The Art of Cartoon Collecting

Buying only the things that make us smile is good advice that we should all remember to follow from time to time. Yet for John and Felicity who own the Rae-Smith Gallery, it’s an approach that has become a successful business plan as much as a mantra. Dealing in quality vintage cartoons and illustrations, I had the pleasure of meeting them recently at the BADA fair in London. “People buy cartoons if they are funny and they apply to their lives,” explained Felicity when we spoke “and that’s how we buy also. A good joke that remains funny and pertinent to this day, even after 50 or 60 years, will always remain so”.

Noddy & boots

The Rae-Smiths warm and engaging style is what drew me to their stand initially. Amid the respectful monoliths of more traditional antiques, their pictures lulled me in with a sense of nostalgia and playfulness. Within seconds I was staring eye to eye with some original and iconic drawings of Noddy and his friends, before chuckling to myself at the timeless whit of Melville Calman and other cartooning legends.  As someone who loves the story that objects can tell, cartoons have always appealed  to me because of the power and pathos they can portray through just a few well-chosen lines. Yet observing how other fine art dealers and visitors were likewise happy to display and engage with these artworks reminded me also that I’m not alone. The illustrations felt current, approachable, and in our austere uncertain times- a relief to be allowed to have a good laugh at ourselves as well.

An illustrious start

John and Felicity both got into dealing in cartoons after John bought a house in Primrose Hill many years ago that (unbeknownst to him initially) turned out to have been the Press Art School. Though the school had closed in 1956, in its day the building had been an important training ground for aspiring illustrators and had seen many of the great English cartoonists of the early to mid 20th Century pass through its doors. After a bit of research by John, this twist of fate sparked a lifelong interest in the genre and both he and his wife have never looked back.

Photos May 2016 011

The cartoon market

To my mind good quality published cartoons and illustrations are an area that feels extremely current. Fusing humour and nostalgia with our love for vintage informality, cartoons can be a great and affordable way to bring art into our modern more relaxed homes. “We take a lot of care with the mounting and the framing because these are such wonderful visual pieces which need to fit into today’s interiors. We want people to hang them in their drawing rooms as well as their loos”, explained Felicity with an infectious laugh.

For those of us looking to bring a few pieces into our home (or even start a collection), then it is thankfully a very wide field that offers subjects, styles and budgets to suit absolutely everyone. Indeed unlike other areas of the art world, decent original pieces by well-known artists can still be found and enjoyed for very little money.  At the same time, inspirational names from the world of cartooning such as Pont, Bateman and Heath Robinson continue to draw in fresh interest and healthy prices. Then at the far end of the scale for serious investors, the global branding of certain children’s characters (such as Winnie the Poo by Disney) has sent the prices for select icons of illustration soaring. Today an original illustration of Winnie the Poo by E.H.Shepard will set you back several hundreds of  thousands of pounds, and recently John spotted a page from Tin-tin offered in France for nearly a million Euros.  As the characters that these illustrators portrayed become our global nostalgic heritage, then the prices for their original artworks will surely continue to rise in recognition.

Interestingly herein also lies the balance.  Humour, collective memories and styles will always remain very culturally and linguistically specific so an iconic piece from one country or during one specific era may not translate properly to anyone else’s country later in time. It’s a point to remember when choosing cartoons for investment rather than personal reasons. “Even if the artwork is good but the humour has been lost in time, then we tend to be careful” remarked Felicity with caution.

Mary Cooper Noddy cover

Whatever the geographic boundaries of humour one thing is for sure, Cartoons and illustrations remain an excellent way to laugh at the silly side of who we are no matter how serious the topic really is. And if the simple act of placing these vintage drawings on our walls brings a grin to your face every time you view it, then in troubled times that’s surely the best kind of investment we can make!

 

The Rae-Smith Gallery exhibit regularly at BADA and LAPADA amongst other quality fairs. They can be contacted via email at raesmithg@aol.com or via tel: 020-3091-8573

Images: Copyright of the Rae-Smith Gallery

Advertisements

The welcome return of Art Deco

img_9025

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

Collecting the Future……

20140711_143332.jpg

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.

8056899942_7066c4cc74_z

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

The future of Collecting…..

