Past Time Costs

One of the most passed down heirlooms is the watch.  This is a fairly outdated concept in the world of mini computers in our pockets but many see a watch as a mark of distinction, distinguishing the lord and lady from the masses.  If you are given a watch carrying the name Rolex, Omega or Patek Phillippe and you would be forgiven for getting excited.  Surely, you have hit upon the Rembrandt of the chronograph world.  Not necessarily – but, still maybe…

The vintage watch market is an improving area of antiques.  Even names such as Universal Geneve, Eniccar and Movado are commanding some serious dosh – so brandish a Rolex and you might get a good bit of interest.  Gold is making a resurgence after its reputation was slightly tarnished by the giving of gold watches to men retiring from good, if slightly dull, careers.  Now obviously, gold watches carry value because gold is priced well in itself.  However, it is now acknowledged that the gold watch is the preferred accessory for dress events. Yet, surprisingly maybe, steel watches are still craved more in the world market – mostly for its utilitarian yet clean, sharp look.

There are a number of considerations before seeking a sale of your heirloom.  First: condition.  As with any antique, quality sells.  Does the watch work? This is an obvious question.  Does the watch have all its original parts? This is maybe more concerning.  Replacement straps will devalue a watch.  There may even be replacement working parts inside the watch itself.  This will stop your watch from being listed as an authentic original brand.  Do you have the service history or provenance of the piece? A full service history on its own could add thousands to a watch. People used to treat their watches like we treat our cars – always worth doing with something that could potentially be the same price as a decent sports car!

Before selling, you might want to seek a ballpark valuation for yourself.  If you go to or you will see thousands of listings for vintage watches – new or old.  You should always seek out the average: discard over the top valuations and low valuations and you are likely somewhere realistic for your heirloom.

Realistically, though, if you think you have a real star of a timepiece, you should give it over to an expert to value.  Valuing time is a tricky business and handing it over to a lord of the field is going to give you astronomical returns. Time-lord pun intended, of course.

Astronomical Bidding War

Astronomical was a cheap attempt at a Star Wars pun… you know, stars and some sort or economical type mash up.  Many writers have written about Star Wars in the past and all the best lines have been stolen.  In an auction room far, far away there are a few hundred auctioneers who have also tripped over some of the Star Wars related clichés.

In the south-west this week there was a sale of Star Wars memorabilia, including a three-foot statue of Darth Vader.  Who would want a three-foot statue of Vader in their house? I’m guessing the millions of Star Wars fans are saying “who wouldn’t?”  The auctioneer reported that the sale of 90 items would like be over in an hour, such is the ferocity and passion of Star Wars collectors.

So, what is it about this film in particular that makes the items so collectable?  The first reason is thanks to the film makers themselves.  The film is full of iconic imagery that appeal to our childhood sense of wonder.  Who wouldn’t want a Millennium Falcon?  Better still one who lid lifts off and you can see the inner machinations of the greatest space ship of all time.  Even the Death Star had a sort of dark appeal in its half completed form.  Only the Borg cube in Star Trek ever came close to the same sort of iconic imagery.

The film-makers can also be thanked for extending the format over several generations.  If Lucas has stopped at The New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, it is likely that the franchise would have aged.  The generation of super-fanatics would slowly die out.  The films would still have a certain cult appeal but nothing like the fervour that still remains today – that means 90 items will disappear in 60 minutes.  By crossing into a new generation about 15 years ago with the three prequels and now again with a sequel to Return of the Jedi, the appeal reaches to a new generation.  Not only that but the filmed is owned anew by each generation – teenagers speak about Star Wars as if their parents and grandparents might not know what they are talking about.

More than anything though Star Wars memorabilia appeals to the inner geek in us.  We want the full collection of figures: including the Ewoks and Chewbacca.  We want the ship that Luke Skywalker used to destroy the death star and a replica of C3P0.  Star Wars not only offers desirable objects but also appeals to that yearning in all of us to have a complete set.

So with a final flourish of Star Wars cliché I say: to the auction you must go, young collector.

Pele scores in collectables sale

Collectables tend to call on the romance in our souls.  There is little money to be made in almost all areas of collecting.  There has to be something rare, something enviable, covetous, to bring people out and clamber to own and offer money without thought.

