Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tips From Antique Expert Michael Hogben

The following article is based on an excerpt by antiques expert Michael Hogben – it originally appeared in “Collecting Under the Radar” by Michael Hogben and Linda Abrams. Michael Hogben is the star of “Auction Man” and the BBC’s “Bargain Hunt” and is a veteran antiques auctioneer and appraiser, based in the English Countryside.

Collecting antiques has been a life-long passion for me, and the excitement and pleasure that it produces never subsides. As an art dealer for five years and an auctioneer for nearly twenty, I’ve had over two million lots pass through my hands at a value of some $30 million.

Some of the more fascinating collecting paths lie deep-rooted in the memory. The urge to accumulate objects from the past can lead to the formation of an immensely pleasurable collection, which can also—with a bit of luck and skill—be accompanied by considerable financial reward.

Pink Pig Garden Potting Table
Nearly everyone has, or can develop, an eye for some nostalgic item. The urge to collect may come about in a number of random ways: all of a sudden you realize that you have just bought your third piece of art glass, or maybe you have long been gathering items connected with the area in which you grew up. Perhaps you are a fanatical gardener and have grown to admire the antique items that add such charm to that shady corner of your yard. Or maybe the implements used in kitchens past have caught your eye, especially if you are a promising chef. Chances are that an existing hobby or long-held interest is the stimulus for your collection.

Once you have made a decision as to what to collect, the field you have chosen will no doubt open up plentiful collecting possibilities, and you may have to whittle down your criteria. Should you only collect items in top condition? Should you limit yourself to the earliest examples? Perhaps only items of a certain color or size catch your eye. The choices and the fun of collecting are entirely yours, and you can be certain that you’ll always feel a sense of achievement from collecting your unique assortment of items.

Pink Pig Cottage Chair Set
Although the reasons for investing in antiques are abundant—enthusiasm for or enjoyment of a particular object, or to remind yourself of days gone by—one thing is for certain: you will want your acquisitions to represent a good financial investment. Investing in antiques can be similar to investing in the stock market in that the market will always have its highs and lows. Knowing when to invest, what to invest in and how much you should pay are all crucial factors for any prospective collector.

Top Tips:

1. Spend the most you can afford on the best possible example to get the best possible return. 

Here is a story to illustrate this point. In 1975, my friend David Dickinson was asked to procure a Minton Majolica Peacock for a client. Modeled by the sculptor Paul Comolera around 1873, it is believed that there are only eight examples of the Peacock in the world. David found one in Australia and procured it for his client for the equivalent of about $12,000. In 2006, the Peacock was valued at approximately $230,000, based on the retail price index. Not a bad return on an investment that was held and enjoyed for 30-odd years!

2. Sometimes it is worth selling a few pieces from a collection in order to buy one exceptional example.

Many collectors will start out by investing in the more common patterns or designs within their chosen field, but as their knowledge builds, many will want to invest in better, bigger or rarer designs. For example, my wife, Lesley, is an avid collector of 19th-century cranberry glass. A few years ago, it was becoming obvious to both of us that her collection was growing out of its show cabinet, but it wasn’t until an impressive five branch cranberry glass epergne was up for auction at an estimated selling price of $1,400 to $1,800 that Lesley thought of selling anything from her treasured collection. Within days, fifteen early purchases from Lesley’s collection were entered into my next auction. None of the pieces she planned to sell had cost more than $50. With my help, Lesley raised just over $2,000 and became the proud owner of the cranberry glass epergne which beautifully adorns our dining table.

3. Keep a detailed catalogue of your purchases, including such information as when and where you bought the item and how much you paid for it.

Keeping such a record will help you to monitor the item’s increase (or decrease) in value, which is useful for price comparisons in the future. You should also keep a brief history of where you bought the item, how much you paid for it and any history particular to the item, such as that pertaining to its pattern, shape, number and designer. Yet another, albeit rather morbid, reason for keeping such a record is that upon your demise the inheritor of your prized collection will possess a detailed history for valuation purposes.

Learn more about the book at