Treasures: Sleek stereos, vintage style
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
Ten years ago, vintage hi-fi was niche. Not so many people listened to records and when the turntables broke, they were tossed in a skip. Very few people predicted the huge resurgence of interest in vintage hi-fi.
All over the country, record players, speakers, amps and radiograms are being brought back into active service. And the people who dumped perfectly viable hi-fi equipment are kicking themselves.
Vinyl hasn't sold so well since 1991. That's according to the BPI, the organisation that represents the British music industry. Last year, 3.2 million records were sold in the UK - 53pc more than the previous year. But not all vinyl buyers play their records. A 2016 ICM poll found that 7pc of the people who collected vinyl didn't even own a turntable. A further 48pc owned a turntable but didn't use it. Only 52pc of British vinyl buyers had a turntable that they actually used.
"I know collectors who buy two copies of a record - one to play and one to keep," says Richard Harte of Anonymous, a vintage furniture shop on Dublin's Francis Street. "Or they buy the record but only listen to the free download that you get with it. I don't really get that. I listen to my all records - they're there to be used."
He's not alone in this. Harte reports a steady trade in vintage hi-fi. "It's mainly record players from the 1970s and early 1980s," he says. "We can't get enough of them."
Most people will spend between €100 and €150 on a standard functioning record player, but serious audiophiles can spend up to €800 on a system, although they usually prefer to buy it in parts. "The enthusiasts like to be able to replace the turntable or the speakers or the amp without having to buy a whole new system," Harte explains. "But we don't get those people in every day.
"There's also a lot of interest in cassette decks," adds Harte, who also runs the nearby Brocante Market. "That's a new thing. There was a time when you couldn't give a tape player away."
For Will Walsh of The Vintage Hub, a specialist outlet for vintage furniture, moving into hi-fi was a natural progression. "I was drawn to it because I'm a DJ and I collect a lot of vinyl," he says. Most of the hi-fi equipment from The Vintage Hub dates from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
According to Walsh, the holy grail of vintage audio is the Clairtone Project G, a stereo produced in Canada between 1964 and 1967 (pictured main). It looks like a classy wooden sideboard on a plinth with a huge spherical speaker at each end. Clairtone Project Gs were expensive that the time - fewer than 400 were made - and they are still a pricey item. "We have one in at the moment and you're talking in excess of €25,000."
For slightly more accessible Space Age hi-fi, a pair of 1970s Grundig Audiorama speakers (pictured inset) will set you back between €1,000 and €1,500. These are ball-shaped and come either on a stem, like a standard lamp, or hang from the ceiling. "They look and sound amazing," says Walsh. "You really don't know where the sound is coming from."
He has also noticed a rising interest in radiograms (that's a sideboard with a built-in record player and radio). "People love them because they bring vintage furniture and hi-fi together, but we'd always shied away from selling them because speakers aren't geared to modern music."
Then he discovered that The Hi-Fi Hospital in Kells, Co Meath, had the capacity to repair and refurbish vintage audio equipment. "Prior to that we were buying things and hoping that they worked. Now, we can offer a three-month warranty. That's pretty amazing!"
A radiogram with an upgraded speaker system could cost anything from €400 to €800. "We can also add a Bluetooth-enabled link so that you can play music from your phone through the speakers."
Five years ago, The Hi-Fi Hospital serviced a small number of clients who wanted their vintage hi-fi equipment restored. Now, repairing vintage hi-fi accounts for 70pc of their business. "Ten years ago, if someone had told us that this would happen we wouldn't have believed it," says Joanne Clancy, one of The Hi-Fi Hospital's directors. "Back then, people were throwing out their old record players. It began because people wanted better sound quality. Digital sound is clean and convenient, but it's very bland."
Other people saw a future resale value in their vintage hi-fi equipment and wanted to keep their investment in full working order.
"There's a sentimental side to it too," says Clancy. "I have people in their 60s bringing in the record players that their parents gave them for their 18th birthdays. We're also seeing a lot of very young clients, the grandchildren of the people who originally owned the equipment. They've discovered it in the attic and they want to bring it back to life."
The Vintage Hub in Lusk, Co Dublin, is open Monday to Friday and the first Saturday of every month (the next one is July 1) from 11am-2pm; see thevintagehub.com. You'll find Anonymous and the Brocante Market on Facebook (the next market is on July 16). An estimate fromThe Hi-Fi Hospital costs €30 and is refundable from the final bill if you decide to go ahead with the purchase; see thehifihospital.com.
In the salerooms
Victor Mitchell's summer auction of antiques and collectibles will take place at the Mount Butler Salesrooms, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, on Wednesday July 2 at 10am. The 750 lots on offer range from antique furniture, paintings, rugs, and lamps to cast-iron entrance gates (measure up before you bid!). Potential highlights of the sale include a Regency Irish mahogany side table, 8ft long (est. €1,500); a matching pair of rosewood side tables by Waring & Gillow(est. €2,500 to €3,000); a Georgian military secretaire chest (est. €600 to €800); and a modern upright piano by Weber (est. €1,500). The sale also includes many Persian floor rugs with estimates ranging from €200 to €600 each. There will be live bidding online via thesaleroom.com. See victormitchell.com.
If you've got a collection of old Chinese porcelain, it might be worth having it revalued. Prices at auction have soared over the past few years and show no signs of flagging. Blue and white china was flavour of the month at Adam's At Home sale, which took place on June 18. The top lot was an 18th-century Chinese blue and white brush pot (known as a bitong) which sold for €19,000. The estimate was €4,000 to €6,000. The modest pot (18.5cm high x 20cm diameter) was painted with magical-looking dignitaries and deer standing by a waterfall. While the brush pot was the star of the show, other Chinese porcelain performed well. A Chinese blue and white bottle vase (est. €3,000 to €5,000, pictured) decorated with fantastic animals and made in the reign of the scholarly Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722). It sold for €6,500. More surprisingly, an 18th-century Chinese blue and white vase (est. €800 to €1,200) sold for €5,400. The vase was described as "archaistic", which means it was made in an archaic style, with a flared top and slender waist.
ANTIQUE & VINTAGE FAIRS
The next AVA Antique & Collectors Fair will take place on Sunday July 2 at Manor House Hotel, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. Expect a fair selection of art, jewellery, silver, clocks, glass, vintage, porcelain, lamps, posters and prints, books, ephemera, militaria, curios and furniture, from 11am-6pm; admission is £2.
With fashion swinging around to embrace brooches again, the prices of antique brooches are on the rise. A Victorian diamond open crescent brooch, (6.50ct i-j vs2/si1), mounted in silver-topped 18ct yellow gold, sold for €15,000 at O'Reilly's Auction Rooms on June 21. The estimate was €9,000 to €12,000. Overall, diamonds performed well. A pair of diamond solitaire earrings, (with GIA reports stating the diamonds to be 2.27ct and 2.24ct d vs2), fetched €44,000, while a two-stone diamond ring mounted in platinum (with one diamond of approx. 2.57ct and one of approx. 2.29ct, i-j, vs) sold for €27,000.