Pele is one of those football players who can pull off one name.  Even those that call it soccer know of his legend.  He ruled over Brazilian football and was the idol of many who aspired to his trickery and smooth skills.  When Pele offered up his history in the sport to auction, there was going to be competition to own whatever he offered.

Pele had donated much of his history to the city of Santos.  However, he decided to auction certain items for his fans.  The most notable item is a reproduction of the Jules Rimet Trophy – more commonly known as the World Cup.  Pele is the only player in history to have won the World Cup three times and in tribute FIFA presented the famous footballer with his own copy to cherish.   In terms of collectables, ones of a kind such as this are always going to attract big money.  It is the very definition of rare.  And, maybe it is unfair that it should cost so much – it is unlikely that a true devotee to Pele will have the money it takes to buy such a collectable.

Yet, maybe there are other treasures that hold more romance than a replica trophy?  There are the boots that Pele wore during the filming of Escape to Victory.  How awesome to own a pair of his boots, never mind ones worn in such an iconic film.  Then, there is the ball he claimed after he scored his 1000th goal.  Imagine touching it and hoping that some of the magic will rub off in your next Sunday morning fixture.

There are more realistic football collectables to own, of course – though they come without the golden touch of Pele.  The collection of memorabilia for the nation’s game will always be popular – football cards, signed shirts, rare tickets – but unless they offer the sort of one-of-a-kind glow that Pele offers – you will be earning tens of pounds rather than millions.  But, then, collectables are more to do with the heart than the pocket anyway.

Remain or Leave?

Surely something that is actually older than the EU can withstand the vote?  Antiques, to be called antique, have to be over 100 years old.  Therefore, by existing they have already survived the test of time.  It is unlikely they will suddenly lose value just because we are not in a direct trade link with Europe.

Furthermore, with the advent of online bidding and before that phone bidding, a lot of auctions are international.  People do not feel the need for free travel to the UK to trade in antiques, when they can do this much cheaper using wifi or a phone line.

Yet, there is the case that Brits will suddenly find a barrier to their travel through Europe.  A quick trip over to France to have a look round some antiques fayres may suddenly need pre-planning – you may need a visa.  Vice versa for the Europeans who commute over to our sales that pitch up in old stately homes and village halls.  Any niggling bureaucracy is going to hinder trade on some level.

There is also the worry over the strength of the pound, should the country vote to leave.  There is bound to be a weakening of the currency due to uncertainty and this will in turn devalue stock sold on the international market.  However, some would argue that the weaker currency would encourage buyers to look closely at the UK auctions – more business, more profit.

Seriously though, the antiques trade has been a robust industry for hundreds and hundreds of years.  It is a trade that has often been buffeted by political change.  To suggest being in the EU or not is going to have that much impact would be misleading.  Let’s face it… this blog is bandwagon riding… who wants to be left out of the debate, who doesn’t want to feel that their opinion has been heard and why shouldn’t the antiques trade put in its two-penneth (or shillingth… for metaphor accuracy…) indeed it would have been remiss to stay quiet when nobody else is!

Vote remain or leave, it doesn’t really matter to the world trade market.  They have survived much worse before.

(Cullens of Surrey are remaining neutral on the EU vote)

It’s got good age

Antiques is one of the few areas where it is celebrated to be old.  The older the better – the greater the age the more forgiving we become.  You see pieces of furniture going up for sale and the vendor expecting hundreds and hundreds of pounds because it came from the Georgian or early Elizabethan age.  Yet, a similarly knocked up piece on the High Street is being sold for fifty quid and that comes without knocks or scrapes or handles missing. 

The first argument in defence of the OAP of the furniture world is that craftsmen really knew how to make good cupboards.  The mere name “craftsmen” invokes a romantic image of a man with his chisel labouring over a cornice, shaping the perfect curve.  We become wistful and we yearn to stroke the shapes created in the mind’s eye of a genius at work.  Exaggerated tone aside, there is something uniquely pleasing about a well-constructed joint, like a castle turret, inter-locked in perfect symmetry.

