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January 2013

January has always been the donkey’s tail in the calendar of sales of antiques.  Traditionally we have always put it down to the fact that ‘post-Christmas blues’ and taxes have caused the antiques-buying public to ‘pull in their horns’; not this year it seems!  While sales have not exactly been record-breaking, they have been buoyant and look to continue that way.  But it does bring the state of the market firmly into focus in a way that both dealers and their customers should take note.  I am extremely fortunate that my wife, Carol, ‘thinks out of the box’, constantly conjuring up fresh thoughts about which directions both her and my businesses might go next.

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Perhaps I should first mention what Carol does because I am certain many readers have no idea at all.  She is an Image Professional, which means she is consulted about all matters where image plays a part, whether it is helping those who have scant idea of what they should wear, to (much more importantly) how best they should present themselves for interview or address a visiting dignitary.  The first impression we all make is the most important one; it is what those who meet us take into their minds - and keep there.  So how we speak, our manners, our ability to engage, they all come before what it is we actually say.  Yes, it is quite a broad subject.


Carol has recently stepped down from the Presidency of the Federation of Image Professionals International, having held the post for 3 years.  She is also among the top three best-qualified in her profession in the world, but she still keeps her feet firmly on the ground and is constantly helping individuals of modest means and aspirations, as well as ‘high flyers’.  Currently she is part of a small team coaching aspiring non-executive directors to achieve their aims, and with thousands of highly qualified and experienced men and women in the City of London having to find alternative employment, she is in strong demand.

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It is now about six months since Hugh Johnson asked if he might join me in this business, and I am delighted to report that it is proving to be a most successful liaison.  It has meant that I have been able to draw on the considerable expertise resulting from Hugh’s having had a similar business in London, and although no longer operating, he has been able to bring his welcome advice and opinion to bear. 


In addition to Hugh’s antique wine accessories, he also commissioned to have made a range of wonderfully  individual and excellent quality copies of antiques.  The ship’s decanter is a more accurate copy than any I have seen - and that is a good many, and his funnel is perfect for use with magnums.   In addition to his specially-commissioned accessories, he has also prized out of his attic one or two interesting  pieces, both antique and ‘vintage’, which you may see on my website.  

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In almost all retail businesses, when a stock item runs low, more are ordered from the supplier.  Not so with antiques because nearly everything is unique.  I do the buying as, where and when pieces become available, bearing several considerations in mind.  First and foremost, the object must be genuine and the price must me right.  But I also think of what I currently have and try to avoid too many duplications.  I want the stock (inventory for US readers) to be balanced with a good and even spread between all the categories you see on the right hand side of my website.  Quality and condition play a very  large part in my  decision process also.  However within all these strictures, sometimes what I buy is determined by what comes my way.  Just recently silver and silver-gilt wine labels seem to have been popping up all over the place and I have secured some very interesting and fine examples.


18 months ago (July 2011), I wrote about wine labels.   Most collectors of them specialise in one area of collecting - Scottish provincial, early Sheffield plate, Boars’ tusks and tiger claws, specific makers, spelling mistakes and rare wine names - are some examples.  Last week, as I write this, there was a provincial auction with many wine labels in it.  One label which appeared quite ordinary - standard small size and with the commonest of wine names - Madeira, was sold for £3,800 but only because it was made at Tain (some 25 miles north of Inverness).   Tain may be a small town with few silversmiths ever practicing there, but I find enthusiasm for something, only because it is rare, is unjustifiable.   Such reliance on rarity can be undermined almost overnight

However, there seems to be one aspect of wine label collection which has been ignored by the label-collecting fraternity, namely labels of exceptional, or even very high quality.   That appears to be an attribute that matters little to some and I don’t understand that.    I knew one man who did collect wine labels of wonderful quality, but nobody seems to have carried on where he left off, and I see that as a ‘gap in the market’, an area where there is scope for making a collection which is currently undervalued.  You may care to have a look at some of them here.

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Finally, if you would like to make verbal and visual contact with me, I have a Skype ‘address’ which is, robin.butler1.  If I am at my desk - which I often am, I will be delighted to receive your call preferably between  9 am and 6 pm UK time.  However, perhaps it would be wise  to book a call by e.mail first.


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