homes. Embrace those unashamed bronzes and chrome uplighters and revel in burr walnut or birds eye maple. For even if they provide your home with just an extra ounce of 1920s frivolity, then amid our austere times, that is surely money well spent!

Deco lamp photo credit by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose; deco living room photo credit by Michael Coghlan

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More than just an antiques quarter……

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Its 7:30am as I walk through the glass fronted door and I’m still a little bleary eyed. Having just helped run a pop-up shop on Church Street, Marylebone (in association with Alfie’s Antiques), out of pure courtesy I’d been invited along to a breakfast business meeting run by Westminster council. They are discussing their early plans for an expensive regeneration scheme in the area and everyone from the police, post office and shop owners alike are huddled beside a map swigging coffee and chatting.

Antique shops this way……..

Take a walk down Church Street and you’ll walk down a microcosm of London. Within its 500m stretch sits an old style daily street market, an array of ethnically diverse shops, cafes and businesses, before crossing an invisible line that marks the start of the antiques quarter and ends in the street’s jewel in the crown- Alfie’s Antiques Market.

When Bennie Gray bought the formerly-named Jordan’s department store in 1976 the street was admittedly rough and run down. In the 40 years since, the area has prospered enticing a host of quality and fashionable antique shops to spring up around Alfie’s. Even so, any visitor today will realise Church Street remains an area of stark contrast. Alongside affluent London apartment buildings where one bed flats can sell for nearly half a million pounds, lies a melting pot of social housing and very real deprivation. And this is the acute problem facing Westminster council. Though there is a natural inclination to gentrify the area to cater for its rising affluence (and a mass of new homes already under construction just around the corner), they also understand the need to respect and support the current diversity and heritage of the street.

 

Its all change………

 

Leon Young (of Young & Son) has had an antique shop opposite Alfies for the last 16 years. He is chair of the local antique dealers association and like most of the people I met, is passionate about keeping the antiques quarter there alive and healthy.  Faced with the same familiar problems of declining footfall and the effects of online trade, Leon understands that the Church Street regeneration could be a golden opportunity and not a time to sit back and be blasé. “Westminster Council own 80% of the commercial freeholds on this street and we have been negotiating with them for fixed rates and rents for the next 10 years. This will create something akin to a ‘special policy’ area for the antiques quarter here and shows that the Council see the ever rarer independent businesses as important to protect the character and quality of the street.”

 

When I think back on the London of my 1990s youth, I remember with sadness all the former Antiques hotspots that once dotted the capital city. From Bermondsey to Camden, many have now been permanently neutered, either through high-value building schemes or from excessive red tape and rates. For so many reasons it would be a crying shame to see Church Street slip the same way into yet another faceless road with no soul.  Indeed, though the Antiques Industry as a whole is undergoing a major personality crisis and the world moves steadily online to buy their treasures, dedicated bricks and mortar destinations like Church Street still command a loyal and cult international following that those of us online can only ever dream of.

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Moving from pen and paper……….

 

Usually when you come across a redevelopment story it is long after the battle lines have been drawn and the first blows inflicted. In this particular case everything is (at least in theory) still on the cards. As I stood chatting to Leon in his compact shop watching people wander in and out, he shared with me his own ideal plan for the street. It was a street where the pavements had been widened and tree lined, dedicated parking bays provide easy collections and access, and a thriving outdoor weekend vintage and brocante market spills out down the road, full of energy and eager bargain hunters spending their time between the stalls, shops and gourmet street food dotted around, before rolling into the regular market at the other end of the street.  “I already know of several local families who would love to be involved in the market” tells Leon excitedly, “but the responsibility and oversight will need to come from the council who own the road”. I understand his point of view, as ultimately for any meaningful redevelopment programme to succeed here it will have to show how it embeds itself into and supports the community at large. At the same time it will also require a level of friendliness and engagement (that Alfie’s in particular) has already become synonymous with. At one end of Church Street the little road sign currently reads “this way to the antique shops”, and at the other it tells “this way to the market”. Wouldn’t it be great to see both halves finally embrace?