Then, there is the idea in the buyer’s mind of the history of the furniture.  It is wonderful to imagine the rooms the furniture has lived in and the hands that have reached into drawers – searching for the little black key to the hidden garden that lives behind the ivy. You can almost hear Thomas Hardy in the corner of the room reciting verse about the hay in the field or the pollen in the trees.  The furniture belongs to a gentler, kinder time and some of its delicacy is transported into our lives.  Then, in times of pure fantasy, we imagine ourselves as heroes, saving some of the past for the future generations…

But, then there is the truth that for the furniture to have lasted so long means it is made by the best hands in the best material and therefore its cost reflects the product.  Gold inlay, rare woods, ivory carving: it is likely that antique furniture is more than just old.  Plus, with inflation and the changing value of money, there is every possibility that these pieces did cost less more then than they do now – it is just that our wealth has increased and our understanding of what money means is different.  Investing in furniture is a highly speculative business and with passing fashions high prices come and go.  Therefore, maybe the value placed on age is merely an illusion we create to justify buying something that has captured our heart.

Still, when we listen to the auctioneer and he says the immortal phrase: “Come on now, this has good age!” we know this is a rallying cry to covet something precious and raise our hand again and again.

Saving the world with style

A few years ago a new verb came on the scene.  To upcycle: to reuse a discarded object in such a way that it is of greater value than it was before.  Upcyclers are people of vision.  Where mere mortals see piles of rubbish, they see the next piece of cutting edge furniture or decoration.  Not only do they sprinkle inspiration over ugly objects but they save the world as they do it.  If only U-man didn’t sound like drain cleaner, you could almost imagine them as superheroes!

Let me take you through some examples.  First, in the back of the garage you might find an old box filled with spanners – rusted maybe, certainly never used.  Throw them away?  Not our intrepid hero!  U-man would carefully clean the rust off (use coca-cola – seriously, it does the trick!) and then bend them in the middle.  Our hero of the rubbish bin would then scatter them with haphazard flair on a wall, screwed in place, and call them coat pegs.  Genius.

Got yourself some old tyres that have no tread to grip the road?  With a whisk of a super-human hand the upcycler would transform them into plant pots, or a garden seat or a coffee table.  The texture of the rubber retained but sprayed in vibrant colours or lifted off the floor with carved timber.

The all-time favourite upcycle moment comes when you look at the humble tennis ball.  Your fast smash serve has rendered the ball useless – no bounce, fluffy, half chewed maybe by the dog.  To upcycle merely takes a pair of scissors and a marker pen.  Cut the ball in half, slice a cross into the surface and draw on a smiley face.  Glue these little yellow faces to the kitchen wall and they become the perfect storage device for your tea towels!

If you spoke to my Gran, which if you do you will always find entertaining, she will tell you this is all posh nonsense.  In her day this was called thrift – you had to reuse items during the war – rationing don’t you know.  She finds this idea of charging the earth for a bit of elbow grease and a smidge of imagination a bit of nonsense.  But, in all honesty, to really upcycle you do need something of that super human vision that only a special few have.

If only I kept the box…

I wonder how many people had toy cars as a kid and threw away the boxes?  As 40 somethings they now palm slap their forehead, as they realise they somehow devalued their most precious of collections by chucking away the bit of cardboard.

I happened upon a forum not long ago, where collectors of sci-fi figures debated why they kept the box and why it increased the value of the collection.  There really is nothing like the fury of debate from a forum, and not only a forum but a forum for people who harbour minor OCD issues.  The passion and the fury that was vented on the poor soul who admitted that they couldn’t see the point behind the box – incredible.

So, here is a summary of the collectable communities’ justification of the obsession with packaging.  Sit comfortably, this is complex psychology at work.  Firstly, they claim, it is because it is easier to transport the collectable between houses when you move if you still have the box.  OK, you say, actually quite practical really.  But, no, this is not good enough to explain why the box can add value.  Surely, any box and a bit of bubble wrap would be equally effective.  Then, someone makes the equally sensible claim that when you buy collectables you want the impression that you are the only one that has ever owned it.  You want it as close to perfect as it possibly can be.  Again, perfectly sensible and added to this you can begin to see why people would pay more for the illusion of it being almost completely new.

However, then comes the mysterious explanation that is beyond reason: it is because it is a part of the collectable.  It is another component, intrinsic to the wholeness of the item.  One commentator asked the original writer to imagine being in the toy shop and seeing the line of boxed toys and feeling that sense of excitement and anticipation that comes from wanting to see inside… and this is where the complex psychology of the collector is revealed.  They are all chasing that first moment as a child when they craved ownership of some rare collectable – similar, I suggest, to the desperation of wanting a sticker of John Barnes to complete your football sticker album.