24687802436_303954b497_z

In front of me, my three year old son sits playing on the floor.  A plastic train in one hand and die cast helicopter in the other. A constant yapping and moving of his arms shows these two toys are talking to each other, and through them I know he is role-playing important relationships that will serve him for life. Child psychologists from Piaget to Gardner have proved for years that play remains one of the most important developmental tools we have.

Unless you are an international museum or serious financial investor, then I believe playing and collecting are merely a continuation of each other. Though funds dictate what we collect, through the acts of exploration, learning, empathy, ordering and cultural connectivity we too as adults are safely exploring and evaluating the world beyond our own experiences, just like my three year old. Who amongst us hasn’t got lost in the fantasy of an antique or felt their heart race during the chase? And that’s a good thing, we are playing with and exploring the past on our own terms.

As times change, the debate over whether the culture of ‘collecting’ is dying seems to be bubbling hotter and hotter. Perhaps due to financial, space and time constraints traditional collecting fields are failing to attract the level of young blood desired. Perhaps our modern throwaway culture has made us all a little bit more selfish and the next generations are refusing to become guardians of our material past. Perhaps newer areas of life such as technology and the entertainment industry have grabbed our ever shortening attention spans at the expense of good old-fashioned wholesome collecting. Like everyone else I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball. But perhaps instead we are just experiencing in real-time the pain and rejection of changing fashions. Perhaps the ancient art of meaningful accumulation is still alive and well but in a slightly different form. A US study on the psychology of collecting undertaken during the 1980s made a relevant point. One result of collecting is the sense of immortality. A sense of saving an idea, skill, way of life or craft for posterity.  When that collection or enthusiasm is rejected (ie by a younger generation) it can cause emotional pain.

As someone who stands at a few antique fairs and attends plenty more, I am always surprised at how many young people I actually do come across. Granted few leave with pockets full of Meissen and Crown Derby but their presence and enthusiasm is obvious and usually most will leave with something no matter how small. If questioned I suspect many would say they were not collectors per say, but that doesn’t mean they don’t collect. Only the other day I drove to a young couple’s home in London and was immediately struck by the decor. The rooms were full of the eclectic mix of antiques and quirky curios that is so on trend right now. Far from having no order, you could say it was a carefully curated collection that praised and contrasted form, colour and texture. This couple, typical I suspect, weren’t ‘collecting’ based on academic labels or names, but on a more visual set of criteria. And I think that’s ok. If our shelves of blue and white teapots have been replaced with coral, kitsch and industrial cabinets, then at least the passion and process of collecting is still alive.

8921210395_c72890e4b8

To those saddened by the decline in interest within traditional collecting fields then I would say not to despair. It is widely known that the children of addicts are more likely to become addicts themselves. Who in their rebellious youthful days would expect to be enchanted by caddy spoons and Doulton slipware like their parents when they were older? But we change. When I was young I would thumb through my parents record collection, and while at the time I would never admit to liking their choices, my ipod now is full of the same artists my parents had on vinyl.

To be a true collector is an active not passive role. Though we can admire the fabulous collections of others, a collection given is never as sweet as a collection found.  It may take several years before a younger generation return from exploring their more eclectic sides to rediscover on their own the beauty of our more traditional antiques, but they will. They will because you have taught them through your passion the cultural value of those objects and the feelings of connection they bring.

 

Addendum:

For cold hard facts around the nature of collecting, there appear to have been no professional studies conducted recently. The research I found was all collected nearly 30 years ago and while I did contact three leading sociologists for help (Christian Jarrett and Daniel Miller in the UK and Shannon Dawdy in the US) none could point me towards anyone or anything that was relevant. In part this lack of any recent professional study into the topic only perpetuates the perceived concern.

Photo Credit: blue porcelain by Thomas Quine; industrial interior photo by Wicker Paradise

What’s in a name?

Your name is often the first thing you learn as a child, the only thing you truly own throughout life, and the sole reminder of you centuries later. In this season of reflection I thought it fitting to explore just a few of the interesting names currently in use by antique businesses around the UK.