 

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In memoriam……..

 

As I step out of the breakfast meeting and through the now busy fruit market, I spot a series of paving slabs on the ground that commemorate key historic buildings and facts associated with the street. Among other things I learn that the Blitz flattened most of the old buildings here and that Charlie Chaplin regularly played in a theatre now long gone. It would be comforting to know that once the latest redevelopment work has finally ended on Church Street, that there won’t be another slab added to commemorate an antiques quarter that used to reside there too.

 

Market Stall Photo attribution: by Gavin Anderson

Vandalising our Past

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One of the most famous pieces of modern Chinese art is a set of 3 images from 1995 showing the artist Ai Weiwei intentionally dropping and smashing a 2000 year old Han dynasty urn. In fact he actually smashed two, since the photographer failed to capture the first drop successfully. Oops. As a cultural statement this seemingly mundane act somehow hit at the heart of many people’s sense of sentimentality and decorum regarding the care of our antiques and there was a public outcry against this all too blatant act of vandalism in the name of art.

High profile vandalism within antiques is an all too common story. Whether its the Taliban blowing up Buddhas, Militants destroying Iranian museums, the never ending debate over the Elgin marbles that were ripped from the Parthenon, infamous paintings slashed to make a political point or, as I read a few months ago, US immigration officials smashing ivory components from a host of antique treen because they had not been properly declared. When the Ivory story was reported in the press, I clearly remember the impassioned backlash that hit social media the next day. While the US authorities had merely followed protocol in upholding the tight anti-ivory laws that exist in the States, for antique lovers everywhere their actions were perceived as little better than Ai Weiwei’s.

The other week when collecting an object I’d purchased, I chanced into the owners workshop where a rather lovely Georgian rosewood card table was in the process of being permanently lost under a fresh layer of crackled gold leaf and black paint. Though the transformation was intended to make the item more saleable, to me it seemed like an unjust funeral for such a good original item.  I felt a 2000 year old vase smash inside me, but being English I said nothing. Only when I got home and looked around did the reality dawn. The truth behind most everyday ‘vandalism’ is that we all live with, accept and sometimes cherish elements of it in our own homes and that perhaps it only affects us when it openly rejects our own beliefs. From dressing tables cut down into bedside cabinets, wardrobes refashioned into bookcases, tables stripped, paintings over-restored, chairs recovered and a multitude of items repainted to the latest fashionable finish, we are all culpable perhaps for allowing the unnecessary destruction of our antique items.

The above are obvious examples, yet things can also be far subtler. I was surprised to learn the other day that nobody actually knows what an authentic 18th century finish was like on furniture. With a lack of written documentation, natural decay, over zealous waxing and pieces being refinished using 19th century shellac recipes, no-one still knows how 18th Century homeowners would have expected their new furnishings to have looked. Even without realising it, the most conscientious among us are still a little culpable of some light vandalism as well.

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‘Vandalism’ remains an emotive term because it implies not just the wilful destruction of the object itself but more importantly the wilful rejection of what it stood for.  The Chinese respect for tradition and ancestor worship meant it was not surprising a broken old vase upset people. Yet had the artwork happened in our own country over the last few years, I wonder if we would have reacted the same way?  In our world ‘upcycling’ remains the buzzword for savvy Millenials and countless television hours are spent teaching us that an old item is only really desirable now when refashioned into something new. Beyond just the physical change, we have also chosen to downplay many of the intentional meanings of the past in favour of our own modern far softer melting pot approach. Looking around at the hotch-potch of antiques I choose to live with, I see that I’ve also unwittingly vandalised the original meaning out of many of the objects I so love. For example a pure Cotswold cabinet that defined the virtue of traditional handicraft and rejection of mass-production holds our mass produced TV, a 16th century carving of a saint that is meant to evoke the higher unworldly place of God sits beside a 1920s Gramophone, an object for praying to the false idols of popular music. I could go on….

