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Sydney Harbour Bridge History

I'm delighted to show you this offering in our upcoming auction. It's an interesting and significant piece of Australiana.

Lot 354 is a Photographic Montage of the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 19 March 1932.

What's different about this piece is that it depicts an incident that happened just before the official opening.  In an incredible national security blunder, Captain Francis de Groot* of the Fascist group the New Guard, managed to ride up and slice through the ribbon before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

What I find so interesting about the New Guard is that if you read their initial blurb, the avowed ideals sound appealing: such things as honour in government, morality and individual liberty resonate well with the citizenry and most right-wing organisations use them in their platforms.  Trouble is, they always bring attendant problems, such as intolerance, racism and classism.

Section: Some of the players

The other fascinating bit for me personally was that De Groot was an antiques dealer. But I digress.
De Groot and the New Guard were bitterly opposed to the Premier, Jack Lang.  Embarrassing him publicly was minor; they also planned paramilitary opposition and even considered kidnapping Lang and seizing political power in a coup d’état.

Section: The Incident. 
De Groot slashes the ribbon ceremonially and is unceremoniously dragged from his horse
(and promptely arrested!)
The ribbon was retied and then cut by the Premier

The Montage of the Harbour Bridge incident is believed to be one of two printed. 

The piece currently on offer was presented to Mr Charles Clifford Cooper, then Secretary & Treasurer of the Balmain local branch of the New Guard.  Provenance: by descent to the present owner.  It comes with a Letter of provenance. 

A complete catalogue of our antiques offerings is available at Easy Live Auctions dot com.  You can access the Harbour Bridge piece by using this link to the Sunday 27th November Auction and entering Lot 354. Online and absentee bidding are available.

*Spelt ‘de Groot’ at the ubiquitous Wikipedia, but ‘De Groot’ in the newspapers (e.g. The Sydney Morning Herald) and the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Antiques for Everyday: The Butter Dish Incident

Among my recurring spiels is the idea of Everyday Antiques, that is, that Antique are Green, cost effective and sustainable, and that their everyday use makes sense.

One of the recurring themes I hear from my friends, family and people I meet is that antiques aren't for them, by virtue of the fact that their homes aren't safe for antiques, and antiques are expensive (and therefore irreplaceable and not to be bought by ordinary people).

'Display cabinet with a lock!' suggests Martin, practically.

Well, yes, this is a good idea for rare and priceless antiques, but totally unnecessary for another category: the everyday antique.

While it's true that you probably don't want the Pinner Vase sitting on a coffee table in the family room where your five-year-old or the labrador's tail or an altercation between the twins can result in a $80 million smash, the truth is that most of us won't be buying the Pinner Vase for our sitting rooms, anyway, and there are a whole lot of modestly-priced antiques whose use does make sense, even for middle-class families.

Which brings me to The Butter Dish Incident.

I happen to dislike plastic butter dishes.  I don’t like looking at them, I don’t like the feel of them, I don’t like cleaning them.  So I bought an expensive ceramic lidded butter dish from an up-market housewares store.  And then I broke it.  So I replaced it.  Then I broke the lid of the replacement.

At that point my husband said, “Wumman, yeh’ve got to be kiddin’.  All the butter dishes you have in the stockroom, and yer off to buy another?”  He was right – what was I thinking?  I “bought back” a beautiful molded glass butter dish from our stock, it was a fraction of the cost of a new one, and we’ve had it on the kitchen table ever since.

Why hadn't I chosen a vintage or antique butter dish in the first place? Well, for one thing, I was matching my up-market totally yuppie kitchenware. But why?  Well, because I wasn't thinking!  I was putting antiques in one category, and my everyday living in another.

But it might get broken!  Yeah, sure it might.  But a whole lotta things we own might get broken. Do we refrain from buying a lamp or a television set or a bottle of beer because 'it might get broken'?  But it's irreplaceable!  Well...it might be...but then, so are my yuppie homewares, now - the manufacturer has discontinued the line!

If you're buying an 'ordinary' butter dish or sugar bowl, why wouldn't you save money and buy a vintage one?  If you're buying a special or fancy vase, something to display or only to be used when company comes, again, why not an antique?  Especially one that has been increasing in value? Why don't we think outside the box?