24979035252_fc269eea7b_z

Though the use of a family name or location is still the most common choice for antique businesses, there are a growing band of people willing to buck the trend with innovative alternatives. Each tell a story and together reflect the quirkiness and individuality that makes the antiques industry so appealing. These unusual names mirror the wider trend in business for brandables. Brandables are words or names that are highly memorable (so great for marketing), but sometimes have little connection with the purpose of the business. Think of companies like ‘Orange’, ‘o2’, ‘Virgin’,‘Dave’ and ‘Purple Bricks’ as well known examples. A great business name not only keeps you memorable long after the public walk away, but as the dealers below attested to,  can be a great ice breaker too.

Some names used are clearly variations on a theme. ‘Inkredible Inkwells’ and ‘Simply Decorous’ do what they say on the tin. In other instances the name is more personal. ‘Antiques Twenty Four’ doesn’t have anything to do with 24 hours as I first assumed. “24 is a lucky number in our family” explains Andrew. “From birthday’s, weddings and important events the number 24 keeps running through our family as an auspicious number so it was an obvious choice for the business name as well”.   Russ Harrison who runs ‘Seventeen Twenty One Antiques’ in York explained that his numeric name referred to selling items from the 17th Century to 21st Centuries. Sometimes these easy names really are best. At ‘Diem’ a company specialising in high quality jewellery and retailing from Greys in London, the family surname of ‘Day’ was given its Latin form. That ‘Diem’ sounded similar to ‘diamond’ and ‘gem’ was also quickly recognised.

Some business names have more personal memories attached to them. ‘Mangled Tout’ Antiques of Stratford was a name that certainly needed explaining by owners John and Jenny. “Many years ago we were lost on the road somewhere north of Leeds when our young daughter spotted a posh restaurant called ‘Mange Tous’. When she asked us what ‘Mangled Tout’ meant the story stuck within the family and we now joke that its our own Yorkshire version of the word. We decided if we ever started a business that would have to be the name”. True to their word the couple held onto the name until they decided eight years later to open an antiques business.

At ‘Wigs on the Green’ Fine Art who specialise in historical portraits, it was a family connection also that appealed. “Its from a common Irish phrase dating back to the 18th Century and relates to a reputed brawl that took place on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin”, explained owner Cynthia McKinley.  “There will be Wigs on the Green means you think things are going to turn into trouble and strife, and I just fondly remember my grandmother always saying it”.

For James Gooch of ‘Doe and Hope’ in Bedford the name was inspired from things he loved. “I always liked seeing Deer in the woods when out walking and also liked the theme of hope in J.R.R.Tolkien’s stories. It was just a marriage that came to me. Originally I thought it was a good name for a bar or pub, but it was also the seeds of my own business”.

The company ‘Studiotic’ who trade in works on paper from the Arts and Crafts to Art Deco period owe their name to an article they read. The term ‘studiotic’ was originally used in a derogatory poem by the famous Arts and Crafts designer Robert Ashbee attacking the aesthetics of the Art Nouveau. The word stuck in their head and seemed to encapsulate the era they dealt in.

For Sue and Alan of ‘Scarab’ Antiques the South African roots meant they originally wanted to go with the name ‘Dung Beetle Antiques’. “The dung beetle is the hardest working animal of all,” explained Sue. “it is always foraging around the dung to improve their home which seemed to fit what we were going. We would happily have called ourselves Dung Beetle but our friends said we couldn’t possibly, so we opted for the scarab beetle instead!”.

An unusual and humorous name was chosen for Edd and Cassie’s antique shop in Bristol called ‘Dig Hauschizzle’. Its literal translation of slang and German alludes to loving a house full of crap. “We were sitting around with friends trying to come up with a name that reflected what we do and when someone said it, the name just made us break out laughing”. It was a similar story for Carol and Chris Bates from Kirklees in Yorkshire. When Carol asked what their new antiques business should be called Chris’ facetious response was “Past Caring”, and the witty name just stuck!

Finally some names are chosen with a far grander plan in mind. When Simon had the idea to set up an online antiques and crafts mall a few years ago he still wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted to sell. The name ‘Village-on-the-Green’ was chosen because it gave scope to create a virtual online shopping village (complete with a virtual church and playground!) where new dealers could inhabit shops on their village high street.