In 2014 Ai Weiwei’s controversial work was part of an exhibition in Miami. Displaying a series of ancient pots dipped in modern bright house paint, a member of the public walked over, picked up one pot and dropped it on the floor. This act of vandalism was reputedly a protest against the museum’s preference for displaying international over local artists, but the bitter irony was lost on the authorities who arrested the man, and also to Ai, who the man later had to apologise to.   While antiques remain so embedded not just into politics and ideology but the whirlwinds of fashion and novelty …….I wonder what wilful vandalism we will subject them to next?

Broken Mirror photo attribution: by Massimiliano Calamelli

Reviewing Vintage Records

 

Second hand record shop

I’ve read quite a few times about the dramatic revival of vinyl sales within the music industry. Hailed by the media as a kind of Luddite revolution (led by 20-something hipsters already tired of their digital existence) the bare numbers alone are certainly impressive. According to Forbes, while other format like CDs are down, the sale of modern vinyl has actually increased by over 260% since 2009. To put it in perspective, this sets current record sales higher than it was in 1988 when vinyl was just on the brink of decline. Today, spurred on by such a cult following, artists as mainstream as Taylor Swift, the Arctic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons and even Justin Bieber can all claim to have released on vinyl and the trend looks set to continue.

When fields don’t overlap:

Against such a heart-warming tale, I was intrigued to know if the revival had also positively impacted the second-hand and collectable record market as well? Sadly it seems not to have changed things as dramatically as hoped. Perhaps my initial assumption wanted to join dots that actually had little in common with each other. Just as you can’t expect that a person who walks into a car showroom looking for a new Mini or VW Beetle is also considering a vintage original, so too with records. “We personally have not seen much change in prices or interest” remarked Dave Brealey, shop Manager at the Sweet Memories Vinyl Records shop in Portsmouth. “And alot of those younger people buying the new LP albums are not even playing them, it is just for the sake of owning a copy of it.”

Sweet Memories have been trading since 1993 and their clients are now typically in their 30s or 40s. “We do get younger people coming in but all they are interested in really is Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles” says Dave. “Our stock list ranges in genre from the 1950s all the way up to the 1980s but overall our biggest sellers are 1960s and 70s rock.” The trend seems to be a common one within the industry, and to those looking to invest in vinyl its the iconic pop, psychedelic, rock and punk bands where the prices have remained the most secure. Today an original unsigned Beatles LP such as ‘Revolver’ in excellent condition will fetch over £100 with exceptional examples making three to 6 times that. The same prices can also be seen for Led Zeppelin 1 for example. When it comes to later re-releases, dog-eared examples and lesser known artists (all just for listening pleasure rather than investment), then a few pounds is a more realistic expectation.

 

GLASSHOUSE RECORD SHOP

The record experience:

That vinyl remains the preferred format for these classic albums is not so surprising. As a collector who once had enough 78s to test even the strongest of floor boards, I know that the real enjoyment exists somewhere between the physical participation and auditory rawness.  Short of donning your flares and tie-dye, vinyl remains one of the few (legal) ways to get an authentic glimpse into the era at a very minimal cost. Furthermore, listening to a digitally re-mastered download version of ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols, no matter how loud you turn it up, just isn’t very Punk!

Investing:

Unless you have deep pockets then a good suggestion for new collector investors is actually to think obscure. When you are talking about items made in their hundreds of thousands, the albums that are often worth good money are the ones nobody originally bought. This strategy allows you to explore into other genres such as folk and country and when I looked up past auction results I came across plenty of examples of albums making good money from artists I’d frankly never heard of.  Finding baseline values is very easy via the internet or Record Collectors price guide but do check condition carefully. In record terminology ‘VG’ may stand for ‘Very Good’ but actually isn’t very good. Another area to watch for currently is the 1980s and at the Sweet Memories shop they have sold alot more such records in the last two years as children of the 80s hit mid-life and start to buy back the tracks of their youth. When certain artists die there is naturally a public response and the biggest recently was with David Bowie’s death which saw his vintage albums shoot up in price 10 fold. Yet in comparison, when Michael Jackson died the prices remained steady. An untimely death therefore isn’t a sound indicator for value.

