Hidden treasure

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Mantle clocks 1940-1970

As early as the 18th century, clocks were placed on brackets or mantles to display as a feature in the home. Today, examples from the 18th and 19th centuries continue to sit above the hearth in homes throughout the world. But mantle clocks from the 1940s to the 1970s seem to have slipped by clock collectors, which is why it’s an area in which I can see profitable returns in coming years. Clocks from the art deco period in particular are usually pounced upon when they turn up in salerooms. It’s important to source any collection based on the principles of style, design and maker. The better the clock movement, the more valuable it will be. A faulty mechanism will devalue the piece.

Items to look for
• At the top end of the market, manufacturers and retailers such as Cartier, Japy Freres and Jaeger LeCoultre also produced mantle clocks and their quality and craftsmanship make them highly collectable. A clock from the latter will cost £300-£3,000; if you have a healthy budget I would recommend investing in the Atmos model. These makers also produced smaller versions known as desk clocks, which will cost £150 to £500.
• Electric mantle clocks, many shaped like classical ones, were a passing fad from the 1900s to the 1940s; many were shaped like classical clocks. Up to £1,000.
• At the middle point in the market, look out for strong shapes and designs such as boat-shaped clocks or clocks in the form of a ship’s wheel. £15-£40.
• At the budget end, keep your eyes open for clocks made from plastic, simulated wood or Bakelite. One of the best-known makers of clocks in these materials is Metamec, which made battery-powered examples in vivid colours such as pink or red. Some of the company’s designs are plain and simple, others are more stylised, but all are affordable at £5-£15.

Biscuit tins

In 1837 a system for printing on to metal was developed in Paris using a chromolithograph (coloured print) that produced beautiful results. By 1860 mass production had started. Benjamin George was one of the earliest manufacturers to transfer a design directly on to the metal and, soon after this breakthrough, colourful biscuit tins began to appear, many of them produced for the Christmas market. By the end of the 19th century, Huntley & Palmer had emerged as the most prolific producer of printed tins. The company made the design a speciality and even produced a catalogue listing its various styles. Today’s collectors should try to secure biscuit tins from the 1900s to the 1930s, as these tend to hold their price better than those from other decades. Collecting a theme or specific manufacturer will pay the greatest dividends. As with all fragile items, it is important to check condition. While some wear and tear is acceptable, restoration is not, as it will devalue the tin by at least two thirds. Check for signs of overpainting and avoid those pieces.

Items to look for
• Urn-shaped tins made in 1910. £120–£150.
• Huntley & Palmer book-shaped tins from 1901-1910. £50–£100.
• Crawford’s Biscuit Bus (the OK3 852). One of these tins sold in 1986, with its original box, for £2,400. Whether this price will ever be achieved again remains to be seen.
• Mass-produced items such as the Coronation of 1953 tin or the Queen’s Silver Jubilee tin of 1977. These are so plentiful they will not show a particularly good profit but they are still must-haves for a biscuit tin collector.
• Any transport-related items. Transport was a fascination for biscuit manufacturers. Look for tins in the shape of lorries, cars, bikes and coaches.


Many weird and wonderful thermometer shapes and designs were produced in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some sport advertising logos; these were often given free to retailers who sold the company’s product. Before buying an antique thermometer, make sure it is still working. Place your thumb on the bulb at the bottom where the mercury is contained and you should see the temperature rise. When transporting the item, always try to keep it upright to avoid disturbing the mercury. If the thermometer was originally intended for exterior use, do not be afraid to put it in your garden. You’ll have a great talking point and it can be brought into the house during the cold winter months for protection.

Items to look for
• Thermometers carrying a company logo. If the company is no longer trading, this will enhance the price. £15-£100, depending on size and material.
• Novelty thermometers from the 1940s to the 1960s can often be found at local fairs and charity shops for £2-15. This is an area where a profit can be made.
• Solid-brass thermometers from the 19th century. These are still relatively cheap at £8-£15.
• Examples with elaborate cases. The more elaborate the casing, the more you should expect to pay. Those with mahogany cases and ivory dials can cost £80-£150. A maker’s mark will further increase the price.

18th-century Hester Bateman silver

Scholars consider Hester Bateman to be perhaps the greatest ever female silversmith. She began her career in 1760, making mainly flatware (and favouring spoons) but she soon expanded into a range of domestic silverware, including tea sets, cream jugs, sugar basins and tea caddies as well as crest-shaped wine labels and seals, some of her finest pieces. Many of her descendants, including her great-grandson, William Bateman II, went on to become accomplished silversmiths. If you decide to collect Bateman silver, bear in mind that the Bateman hallmark “HB” was also registered by other silversmiths who had the same initials. However, the date and the shape of the enclosing punch should lead you to a genuine piece. By acquiring lesser pieces, such as her teaspoons or sugar tongs, you will learn to recognise the mark, weight and style of decoration, gaining the confidence to advance your collection to sugar basins and cream jugs. Earlier examples of Bateman spoons will be hallmarked at the base of the shank near the bowl. This marking was replaced in the mid-1770s by the more familiar top marking that sits near the end of the shank. Beware of forgeries. Hester Bateman silver is thin and tends to be of a lighter weight than that of many of her imitators.

