By R.H. Healey
The idea that there are trends in collecting has always baffled me (who or what drives these fashions?), but it is probably true that if as a dealer you buy “brown furniture” when it is cheap and unfashionable it doesn’t follow that such furniture will eventually do well in the market. It might never return to favor—and there where would you be? Stuck with a warehouse of unsalable Georgian chests of drawers, that’s where!
Of course, as a collector, you are probably guided by your own tastes rather than the market, but the clever collector is always aware of trends, even if he or she despises them. Currently (apart from brown furniture) the antiques that are cold, according to the panel of experts in this 2014 edition of Warman’s, who include our own Karen Knapstein, are baseball cards, quilts and dolls. Some hot areas for collectors to consider are contemporary art and modern technology.
Collectors might also do well look at 20th century American ceramics. In the current Warman’s it is difficult to ignore the 100-page section on this subject. As an Englishman more familiar with Beswick, Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper and Moorcroft, I for one was pleasantly surprised by the stunning range of art pottery produced by such firms as Grueby and Fulper, examples of which I have yet to stumble across in Britain. An expertise in wonderful glazes, rather than the grotesque modelling of animals, is appreciated by someone who has long admired the experimental work of such British innovators as Coldrum and Ruskin, examples of which, unfortunately, are not included here.
Because American ceramics command so much space, other areas suffer less attention, which may be a reflection of the collecting trends we have mentioned. Hence, common ‘brown’ antique furniture of the type that so dominates salerooms and antique shops in the UK and America, is largely ignored in favor of beautifully decorated standout pieces, mainly from New England. Good Golden Age European silver and glass have a low profile too, which is a pity. Instead, perhaps too much space is given over to art glass of dubious decorative value, vintage memorabilia of all kinds, and costume jewelry.
Areas that could be expanded in future guides might be manuscripts and autographs, since these are unlikely to have a separate guide devoted to them, though perhaps they deserve such exposure. It was also disappointing not to find sections on textiles, Mayan and other pre-Columbian antiquities, and indeed ancient Roman and Greek artifacts. I also feel that Fine Art, which is excluded from the Millers guides in the UK, for obvious reasons of room, should also, I believe, be removed from Warman’s and, as with Miller’s, be covered in a specialist guide.
Finally, for those who wish to combine antique collecting with working out, I can highly recommend this latest edition of Warman’s, which, coming in at a massive 5 pounds, is a handy addition to your fitness regime.
Robin Healey was born in London and earned his MA in Art History from the University of Birmingham. Healey is a professional blogger who has published five books and contributed to a further 10, and has worked in publishing, as a historian at London University, and in various art galleries and museums around the UK. Has been a freelance writer for many years, contributing to Rare Book Review and Book and Magazine Collector, Times Literary Supplement, Guardian and Independent newspapers, among many others. He is currently editing The Withers Correspondence (1842-68) at the University of Liverpool.