Thank you for the music:

Talking to Dave and others I got a sense that the true thrill of record collecting is not always in the records themselves but the musical chase. Its the experience of thumbing through hundreds of records in search of your holy grail or the freedom of being thrown off course by a completely random record sleeve that merely catches your eye. These are experiences that sadly can’t be reproduced online, and it is why the dwindling independent record shops remain so important. The music sold there may offer a glimpse into bygone halcyon days, but the shops and those who run and frequent them are the living and vibrant community that keeps the music industry so alive…… I think I’m off to explore my local record shop now.

Sweet Memories Vinyl can be found online at: http://www.vinylrecords.co.uk

Record Shop photo attribution: Abi Skipp  ; stack records photo attribution: Michael Saechang 

section 52:New Changes to UK Design Patent Law

Living room with a natural Sapele hardwood floor.

Like many seismic events, you would be forgiven for not having noticed the gentle pre-rumblings about a change to the UK patent law which is due to come into effect in just a few weeks time. On July 28th the ‘Repeal of section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988’ comes into force allowing industrial designers and their families the right to retain, reassert and legally protect the copyright of their designs for up to 70 years after the death of the creator. Previously limited to only 25 years after the design was released, the revision brings it into line with wider European law.

This repeal, which was lobbied by the powerful design community, is aimed at protecting industrial scale designs (where more than 50 copies of an object have been made) from open plagiarism within the retail market. It will perhaps correctly bring to an end the era of knock-off Corbusier, Eames and Egg chairs that currently flood the market place, yet by potentially reasserting protection on current and out of date designs (as well as having no exemptions for second hand goods), it could have important knock-on consequences for the secondary market. While the focus has been on furniture design because that is where most current patents seem to lie, the change is an umbrella one that could include anything from jewellery to home ware.

What will be affected?

The technical jargon from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is that the industrially produced design must be ‘a work of artistic craftsmanship’ to qualify meaning the form must clearly outweigh its function. The IPO acknowledges that their definition is open to interpretation which is worrying  when you consider that every mass produced object of the last 100 years has been actively shaped by one designer or another. From cutlery to lamps, sideboards to bridges, we live in a world dominated by industrial design. Until now in the UK, our utopian principles have led to an accepted understanding that good design should remain available for the benefit of all and where plagiarism and subtle adaptations arose, these have always been a forgivable consequence of the industry. In 2011 it was estimated that the replica furniture industry in the UK accounted for only 7% of total UK furniture sales. Yet as European courts tightened their own legislation a few years back, the emerging internet allowed the UK to become a supposed hub for replica goods and push the onus back on the UK to tighten up as well.

How the Antiques field may be impacted

There are several ways that the antiques industry may be affected by the repeal and these changes have come about at a time when the interest in mid-century design is at its peak.  Under the new rules any credible design produced since 1946 ( as well as some older ones still under contract) could potentially be covered by copyright.  Although there will be a 6 month grace period until January 2017 to allow people to clear their stock or make necessary changes, the new law makes the sale of unendorsed design classics in the UK illegal. This change may bolster consumer faith and spending back onto the original vintage or endorsed items, yet will also surely see prices rise as well as the market thins out. It will mean that even as a private individual you won’t technically be allowed to sell your fake Corbusier armchair anymore even if you’ve had it since new from the 1970s. You will still be allowed to own it, but only officially produced versions by Cassina will be permitted for resale.

A second area that will affect the education, heritage and publishing industry the most is that the law will also apply to copyright protection on 2D photographic representations of such objects as well. Potentially hundreds of art, antique and reference publications may have to be modified and republished (at a cost to the publisher) to ensure there are no infringements made.

The Future

While the IPO feel the ‘artistic’ requirement of industrial design makes qualification for such copyright potentially hard to obtain, there is also no question that it will have long term impacts for many people. Already many interior designers are saying the change will push their costs sky high and magazines will have to be very careful when they are photographing on location. Publishers are facing massive short-term financial loss, and for their part auctioneers and dealers will have to be constantly vigilant for unofficial examples.  It is the open-endedness that is troubling. The IPO say a design is protected due to its form and not its attribution. Therefore just because you do not know its makers name does not preclude it from protection. One wonders if all this uncertainty may actually push interest back onto genuine antiques which are free from such complications?

