Anitques - The Philip Serrell Column - Pots, planes and a bear

12:59 18 June 2010

1. The Carlo Bugatti chair held together with ‘baler twine’.

1. The Carlo Bugatti chair held together with ‘baler twine’.

Philip Serrell lives in a giddy world of antiques and TV presenting but is brought down to earth in a Lancaster bomber

Mention the name Bugatti to most people and, in all probability, it would summon up images of a seriously expensive motor car. Whether a modern million pound Veyron or a similarly priced 1930s Type 59 it is the motor car that first comes to mind. They were a decidedly talented family. Ettore, the car designer, had similarly successful siblings, all of whom had an eye for design.
Carlo Bugatti was a designer of furniture that today is hugely collectable; though I cant help but think it is a bit wacky. This chair (1) is typical; made in walnut but with inlays of pewter and copper. An added quirk is the twine, well almost baler twine, that holds the two target-shaped back supports in place. The seat has been replaced, but when it was offered for auction recently in my saleroom the interest was huge. The hammer price of 4,200 did not quite match up to the price of a racing car but it was substantial. (Anyone with an interest in the Bugatti clan would find a visit to the museum at Prescott Hill Climb in Gloucestershire well worth a trip. Last time I paid a call work by the brothers was on display.)
From Carlo and his wacky chair to Karl, one seriously expensive teddy bear (2). Karl had the hump, not that this affected his disposition, but referred to a hump in the stuffing on his back. This, combined with his long snout,
gave clues to his origin. There was no little button in the ear but he
was surely produced by the Steif factory? Now I dont mind admitting that Ive sort of grown out of teddy bears and lovely though Karl was I didnt see him selling for more than just a few hundred pounds. Well I was sort of right, depending on how you define few, because Karl created so much pre-sale interest that he sold for 4,600.
You will know that I am fiercely proud of Worcestershire and its antique heritage. The demand for Royal Worcester Porcelain continues relentlessly. This vase (3) is typical of the work of Charlie Baldwyn. The powder blue ground is normally always decorated with his flying swans and this 16 inch high example sold recently for 6,800.
If you travel north through the county on the antique trail you will surely find your way to Stourbridge? In my view the Stourbridge factories produced some of the worlds finest glassware at the back end of the Victorian era. The six-inch high cameo vase (4) originated from the factory of Thomas Webb and Sons and sold for 3,000 in the same sale as the Baldwyn vase.
The painting of miniatures is a hugely specialised area in the 18th century they were the equivalent of the family photograph album. One of the Rolls Royces of miniature portrait painters was John Smart. Much of his work, and of his fellow miniaturists, was carried out on ivory. Condition here is all important as ivory can easily warp and crack. This little portrait (5) of one splendidly named Wimburn Sudel Horlock was surrounded by diamonds. It measures about 1.5 by 1.25 inches and sold for 10,000; a serious sum of money but in many eyes a very shrewd investment in a market that should continue to rise.

Brought down to Earth in a Lancaster bomber

The summer is here and my television work seems to get busier and busier. I am in the middle of filming the Antiques Road Trip at the moment. I have the pleasure of David Barbys company in a little red Morris Minor convertible as we cruise around the countryside. Sometimes in life you need a gentle reminder as to how lucky we all are, and in my case privileged, to have the jobs we do. As part of the programme I ended up driving to an RAF base in Lincolnshire to see a Lancaster bomber. Im sure many of you will have seen the film Dambusters where the actor Richard Todd flew one of these planes to deliver Barnes Wallaces famous bouncing bomb. These planes were massive and to produce the same engine size would have required 108 of my little red Morris Minors. I was lucky enough to sit in the pilots seat, albeit on the ground, with engines roaring away. However, what really hit me was the owner telling me that the crews to these flying targets were generally aged between 19 and 22 and their average life expectancy was four trips. It made me feel incredibly humble its not always a bad thing to have your memory jogged to remind you what others have sacrificed for your benefit.

Philip Serrell has a sale room in Malvern. He is the author of An Auctioneers Lot and Sold to the Man with the Tin Leg and, of course, the nature of his job is such that there are plenty more tales to tell.


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