So, even if we still wonder at the sheer waste of space when keeping the box, never underestimate the monetary value future buyers will place on purchasing the complete item.

Once upon a time a humble cable reel…

I’m sure you have seen them around building sites: huge reels with wire or chain rolled around them.  Circular wooden slats joined by a cylinder; they are made with second-rate wood badly scarred and stained.  Surely, these are no good for anything once the wire or chain has been used up.  Just good for firewood or to be recycled and reused to hold wire or chain?

But the humble cable reel had a dream, a dream to go out into the world and become something bigger, something to be admired, something that the neighbours would peer at and think: wow, what a genius invention.  It didn’t want to be merely recycled, it wanted to be upcycled!

First, it set forth and transformed into a garden table.  Wood-stained in green and with smaller reels used as stools.  Once weather treated, this garden table can become a feature that will attract attention.  Someone thought to put an ice bucket in the centre hole and now even the beers were cool.

But, then, the cable reel had aspirations to be more.  So, it was transformed into a table that could grace the lounge.  Glossed in white, with the bottom reel transformed into a bookshelf.  The centre hole filled with a glass bowl, filled with glass baubles.  The old industrial look is long forgotten in this new, dramatic dress of the quiet cable reel.

The cable reel began to grow in confidence and transformed into an industrial size clock, just one of its discs hung on the wall as a feature in a New York Loft.  The distress of old screws and the stain of its serial number kept to give an authentic sense of the reel’s previous use.

There are thousands of cable reels that have taken the step towards upcycling.  The moon shape rocking chair… the double height cable reel used as a bar table with a handy shelf half way down for dead glasses… the triple height cable reel used to hold cascading plants in the corner of a conservatory… the children’s play table painted with a road or with the shapes of a farm or the details of a mushroom.

Old rubbish it once was, but now the cable reel is worth something and everyone is looking to the next big project.  This is a true story of upcycling. Check out Pinterest if you don’t believe me.

21st Century Gold Rush

There is a TV programme on  The Discovery Channel where brave, some would say crazy, men and women dive under the ice in search of gold that will make their fortune.  90% of the programme is watching the agony and near fatality of their failures.  Then, just as all hope is lost, they will pop up with a nugget that is reportedly worth thousands and is the saviour of their diving business for another year.  As a viewer, rather than smirk at their fool-hardy idealism, you begin wondering if you should set up your own diving for gold business, even though you have never been under water, never mind under ice.

In many respects, TV programmes such as Flog it! and Antiques Roadshow produce similar mind teasing moments of gold rush.  There are always stories you hear of people going to car boot sales or looking in drawers and finding an item worth thousands.  Just recently a London Cabbie sent his painting that he bought for £40 at a car boot sale to auction. He made a point of saying how he haggled the poor vendor down from £65.  The cabbie was selling the rare painting by Harmindr Sahib because he fancied a new colour scheme in his house.  The large Indian Gouache on paper miniature reached £75000 when the hammer fell at auction.  Then, there is the Rolex watch found when clearing out a dead parent’s drawer.  It was broken and clearly discarded by the owner but bought for £46000 at auction.

Each time you hear a story of mind bending profit you think about waking up at 6am every Sunday morning and trawling the car boots in a 50 mile radius for your Bargain Hunt moment!  Yet, the fact is, these monumental moments are news because they are rare.  An antique, a vintage item, even a collectable is actually given the value it deserves by its scarcity and its desirability.  The Rolex watch was one of only 618 ever made for the Italian Navy in World War 2.  The image of the Golden Temple is the holiest complex in Sikh religion, so was a highly desirable image and the price was driven up by the demand of competing bidders.

So, when watching programmes such as Flog it! watch for the number of people in the crowd waiting for valuations.  Take care to listen to the valuations that speak in terms of £10 or £20 and that flash of disappointment of the participant’s face when it is not ten thousand or twenty thousand pound.  But then, you will say, did you see that episode where a woman got thousands for a satirical print with a broken frame by Batement that she had hidden under the bed.  And, with that we all set our alarm clocks for 6am because the glint of gold is just in the next car boot field.