Last word 

Unlike art, genuine uniqueness in the design world is actually a rare thing. Constrained by form and function, its a world instead of inspirations and subtle modifications towards the more perfectly balanced form.  If the changes to the law mean the best of design becomes the preserve of the rich, then that sadly goes against the principles why many took to the drawing board in the first place.

For more information, relevant guidance is available via the www.gov.uk website or email  section52CDPA@ipo.gov.uk

Chairs image attribution: by Boa-Franc

Selling the Experience

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If you pay attention to adverts then you will know that the DIY chain Homebase no longer just sells you locks for your bathroom door but 5 minutes of sanctuary from your children, high street banks don’t just store your money but enable you to go on sun-drenched holidays, supermarkets don’t provide food but help us host unforgettable dinner parties, and we all know cars are for creating epic cliff-top memories with.

From foods to fashion, consuming today is about enhancing our own hedonistic lifestyles and creating memorable experiences along the way. It’s the sales lie we have all come to expect from our buying habits, that objects and services must now humbly earn their place in our cluttered and hectic lives by offering more than just basic service.

Although the rest of the advertising world is already ‘experience’ crazy, it feels like the antiques industry as a whole has been much slower to evolve in this direction. In many ways this is an anachronism as antiques tend to be natural yarn-spinners and lifestyle definers. Yet wander through an antique centre or online portal and more often than not you will still be faced with very understated service-led descriptions such as ‘18th Century Silver brush’ or ‘Victorian pine table’ against a safe white background.  Granted trading standards will never come calling for misrepresentation, but neither does it set your pulse racing in the way that it should.

A change of focus

Beyond just a bolder use of adjectives, the wider issue is that many of our antiques today are still being sold and marketed based solely on their own merit and not those of the potential buyer.  It seems a strange and subtle shift of perspective, particularly to the object worshipers out there, but sadly a pertinent one.  In our own marketplace, many of the items that sell the best today are perhaps those that have made this transition and indeed offer the buyer a sense of more than just service.   Iconic and very rare objects in all fields have seen a steady rise because they gregariously provide social kudos to the new owner, decorative-interior led items successfully pander to the persona of the buyer’s home, designer vintage watches give you a momentary hit of the James Bond lifestyle and classic vehicles allow for afternoons of nostalgic escapism away from our stressful modern lives.

The shifting tide

Within the antiques industry there are those who are at last pointing in the right direction. During the last year I’ve noticed both the luxury online portal 1stdibs and the auction house Christies each offer their own online lifestyle-oriented magazine. The near daily offerings of each feels a bit much for my timid inbox, but the fusion of themed items and interesting associated stories is thoroughly modern and refreshing. Many auction houses across the country (including Bonhams most publically) are currently in the process of realigning a portion of their sales towards more interior themed offerings, and most have now realised the merit of promoting a whole buying experience (with decent cafes, educational talks and enticing social media) rather than just selling an few objects.

For their part the best dealers around are taking on the consumer-led world by fostering a sense of theatre and drama in what they do. Captivating us with a mix of carefully curated objects and edgy photographs or displays, each creates their own enticing microcosm to explore and be entertained in. This same sense of drama and escapism runs true for quality Fairs as well. While some like Olympia still aim to awe us with their grandeur, others like Battersea choose instead to engulf us for a few short hours in their own fantasy wonderland where we get to leave our own turmoils at the door. And lets not forgot the IACF fairs at Ardingly and Newark . Although the experience is less curated and more melting pot, the sheer scale, energy and chaos can still linger in you for days to come making you crave the next one.  And that’s really the trick the antiques industry is finally learning and adapting to- that today’s consumer perhaps craves memories and sensations more than stuff and now expects to be sufficiently entertained before parting with their hard earned money.