As for my own name ‘eddintheclouds’? Its written as one word to keep the pun and I started using it long before cloud-based internet services were around. I tell people that it reflects my state of mind, but the online internet reference has just been a happy co-incidence!

Antique Shop front Photo Credit: by Charlie Day

Its ALL about the money……..

When it comes to current trends, the phrase ‘money breeds money’ may be more pertinent than ever.  Vintage and antique coin collecting, for years the unfashionable preserve of knobbly-knee boys and introverted country squires, is currently experiencing a revival. Compared with the stereotypes of the past, today’s coin collector is truly international and comes from all walks of life, encompassing the savvy investor with vaults to fill, to the amateur historian just after a pocket-sized piece of the past.

Stacks of Coins

Unlike several other collecting fields that are currently doing well (many of which are new or susceptible to volatile fashions) coins have an unusually long and gradual collecting heritage in this country that stretches back several hundred years.  Somehow, despite all the recent shifts in people’s interest, coin collectors have maintained their traditional core values as well.  Its an approach I always admire: combining a healthy dose of daydreaming with years of research that together help to unlock those tiny metal discs to offer glimpses into the everyday life of our ancestors. And to those who want it, there is the potential of a healthy return right now as well. “The closest you can get to meeting someone from the past is having something that was in their pocket,” explains Tim Medhurst, a young auctioneer and coin specialist from Duke’s Auctioneers in Dorset. “For what are effectively lumps of Stuart or Tudor silver, you can actually own a real piece of history for very little money”.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosek/14172362653/in/photolist-nAn4Ee-6RnjKV-8KL9bL-96bEiD-FHisH-92FCJU-8puwXg-dX3m5h-9kMPgo-dPHmiv-8putCp-9wxuCf-9kJJvt-8wXUVH-8gdZcm-ahwWjs-6v5ACQ-8puprR-62QZVS-qLtZq8-b4fkT6-8pxDRo-9kKVF2-4jafc8-8KzFiS-ahtKQx-ifAF6n-a2YzvR-bj7EzR-9kNSHL-bvMqRr-pLUPU7-qMBEW5-qMKs7i-r52mHZ-6oAPzK-gGQr2d-8pxBCE-q6Ufjj-5HF91A-8KL7TL-82jcDK-jLtGLv-naV91-4HwcSu-8KL9Ff-68jAXC-6RrojU-8usDZQ-9eoVr7

Tim, who has been collecting coins himself since the tender age of 12, is a perfect spokesman for the field but I suspect also somewhat typical among collectors as well. Within seconds of listening I’m already wrapped up in the story-telling of who designed each coin, the fortunate mis-spellings that sometimes occurred, the stylistic appeal of differing images and the day-dreaming of who may have owned these tiny coins along the way. As someone worn down myself by the doom and gloom tales within the antique furniture trade, this altogether positive and upbeat approach is infectious.

The current market:

Like other markets, coin collecting has been influenced by several external factors recently that have benefitted the field. Amongst these are the international expansion of the market via the internet, a growing social interest in the story telling ability of objects and the more recent shift amongst serious investors towards small high-end consumables (such as jewellery, wrist watches, coins and medals).  As I learned, among the coins seeing the greatest jump in prices currently are those that have been professionally ‘slabbed’ (encased in solid plastic to prevent deterioration) and professionally graded against other known examples. Although relatively costly to do, this added level of security and confidence is especially appealing to investors who are looking to make shrewd yet safe purchases, though may not be connoisseur collectors themselves.

all MS-70 (graded perfect), all pure silver bullion

Other areas that are proving popular at the moment are early hammered coins ( i.e. those from the Tudor period and before), as well as high-quality early milled coins from the time of Charles II to George III. Its nice to see these pre-Victorian specimens being of genuine interest among people, especially amid the powerful wave right now for all things more modern. The American market, both as collectors and a source for coins has exploded in the last 5 years, fuelling the demand, and world coins in general appear to be doing well.

Both quality and rarity of course remain a premium in any field, and prices for the very best coins can go stratospheric, but to those people starting out with a limited budget and limited knowledge, then 20th Century coins offer a good entry point. Not only have full records been kept that show how many of each coin were minted each year (making pricing and categorising easier), but with plenty of research yet to be done, there are still lots of new discoveries to be made out there as well.

