Under the Hammer

Clifford Lansberry has worked in the Antiques and Fine Art Auction Business for over thirty years and in that time has seen plenty of changes.

Even ten years ago a call to a house where the owner wanted to downsize would usually result in much of the contents being suitable for sale at auction. How things have changed. Today many of the solid sellers from previous decades are now left behind as unsaleable.

Twenty years’ ago a standard George III mahogany bureau was worth about £1,000. Today, well it’s certainly under £100 with many proving too low in value to be worth offering. Victoriana was all the rage with pot lids, copper warming pans and Staffordshire flatback figures all in demand and American
buyers flying in on buying trips to snap up cranberry glassware and walnut whatnots. These days Victoriana is in the doldrums, a half century after the swinging sixties when it was equally out of favour.

So what has happened?

It’s all about taste and the requirements of modern living. Most of my clients tell me that “we have offered it to the children and they just don’t want anything”. Their cherished antiques do not suit the lifestyles and homes of their children. And it’s not just the 30-40 year olds. Most of us have swapped the more formal arrangements of the 20th century for something more relaxed.

The cut glass, dinner services, silverware and mahogany dining tables of dinner parties past have been replaced with more informal dining options, often around the kitchen table with more contemporary accessories. So those once much desired and expensive dining accoutrements have fallen out of demand and therefore are much reduced in value. The same applies to the other furnishings of the past.

So is it all bad news?

Well that depends upon what you have to sell and what you want to buy. The drop in value of many traditional antiques means that formerly highly priced articles are now veritable bargains. If you like antique furniture then now is the time to buy and get far more for your money than ever before.

From the vendors viewpoint, well the traditional may have fallen down but a whole host of items have soared in value, many of them things that were totally overlooked in the past. Vintage and industrial is in; from stripped metal office furniture to chemists cabinets. Garden ornaments and furniture are much wanted – the contents of the garden often holds more value than that of the house. Collectables from coins and stamps to watches, toys and ephemera have boomed in the past ten years driven by the ease of buying and selling online along with new buyers tempted in whilst sat at home during the covid lockdown. Asian art remains highly sought after, mainly being bought by Chinese buyers. We see 80% of buyers at our Asian sales now coming from China.

And finally regarding that dining furniture, back in the 1950s and 60s most people bought antique or reproduction furniture. Those that made the bold choice to buy Scandinavian designer furniture are reaping the rewards; mid-century furniture is in short supply but high demand. The 30 and 40 year old ‘children’ that don’t want their parents stuffy old antiques love the charms of Ercol, Eames and 1950s Danish design.

So take some hope from the ashes of brown furniture. It’s not all bad news. Treasures often lie in less expected places and as experienced valuers and auctioneers we are able to advise where they might be found as well as helping with that old brown furniture.

Granny’s treasured mantel clock might not strike your fortune but those old postcards in the dresser might just make up for it.

Clifford Lansberry, Managing Partner

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