Items to look for
• Single hallmarked teaspoons in good condition. £30-£40.
• A matching set of six teaspoons (be sure to check that the hallmark dates are identical years). £150-£250.
• Medium-sized dessertspoons. £50-£70, depending on the decoration. • Sugar tongs. £60-£120.
• If you fancy spending a bit more, it is worth investing in any of the larger pieces of Hester Bateman silver. Most of these items will cost £300-£1,200 but over the years they have proved to be a solid investment.

Whitefriars glass 1960-1980

Whitefriars glass will no doubt have a permanent place in collecting history. Prices have increased dramatically in the last few years but they are now falling for certain models, particularly those from the 1970s, making them a great bargain. The small glassworks that would come to be known as Whitefriars originated in 1720 in a small space off Fleet Street in London. In 1834 the glassworks was purchased by James Powell, a London wine merchant and entrepreneur; thereafter it became known as James Powell & Sons. The company began to produce stained-glass windows, becoming leaders in the field when hundreds of new Victorian churches were being built across the country. By the late 1850s it had begun to design and produce the domestic table glass for which it is best known today. In 1926 the company moved to Wealdstone and became known as Powell & Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd. Designer Geoffrey Baxter joined the company in 1954 and created the popular Textured range in 1967. Initially available in three colours – cinnamon, indigo and willow – with blue and tangerine introduced two years later, the collection was an immediate hit. Also released around this time were the Studio Ranges, designed by artists such as Peter Wheeler. Whitefriars continued to make textured domestic glass through the 1970s, notably the 1972 Glacier line, but sadly, the factory closed in 1980. Not all Whitefriars glass is marked, so avoid fakes by familiarising yourself with the real thing.

Items to look for
• Geoffrey Baxter’s Drunken Bricklayer vase. £250 for a small example to more than £600 for a large one.
• 1970s textured vases, unless rare, will usually cost £50–£80, depending on colour and size. Larger items from this period can cost more than £200.

Victorian furniture

We have all heard it said that Victorian brown furniture has fallen out of bed over the last 10 to 15 years as people have given preference to the modernist look. For this reason, I suggest that now is the time to reinvest. Prices have now hit rock bottom. When you can buy a good 120-year-old Victorian chest of two short drawers above three long drawers and with turned handles made by a great craftsman for around £250, you know it is time to snap it up. Try to acquire functional pieces in solid oak, mahogany, walnut and birch in preference to veneer. Check from top to bottom for woodworm and look for alterations, especially to handles and feet. Rest assured that the Victoriana trend will return.

Items to look for
• Victorian pedestal writing desks. Made from mahogany, oak and walnut, the desks normally have a twin pedestal to each side containing a flight of drawers above a top section containing three drawers and with a leather tooled writing area. Try to secure one with the original leather tooling. Expect to pay £300-£500.
• Triple wardrobes. These beautifully crafted wardrobes have three sections to the front and sometimes contain mirrors to the interior doors. £300-£750.
• Late 19th-century chiffoniers. A typical chiffonier will have a large mirrored back with shelving above a cluster of drawers and cupboards. Some even contain a wine cellaret. The classic art-nouveau-inspired design from the late 19th century will sit well in any modern house. These are grossly undervalued. £300-£700.
• Sets of balloon-backed chairs. These extremely comfortable chairs have a circular balloon back, a comfortable, wide seating area and are highly durable. They can be bought in sets of four, six, eight, ten and 12. It’s important to check that each chair is an exact match to the others in the set. £200 for a set of four, more than £1,000 for a set of 10 or 12.


Taxidermy involves the removal of the skin, flesh and bones of an animal (with the exception of the skull). The fat is scraped out from the skin and then the remains of the animal are preserved with borax. A wire frame is covered with wadding and the skin loosely arranged and padded with wood wool. Glass eyes are added and the tongue and mouth made of painted plaster. To enhance the realism, animals are given a naturalistic setting, sometimes with a painted background scene.

Taxidermy came to the fore in Victorian times; particularly popular were large displays of exotic birds, many of which are in excellent condition today. There was also a fascination for bizarre human-like scenes made from animals, known as tableaux. Walter Potter was perhaps the most famous tableau maker, with pieces such as The Death and Burial of Cock Robin, The Guinea Pigs’ Cricket Match, The Kittens’ Tea and Croquet Party and The Kittens’ Wedding, which sold for £18,000 in 2003. Other specialist taxidermists sought after by collectors are Cullingford, Rowland Ward, Spicer of Lemmington, and H.N. Pashley of Cley. Bear in mind that fur, feathers and skin can be damaged by moths and sunlight, making them costly to restore. Remember too that dealers must have a licence to sell specimens.

Items to look for
• A study of an exotic bird in its original case, painted and with a naturalistic background. £50-£70 in good condition.
• Studies of groups of birds or single mammals. £70-£100.
• Taxidermy studies with a maker’s label and accompanying history of the animal, such as where it was shot or caught, by whom and when. £100-£5,000, depending on the quality.
• Tableaux studies. £800-£20,000, depending on size, complexity and subject matter.

Extracted from ‘101 Antiques of the Future’ (New Holland, £12.99). To buy this book at a discounted price of £10.39 (plus postage and packing), contact the FT ordering service, tel: +44 (0)870-429 5884; www.ft.com/bookshop

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