Robin Butler on Twitter

March 2013

Just recently a valued customer from the other side of the planet, wanted to know more about something I had in stock. However, he felt that the images were not quite sufficient to tell him all he wanted to know, as it was a three-dimensional piece with moving parts. I suggested that we had a Skype conversation and the following day we did just that.  Not only did it cost nothing for either of us except for our time, but also I was able to show him the object of his interest, rotate it, and generally demonstrate what it was and how it worked.   

I have had Skype capability for some years although to date, I have used it very little.  Anyone can download it quite easily and the joy of it is that it costs nothing!  If any reader would like to connect to see something I have on my website, please e.mail me and I will then be able to discuss the object of your interest with it in my hand.  My Skype address is robin1butler.

Many say that after a decanter, a wine funnel is the next ’must’ for a wine enthusiast.  In my last newsletter, I mentioned wine funnels were to be seen on my website ‘soon’. They actually made an appearance under a separate heading a day or so later, between ‘Corkscrews’ and ’Other Antiques’. When I see other dealers charging up to, and occasionally over £2,000 for a wine funnel, mine look to be exceptional value - and they are all very good examples. 

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The first of the top-end antiques fairs has just occurred.  I went along last week on the opening day of the BADA fair in Chelsea to see what was on offer, to meet many long-standing friends and colleagues and generally ‘get the mood’ of what ‘moves and shakes’.  Perhaps most noticeable to me, as  someone who has been every year since its inception, is the smaller number of dealers taking part. This is not surprising as stand prices are very high, almost to the point of being exorbitant.  

Some dealers who chose not to return have told me of their experiences - that they have done more business from their premises than they expected, but there is another underlying issue.   In the current economic climate, and particularly in London, the very best sells, whether it is motorcycles, hand-lasted shoes or antiques; rubbish sells also in vast quantities; it is the in-between goods which are sticking. The BADA Fair, while it is good to very good is not wildly exceptional - and that tells.  Nevertheless, I hear that most participants were very happy with the outcome.  For the exceptional, you will have to wait for Masterpiece in 3 months’ time, running from June 26th - July 3rd.

I am delighted to report that I did manage to find a few quite exceptional decanters - three superb magnum decanters, one of which was also a ship’s decanter, which is a great rarity, and a second fine ship’s decanter.  

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If a museum curator, dealer or collector handles many examples of a particular type, be it brass candlesticks, early Worcester porcelain or dueling pistols, then certain peculiar characteristics become obvious.  Seeing a whole collection together at the same time will sometimes bring out surprising connections, similarities and distinctions, which might not be apparent if seen at different times and in different places.  Such observations can advance our understanding of that subject substantially.  As I look at my current stock/ inventory I have about 20 ship’s decanters on a shelf and seeing them on a shelf in front of me as I write this, has brought many aspects of their manufacture into focus.  I would like to share with you some of those observations because there is more to them than I thought only a short while ago. 

However, above all, ship’s decanters provide what a decanter should provide - the ability to let a wine ‘breathe’ - and they do it better than decanters of other designs.  Modern versions can be difficult to use, and I am not alone in thinking that they are different for difference’s sake and extracting the last glass from some on them requires manual dexterity which should not be asked of anyone over the age of 40!

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To finish on a interesting story.  About 4 months ago, the corkscrew I kept for daily use was a cheap version of one invented by Screwpull.  It was a large device which extracted the cork and rejected it in a single down & up motion of a lever. I said it was a cheap version (I paid £5 on Ebay) and within a short time it fell apart and was useless.  It now resides in my dustbin!   In need of a replacement I thought I would try an electric corkscrew - push one button to inject the business end, and a second button to extract it.   It works on most corks, but it is noisy (which does not go down well chez Butler) and the extraction seldom is completed; I usually have to fish out the cork with a screwdriver!  I expect that before long I am going to have to bite the bullet and get a good quality one.   In any case I always keep a 19th century plain ‘straight-pull’ corkscrew in the drawer and recently I have been having to use it.  The old ones don’t let you down - there must be a moral there!


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