Antiques Feature: More pleasure than paper investments

PUBLISHED: 09:31 30 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:22 20 February 2013

Antiques Feature: More pleasure than paper investments

Antiques Feature: More pleasure than paper investments

Downturn or upturn? Gerry Berwyn-Jones reviews Bonhams' silver sale at Knowle.

More pleasure than paper investments

Downturn or upturn? Gerry Berwyn-Jones reviews Bonhams silver sale at Knowle.

It is a question that we encounter regularly: I suppose that the general state of the economy has had an adverse effect on your auction business?. However, I can and do say that the converse is true. Strange though this may seem, at a time when interest rates are at an all time low, property prices have (in the main) plummeted and stock markets are in decline, investors are turning to tangible assets.

Most people are aware that silver and gold prices have been rising as the economy has remained in the doldrums. This has been due to a multitude of reasons, including the rising demand in the far east, but for those in the west where confidence has ebbed in all the more nebulous financial transactions, from mortgage funding and endowments to share certificates and the interdependence of international banking, there is nothing so reassuring as an object that one can handle or sell to realise its rising value.

This is not limited to silver but encompasses other areas such as works of art, porcelain and even furniture. In fact it includes every category, but the market is selective and other factors complicate the markets desires, such as fashion and modern day lifestyles. It is for these reasons that the general antique furnishing market has suffered increasingly over the last 10 years.

The results for the silver sale in Knowle endorsed the assertions above, where all the collectable examples performed well, namely a late Victorian enamelled silver vesta case by Sampson and Mordan. Vesta cases have been a firm favourite for collectors for many years and these regimental oriented ones have always done well. Their value lies in the rarity of the unit depicted, but (as always) the maker, date, quality and condition all have a bearing on the price.

The one illustrated, depicting a mounted lifeguard, sold for over 2,000. Elsewhere, a 1940s silver canteen sold for 3,900, far in excess of its silver weight. This was due to the more unusual pattern (York), good condition and the fact that it was an extensive flatware service. This result was even better considering that on the day of the sale silver prices fell to 14 an ounce from over 20 an ounce. Despite the upward trend this fluctuation reveals how volatile the precious metal scrap market is.

However, although buyers want silver in the main, rather than run-of-the-mill electroplate and old Sheffield plate, the majority of the lots in this sale would not be melted down. Another example was the set of four sconces illustrated, which were made as late as 1922 and weighed just 29 ounces, but owing to their good design and with obvious interior decorator appeal they sold for 2,600. Also, a Victorian silver tray (also shown on this page) achieved more than 4,000 (weight 148 ounces). Again the reason can be ascribed to design, as unusually the sides are decorated in relief with swags and urns.

Lastly, the tea service illustrated, returns us to the orient. The Chinese tea service, circa 1900, weighing only 32 ounces, sold for 3,300. All the above will find their way into private collections or investments, but whatever the motive behind the purchase, as has been said many times before, these works of art can be used and admired and if the need arises sold to realise their worth. Surely, this will give infinitely more pleasure than paper investments?

Gerry Berwyn-Jones BA(Hons) MRICS is a senior valuer and auctioneer for Bonhams International Auctioneers and can be contacted on 01564 732966 or

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