Treasures: Old habits die hard for vintage
Ireland’s fine arts, antiques and collectables column
If you went to an antiques fair ten years ago you'd see fine old mahogany furniture, precious silver and glass, gilt framed oil paintings, and a few leather-bound volumes. The dealers would be largely male, with a scattering of women ballsy enough to make it in the trade, and everything on display was a "genuine antique". The punters tended to wear tweed jackets and talk at length about how much they knew. It was a charmingly old-world atmosphere, but a little on the stuffy side.
Back then, an antiques fair would never have included anything as crude as knob or a knocker, unless it happened to be Georgian, and no lacy bloomers or flapper handbags. Vintage, the disreputable younger cousin of the antiques world, was hanging out in a dingy arcade at the other end of town. Now, she's been invited to join the party. There were a few raised eyebrows at first, but everyone seems to agree that she's brought a breath of fresh air into quite a few antiques fairs around the country.
The difference between vintage and antiques is largely a matter of age. Antiques are often defined as more than a hundred years old while anything from the 20th century can be described as vintage, which tends to include a wider range of objects. This weekend's National Antiques, Art and Vintage Fair in the South Court Hotel, Limerick, will see dealers in train sets and gramophones, 20th-century tools, prints, accessories and vintage jewellery, alongside the more traditional antiques.
During the years of the recession, economic necessity impelled the sometimes snobby antiques world to open its doors to vintage objects.
"Back in 2006 it wouldn't have been PC to show vintage objects alongside antiques," says Robin O'Donnell, organiser of the fair. "There was a bit of opposition at the start. It was difficult for some of my dealers to get their heads around it."
The current fair, which he describes as Ireland's largest with 100 dealers in total, includes some very respectable members of the Irish Antique Dealers Association as well as an eclectic assortment of vintage stands.
"It's about the illusion of grandeur from bygone days," says Sandra Hogan, a dealer whose wares include vintage dressing table sets and hair tidies.
A silver-backed clothes brush could cost €48 or you might pay €55 for a pretty Edwardian hair tidy in guilloché enamel. This finish is especially popular - imagine the back of a hand mirror, in pastel pink or blue, decorated with pinprick spirals under a glazed surface. It's a delicate surface, easily chipped and impossible to repair, and often found on the lids of Edwardian hair tidies.
"They look like a little round pot about four inches high with a hole in the top - ladies used to use them for hair pins but now they use them for cotton buds."
A whole dressing table set with two hairbrushes, a hand mirror and a clothes brush could cost as much as €275.
"These are not cheap items," Hogan explains. "If you have one at home and you're wondering if it's worth something, just bring it in with you. Everything has potential if it's free of damage."
Eily Henry from Waterford specialises in vintage clothes and accessories: handbags, glad rags, hats, scarves and jewellery. "The smell of powder from the inside of a handbag can take you back generations," she says. "They were so well looked after that you often find them with the original mirror still in place. It's a history lesson as well as a handbag."
With a background in fashion design, Henry tends to group the objects into little vignettes. "People often buy vintage to accessorise a contemporary high-street outfit and make it a little more individual. I tend to display the objects in groupings to show people how they might put a look together. You have to use vintage sparingly though - you don't want to go out looking like an extra in a period drama."
Victorian evening bags in pleated silk start at €35 and a leather handbag from between 1930 and 1950 might cost around €40 in good condition (the inside is as important as the outside). The star of her collection for this weekend's fair is an Art Deco necklace in silver, onyx and glass.
The National Antiques Art & Vintage Fair runs at the South Court Hotel, Limerick City, on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 June from 11am-6pm on both days. Admission is a fiver (this gets you in on both days) and kids are free.
In the salerooms
Convertible jewellery from the inventive Victorians takes centre stage at John Weldon Auctioneers on 23 June at 10.30am. The sale includes several early transformers: a diamond and ruby bangle that becomes a hair piece (guided between €3,000 and €5,000) and a diamond and pink tourmaline set brooch with a detachable fitting so that it can also be worn as a pendant (€3,000 to €4,000).
A Victorian diamond set star burst brooch (€9,000 to €12,000) can also be worn on a chain as a pendant or used in a tiara. The auctioneer points out that the recipient of such works of miniature engineering is getting two pieces of jewellery for the price of one. There are also pieces that reflect the Victorian fascination with bugs in jewellery - once again in high style - including a diamond-set dragon fly brooch (€1,200 to €1,800). Viewing begins on Saturday 20 June with full details on www.jwa.ie.
There's something intimate about an artist's collection. It may include their own work - paintings they loved too much to sell and paintings that they simply couldn't - and the work of their friends, purchased out of admiration or compassion. It may include gifts, both wanted and unwanted, and items that they treasured and or just happened to possess.
The collection of the artist Nancy Wynne-Jones and her sculptor husband Conor Fallon of Ballard House, County Wicklow, will go under the hammer at Adam's Auctioneers on Wednesday 24 June at 6 pm. Items include several sculptures by Fallon, most publically known for his winged horse triptych, Pegasus, outside the Independent Newspapers building at City West on the Naas road. There are also a number of paintings by Wynne-Jone and a very personal selection of works by artists including Tony O'Malley, Sean McSweeney, Peter Lanyon and Nano Reid. Viewing is from Sunday 21 June with full details from www.adams.ie.
A carved jade seal (pictured) sold for €260,000 at Sheppard's auction of Chinese Ceramics, Asian Works of Art and Paintings on 26 May. It was described as a "Chinese celadon jade San Xi Tang double gourd" a title that could do with a bit of explaining. Jade, of course, is an intensely valuable stone.
"Celadon" refers to its colour and "double gourd" to the shape of the object, which resembles a figure-of-eight. As a seal, it would have been used as an official stamp. And, most importantly, San Xi Tang translates as the "studio of the three rarities", the Imperial Sleeping quarters and power centre of the Forbidden City in mid 18th-century Beijing.
The seal is carved with intertwining qilong (coiling mythic beasts) while the characters are cut on the underside. The piece, which would fit comfortably into a box of fireside matches, had been estimated to sell between €4,000 and €6,000.