A Fine Collection

Many factors must be examined when considering the alternative world of investment

“Hard nose investors and passionate collectors make strange bedfellows. True collectors are not investment driven.”

Telling words from Dominic Strickland of Michael German Antiques. “All clients”, he continued, “like to know their items are increasing in value. But true collectors rarely sell anything.”

It would, of course, instinctively run against the grain. Unless of course one is under attack from any one of the ‘three Ds’ of the famous auction houses’ adage: Deaths, Debts and Divorce.

I was keen to examine this alternative world of investment, the state of the respective markets and the advice given by experts to temper the collectors’ passion as well as the likely lucrative investments to come from collectibles. I questioned experts from across the varying interests, from wine to militaria, from antiques to art, from posters to jewellery.

Inevitably the political world affects the collectibles market. As fine wine consultant, Nick Emley, says: “Everything has its political edge. The Chinese government’s clamping down on ‘corruption’ a few years ago had a depressing effect on Chinese purchases of Bordeaux.” Jeweller, Anthea Gesua, of AG Antiques feels similarly: “Nations are very sensitive to any political problems, currency changes and world changes.”

“People will buy pieces that they feel comfortable with within their lifestyle”

This current uncertainty has turned to fear, with Donald Trump’s election victory and various other political shenanigans causing the art market, in particular, to feel vulnerable. Fine art insurance expert, Anthony Wakefield, says: “The Chinese and Arab markets may still be affected by the recent US presidential election while European trade may still be influenced by the Brexit result.”

Jonathan Downs, the author and ex-editor of Classic Arms and Militaria, goes further: “World politics has already destroyed vast amounts of historic antiquities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, so we can only pray that nothing visits our home shores in such a destructive manner.”

The climate of the financial markets also heavily impacts on the market for collectibles, as Peter Petrou, a dealer in a wide range of works of art says: “The zero rates of interest offered by banks, together with peoples’ desire to collect, has widened the horizons of many collectors and also investors.”

But instability can work in the dealers’ favour. As Lennox Cato, an English furniture specialist, says: “In an unstable world people want security and perhaps nostalgia around them, so I feel people will buy pieces that they feel comfortable with within their lifestyle, which could very easily be antique pieces.”


So, for a would-be collector what advice would my experts lend, I wondered?

Interestingly, they all felt the same about the importance of quality. The top tip that Charlie Jeffreys, with his vintage poster business, gives is simply, “Buy the best.”

Fine furniture dealer, Charles Mackinnon, feels similarly: “It has been said time and time again, but it is most important to buy what you like, and buy the very best that you can afford. Concentrate on a single superb item rather than many not-so inspiring pieces.”

Jonathan Downs backs this all up with some harsh figures: “In 2006 you could expect a 12-bore Holland and Holland ‘Royal’ sidelock ejector gun to fetch roughly £15,000. Ten years on, it still does. What matters most is scarcity, quality and condition. At the other extreme, the M1876 Gatling Gun sold for, on average, £140,000 in 2006. In varying orders of condition, I’ve seen these still sell for about £182,000 – £198,000.”

So, rarity is also a vital factor. The most common question Charlie Jeffreys gets asked is, ‘How many posters did they print?’

“This is always difficult to answer,” he says. “With old posters, you have to remember that they were produced for advertising purposes, and not as art for sale.” Downs endorses this: “It’s all a matter of scarcity; whatever is in short supply. For instance, a standard German Luger will not reach the same value as the Luger of Erwin Rommel!”

To a man, all of the dealers I spoke to stressed how important it is to strike up a good relationship with a dealer.

For Anthony Wakefield, it is a case of caveat emptor: “You have to consider the demand for any item at the time that it comes to sell it and also the calibre of the person or organisation that is willing to arrange the sale. You should look on published indices with caution, because they rarely reflect the true state of a market where variations in price are determined as much by geography as by fashion.”

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