British Sovereign, Gold Coins, Front and Back

A step in the right direction:

Within the wider antiques industry there continues to be a heated debate as to whether the very past-time of collecting (in the traditional sense) is on the wane among a younger generation. Whether this bears out to be true or not, to my mind coin collecting is one such field we should all be praising anyway. Not only do hundreds of years of experience show that it can appeal and actively engage even the youngest and poorest in our society, but the endless breadth and scope on offer can easily foster a lifelong commitment to wonderment and learning.

In our world of short term fashions and money-led fads, coin collectors seem to understand the importance of long-term engagement with their coins. When I asked Tim about his own collecting wishes, he told me he could see himself collecting coins until his very last days. How many of us can honestly admit that level of commitment to their own collections? I’m not sure I can!

Stack of coins attribution: by Austin Kirk; elderly couple attribution: by Petr Dosek; Slabbed and Graded coins attribution: by Eric Golub; gold sovereign attribution: by John Louis

A return to honesty

verdi-gris scroll

While patina on furnishings has long been a muse for generations of antique lovers, in more recent years it has been forced to take a back seat to a multitude of fashionable faux finishes that included stripping, liming, painting, marbling, shabby chic-ing, bleaching and lacquering.  Now a new wave of interest has emerged within the industry that not only prizes the honesty of an unmolested finish, but uses it to draw out a sense of the object’s individuality as well. “Patina”, says the  John Yemma, “is the value age puts on an object…it comes from a life lived”.

2011_0709 - Patina Textures_3

Against perfection

To those unconvinced by the production line of brand new and machine-made uniformity, antiques can offer a uniquely rebellious source of inspiration.  At their heart antiques are still the modern objects of yester-year, possessing the same DNA of progress as their shiny new descendants.  However, unlike new items that can only speak of their construction (and thus tell only half the tale), even the most humble antique can, through its patina, whisper about a life in service and its natural decay over time. Patination is all about the imperfection, individuality and vulnerability that we all understand as aging humans. It keeps old items more emotive than new ones and to me, only after an antique tells its unique tale, should the issue of financial value ever be considered.

Drawing out the character

Amongst the growing band of antique dealers revelling in a love of patination are names from across the fields including country, folk, architectural and Victorian. It includes names like Spencer Swaffer, Rob Hall, Doe and Hope, Robert Young, Puckhaber, Daniel Larsson and Drew Pritchard. Far from just using the chipped and worn finish as a sales pitch, the best dealers are instead interpreting that patination to give each object a unique sense of individuality akin to a persona.  Through careful use of lighting, staging and up-close photography, seemingly uninspiring objects are successfully brought to life on the screen with gothic undertones, rustic purity or vintage playfulness.

The value of patina has evolved (beyond our previous level of understanding) to encapsulate a new theatrical element well suited to the modern home decorator. Theatricality, which is not confined to the patination only, is a wider trend that contrasts sharply with the blank white backgrounds that have been the mainstay of antique adverts for many years. And the look fits our growing demands online that expect an instant visual appeal as well.

2011_1105 - Wood Textures_1

Layer by layer

A return to honest patination in antiques is a step in the right direction for everyone. Not only does it bring back to life an object that may otherwise have been overlooked because it lacks any noble pedigree, but it also begins to separate antiques out again from the endless sea of modern ‘weathered’ copies that currently muddy the marketplace.   As anyone who dabbles knows, you can’t create patina, you can only remove it. And this honesty adds not only a sense of security for the buyer, but also reminds us of the long-term commitment of owning antiques.

For now the renewed interest remains in more dramatic patination such as chipped paint and exposed timber rather than the more subtle depth of patina still prized by mahogany and early oak lovers.  That this traditional view of patina will return to fashion again one day is certain, but just as the name suggests, it will take time and new layers of interest to get there.

Not all antiques either retain their original finishes or look better in their original state. Some, it must be admitted, let the rest of the object down and perhaps deserve attention. But when a growing number of sellers are proud to stand behind the objects original patina, then perhaps it may just make one or two people stop and think first before lifting sandpaper and brush!