Published 27th March 2015
One of the questions auctioneers are constantly asked is 'where does it all come from?' Well the simple answer is that it's all around you. It is as much a question of knowing what is fashionable as it is to know what you are looking at. While the high end sections for the traditional market of period furniture, pictures, silver and cerarmics will always be the same, a good auctioneer will always be able to spot that something different that others might overlook. The next Fine Art auction at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood's Exeter saleroom on 21st/22nd April 2015, is a good example of the talents of the wide range of specialists at picking out those extra individual pieces.
Among the furniture are a number of pieces of interest that at first glance may appear to be plain and uninteresting, but reveal far more upon closer inspection than you may think. Though at first a rather plain looking and perhaps chunky dining table (FS26/991), the presence of a small carved figure of a mouse on one of the legs instantly tells us that it is by Robert Thompson (1876-1955) better known as Mouseman. Inspired by the revival of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the 1920s, his work is recognisable for the hand crafted finish and peg jointed construction. The origin of the mouse is said to have been from a conversation with a colleague while working in a church in which they commented that they were 'as poor as church mice', which led to Thompson carving a figure of a mouse on his work from then on. Smaller boxes and lamps by Mouseman often turn up at auction and are eagerly sought after by collectors. This larger piece will no doubt easily reach the upper end of its pre-sale estimate of £3,000-5,000.
Often overlooked by those who are ingrained with the more traditional notion of antiques, 20th century design is an ever increasing market with buyers in the digital age. The forward thinking of designers from the 1960s onwards is now in demand for those who are looking for 'retro', 'vintage' or 'classic' design.
There are many designers of note from Joe Colombo and Arne Jacobsen to Frank Lloyd Wright that make this area a vast source for an auctioneer and which is often overlooked by many.
One prime example and considered to be one of the greatest design pieces of the 20th century is the Eames lounge Chair (FS26/988) that is included in the auction. Designed by Ray Eames and Charles Eames in the 1950s for Herman Miller it was a pioneering design and use of modern plywood and plastic construction techniques that has outlasted many other designs since, and will continue to do so. Certainly this example from the 1970s will attract buyers with a pre-sale estimate of £1,000-1,500.
It is not only the knowledge of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood's specialists in the upcoming market that provide them with an edge over their competitors, but also their ability to identify niches in the traditional market that are overlooked by other salerooms. This ability and experience has led to the consignment of many single owner and lifetime collections to auction over the years. One such collection in the forthcoming auction is a collection of 18th and 19th century children's ceramics. One of the most varied and confusing areas of ceramics due to the proliferation of products from all of the major factories, as well as many unidentified factories of the 19th century, it is a specialist knowledge of the area that sets Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood apart. As many of the pieces were unmarked and factories copied (and sometimes even stole) designs the collection is certainly a good insight into a niche area of collecting that will attract new buyers and collectors to the area.