If you too are intending to heading out to auctions, fairs or antique centres this summer, then take a moment to reflect on and soak up the experience at hand that has most likely been carefully created for you. But just as importantly, when you do find that object that takes your fancy, even if the ticket only tells you its a 19th Century soup spoon, think about all the laughter-filled family dinners you will be able to serve up with it!

Shop interior photo attribution: Ben Salter

Collecting the Future……

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We hope collecting floats forever downstream, navigating safely between the markers of quality and craftsmanship. But people love to pioneer and so often new collecting interests emerge that for a time slap the face of convention, before they too join the main flow. This being an edition about time, I thought it interesting not to glance back to the past as usual, but to peer light-heartedly and speculatively into the distant future at a few unconventional things that may just be tickling (and stirring up) our collecting habits in decades to come. If today you feel antique collecting is straining under the mantle of change…….at least feel comforted in the knowledge that in the future things are probably going to get even more confusing!

If condition still equals value

Auctions teach us that rarity and condition, especially when its against the odds, is a magical match. We all know a book with its dust jacket far excels those without and vintage toys stored wrapped as new in a box make headline figures. So its worth considering how this tried and tested equation may manifest in the future amongst our current consumables? After too many hours pondering the many things of our throw away culture, I would hedge my money on our pesky household appliances that seem to barely make it out of the box before breaking, or perhaps more pertinently, everyday flat-pack furniture. Epitomised by the likes of Argos and Ikea and now found in all our homes (admit it, you have some somewhere) these currently cringe-worthy items must surely suit the future collectors criteria. Formed of both thin plastics and chipboard that can never be properly repaired once damaged, they are usually and inaccurately screwed together by amateurs and become the first thing on the bonfire during the annual spring makeover. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in the future choice flat-pack melamine items by key designers or retailers (obviously still boxed and in their shrink wrap) do indeed find their way proudly into prized collections and museum vaults to attain financial values we can only laugh at.

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Collecting the Virtual

Of course its not just our perceptions of quality that may have to change in the future, but indeed our whole idea of antique and vintage collectables as 3D objects. Take for instance the laudable fields of photograph and ephemera collecting. Did you know that Facebook alone holds on its servers over 250 billion of our photos with an eye watering 350 million more uploaded per day. Add to this all the other popular programmes we now use, and according to one person’s calculation that means that we are currently uploading more digital images per year than was produced in the whole previous history of photography. Image sharing as we can see is one of the fastest growing activities on the web and while sharing your selfies with your friends may not be everyone’s cup of tea, with the rise of cheap or free online file depositories, more and more of us are choosing to upload and store online not just our precious images but billions of documents and sound files as well.

Its an interesting thought to conjure with: A large percentage of the things we are creating and enjoying today, will have no physical presence decades in the future. Ok the cynic within us may laugh and see that as a good thing, but its fair to say that much of the social and cultural history of today is being recorded and preserved not on paper, but on the virtual memory space of someone else’s server.

It stands to reason that in the future there will be wide spread interest in collecting this digital past by ‘mining’ the internet. Though current confidentiality rules make such a trade in files impossible, within a few decades there will exist a giant seam of data (still probably owned by the former superpowers of the web) that will be viewed globally as the unclaimed baggage of the internet: abandoned, effectively untraceable and thus able to be sold off regularly by public auction. For any future collector or investor, who wouldn’t want to buy an unopened data bundle in the hope of unearthing a rare forgotten photo of some celebrity in their youth,  or to rediscover the original raw copy of some infamous song or perhaps just read the thoughts of an everyday person from decades ago, one staccato twitter message at a time. It will be like a virtual version of that TV show ‘Storage Wars’ but probably less dramatic. As amateur archaeologists, people will painstakingly peel back the layers of photoshop to reveal the ‘authentic’ image below and to those who cherish individuality and the adventure, every file explored will be unique in its own way.

In the future our most cherished finds may no longer sit in glass cabinets away from the clumsy hands of grandchildren, but will be projected instead safely and securely onto the walls of the home like a trophy. Such a future collector may thankfully be a long way off still, but one thing is for sure…..we are certainly floating downstream towards it!

Photo credit: flatpack in box by 51% Studios Architecture