Antiques Roadshow specialist Marc Allum takes a look at the perennial question that no one seems to be able to answer!
What’s the next big thing? I wish I knew! It’s a question I’ve been asked so often that these days I evade answering it altogether or simply retort with a lame joke about crystal balls and sitting on a beach with pots of money in the bank. The fact is, very few of us really know the answer because it’s extremely difficult to predict - with certainty - trends in the art and antiques market. At the moment, Chinese demand is still ‘on fire’ but the Russian bear has stopped growling quite as fiercely. The Old Master market remains buoyant but unbeknown to many average observers, it’s not the Rembrandts and Van Dycks that are always the big hitters, it’s again the Chinese masters such as Wang Meng, a Yuan dynasty painter who you are unlikely to encounter being sold in Western spheres. Given the finite supply of such material – most being in major museums – the last ‘lesser-known’ example to come up for sale made a staggering $62.1 million, in Beijing. So, given my lack of experience in such realms I’m unlikely to be recommending similar purchases to my clients as potential ‘next big things’! However, what is fairly certain is the propensity for very valuable items of incredible scarcity – particularly art – to maintain and increase their value. Got a few million to spare?
Conversely, the market that many of us work in operates on a slightly lower level and is subject to the vagaries of many different local, national and international factors ranging from changes in fashion to bad weather. The eventual slowdown of the Asian
economic tiger will most certainly see a decline in the enormous sums being paid for Chinese porcelains, jades and works of art; that, or we will eventually run out of things to sell back to them! Yet, more billionaires are being created around the world all the time fuelling the desire for superlative objects. Meanwhile, ‘brown furniture prices’ continue to remain low, the shipping market is poor and Victoriana sounds more like an affliction than a collectable genre. It seems like I’ve seen it all. The stripped-pine boom, the stripped-pine decline, the Susie Cooper bubble and the Clarice Cliff crash. Gone are the Japanese – once collectors of the best art nouveau glass, back is the pine; this time painted up and waxed à la Gustavian. It’s my job to keep up with these changing trends, the yo-yo values of precious metals that one minute cause a rash of badly decorated ‘cash for gold’ shops to pop up on every High Street then close down just as quickly. Every day I tap the barometer of business uncertainty, yet almost every day I’m asked that same old question, that old chestnut, that cliché that is always the journalist’s fall-back final question in any interview; ‘what is the next big thing?’ So what do I really think? Frankly, there are always buoyant areas of the market and one of the joys of my work is to give good advice to my many happy clients. What about myself? Well, I buy what I like and sometimes, just sometimes, I sell on a crest, but my best investment has always been antique property. You just can’t beat a period house to house a treasured collection.
freelance writer, consultant for Tennants Auctioneers and a specialist on the BBC Antiques Roadshow. www.marcallum.co.uk