Robin Butler on Twitter

May 2013

Andrew Lamberty is a young and well-educated antiques dealer whom I had not come across until November last year.  He called me, having discovered my website, to say that he wanted to buy an 18th century partly gilded magnum decanter and that “would I mind if his buying it were televised?”  Of course, I told him that would be wonderful, but I did explain that I did not have a shop - all my goodies were on shelves in my office with decanters and other paraphernalia wedged in around my desk.  He explained that he wanted the decanter to sell at a celebrity auction at a smart London City hotel with any profit going to a charity.


When Andrew arrived (in a very smart car) he explained what was going to happen, so we discussed the procedure and waited for the television ‘crew’ to arrive - it was one man, a hand held camera, and his laconic female sound recordist.  They filmed my greeting his arrival and followed us through to my office.  There we talked, he picked out the decanter, we struck a deal and off he went -  back to Pimlico.  It was all over in about three hours!


Andrew’s substantial shop contains a plethora of ‘objets d’art’, displaying a broad spectrum of taste, mostly based in the 20th century and international in origin.   Hence there are ‘whacky’ Italian mirrors and French sofas  displayed adjacent to Sex Pistol posters and an eclectic selection of lighting. He even once had the nose cone of a Concorde!  I was not sure where an 18th century decanter fitted in but clearly he has not yet reached middle age - that time when a man's broad mind and narrow waist appear to be changing places!


The television series appeared on BBC2 earlier this month and can be seen on ‘iPlayer’ .  If you are in the UK (or possibly elsewhere on the globe), simply go to the BBC website and click on ‘iPlayer’ on the top middle of your screen.  Then type “Auction Hero” into the search box (of iPlayer, not the BBC main site) and the series should appear.  My part came in Episode 3, and while the whole program is an excellent ‘watch’, I came into it after 37 minutes and a few seconds.  It is worth watching to see to the end when Andrew came to sell the decanter, but I won’t spoil your expectations by telling you the outcome if you missed the program itself.





I was really delighted with how it all went, not only because I felt it represented our meeting and deal very accurately, but also because it was very refreshing to see a program on antiques which was not geared to the usual bric-a-brac and celebrity seen on the small screen, nor was it gimmicky.  Andrew is a dealer who is passionate, works tirelessly, honest, fair and respects both his customers and those from whom he buys.  Of course, he has to make profits, but they are not gross as sometimes portrayed by a prurient press, some of whom make out all dealers to be devoid of any moral dimension.  What a refreshing change! - and put out at a sensible evening time slot on a serious channel.  If you did not see it, I hope my instructions of how to find it will work for you - and that you enjoy it.



There have been a fair number of tweets, as well as the usual reports, doing the rounds by senior wine writers concerning the 2012 wine harvest in Bordeaux, the opening prices and the en primeur market.    I have not tasted any, nor am I likely to for two or three years - and I hope more (when it may be mature), and when I do so, I hope I am lucky or wise enough to have tasted the good wines.  It seems the quality was very varied and with prices being very strongly watched, there were some chateaux selling well, while others were considered overpriced, despite reducing their opening prices by 30% or more.  Add to that, the fact that some well-known and traditionally expensive chateaux were drawing remarks like “arrogant in their pricing”, and it seems wise to avoid en primeur buying this year - unless you know your wine merchant very well!


While on the wine side, I ought to congratulate the Vintners’ Company on achieving their 650th year since being granted their Charter. It seems from what I have read, that they dined and wined themselves in excellent fashion - as one would expect.  The Company, when the late John Avery MW was Master, very kindly sponsored some of the illustrations in my ‘Great British Wine Accessories 1550 - 1900” and made their collections available to be imaged.  It was a great pleasure to handle some fine glass, including a fine 6-bottle decanter of c.1780 and two delightful silver cups of 1638.  I hesitate to call them a pair because they were different sizes - but they are a pair and beautifully engraved from the donor.


With wine prices seemingly rising continually, it does seem to me that antique decanters, funnels, labels and the rest are exceptional value for money.  When a single bottle of Chateau La Mission-Haut-Brion 2012, which is yet to be bottled and will not be delivered for another couple of years, is more costly than two Georgian decanters - do we have our priorities right?  The wine will, in all probability, be consumed as an element of one course of a dinner and only really appreciated by the host and the prime guest - then it is a memory - while the decanters will last for another century or two doing good service.  While I delight in drinking good wine, I do draw the line at spending £500 a bottle, particularly a couple of years before I can even taste it.  And yet there are plenty who do.  Do they have fine (antique, of course,) decanters I wonder?


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