So, when you're next thinking about decorating or outfitting your home, think outside the box.  Consider visiting a second-hand or antiques shop.  Tell the owner what you're looking for, and ask what's affordable.  You just might get a very pleasant surprise!

How to Introduce Children to Antiquing - Part II

From a parent’s point of view, antiquing with children has some compelling arguments. One is getting them away from television and computer screens, another is involving the whole family in the same activity.  I also see it as an opportunity to teach children about design, art and culture, knowledge that will serve them well throughout life. Yet another aspect is an opportunity to talk with kids about money and finance, an aspect where many of us fall down. Sure, we tell our children they have to get an education and a job, but do we talk about financial planning in any way? We may teach thrift by getting them a piggy bank or a bank account, but how about investment?

This post isn’t intended as professional advice; it’s meant to get you thinking about some possibilities.

The Antique Shop

Visiting an antique shop with very young children is probably not a great idea, particularly the sort of crowded shop where valuables are on low tables and shelves and easily knocked off. But if they have high counters, you can teach children to ‘look but not touch’ as the dealer shows you items. Please teach your children good manners in a shop in a constructive, positive way. Do not shout ‘that’s expensive! Put it down!’ For one thing, a shock will likely make the child drop whatever it is; for another, it seems to me that that idea simply tells a child ‘that’s too good for the likes of you!’ or ‘people like us don’t buy that sort of thing’.  Rather, say things like ‘Isn’t that pretty? When you’re a grown up you’ll be able to afford things like that.’

Children must be supervised
at all times in an antique shop

The Antiques Fair 

The guidelines to be used in a shop are even more important at an antiques fair.  It is likely that exhibitors have brought their very best merchandise, and the sound of something breaking is not one that any of us want to hear, nor do you want the bill!

I do not recommend taking very small children; they get bored and they tire easily. Interestingly, though, I met many school-aged children at the recent Canberra Seasonal Antiques Fair who absolutely love antiques. I couldn't believe it!  These kids watch Antiques Roadshow and Bargain Hunt religiously and are facinated with old wares.

In my unscientific sampling, girls had a vaguer, broader selection of items they were interested in; often anything to do with animals, fairies and princesses, which leaves them open to a wide range of glass, ceramics, sculpture and Fine Art.

Boys, however, could get very specific: one utterly charming fellow told me he liked walking canes and opera glasses!

An antiques fair can be a great source of information for both you and your children, but remember that people are people: Some people love children, some people do not. Many dealers are delighted to talk with people; some just want a sale. Bear in mind that selling is, after all, the reason most vendors are there, so if you just want to look, it's best not to interrupt if the stall holders are busy or trying to close a deal.  You will be most successful if you pop in when things are slow and say something like 'May we browse?' or 'Just having a look, is that all right?' You'll usually find that people are happy to help; if they're not, don't sweat it, smile and move along.

Caring for Antiques

Another way to instruct children in the value of antiques and collectables is to allow them the care of them. For example, my grandmother ‘allowed’ me to polish her silver and Windex® the glass baubles, bobeches and prisms that hung from the glitzy tables, lamps and chandeliers she loved. It was to our mutual benefit; Grandma readily admitted that she hated doing such chores herself, while I absolutely loved such fiddling about.

A sturdy, cheaply-bought stool can give a child access to a table or sink, and even quite a young child can stand at the sink while a parent stands behind and lines the sink with a dish towel, and the child can splash about while Mum or Dad cleans the glass or china (okay, maybe not your best china, but....) 

Sure, this will likely increase your cleaning time by a bit, but what is that compared to the quality time you spend together?  These are the sorts of joyful memories that last a lifetime.

Aleta Curry is a writer and historian, and an accredited antiques dealer and valuer from NSW, Australia.  She and her husband Martin write extensively about antiques and collectables, and run the successful Aleta’s Antiques.  Martin and Aleta love sharing their knowledge and are committed to Integrity in Antiquing.  Aleta blogs at Aleta’s Arty Facts.

How to Introduce Children to Antiquing - Part I

In addition to our antiques fair circuit, Martin and I attend a couple of what I call ‘mixed markets’ during the year.  You know the sort of thing: everything from upmarket antiques to Mom and Pop with cups and saucers. Sometimes they’re segregated by type and price range, sometimes not.  It truly is like that line from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, ‘something for everyone’!

At one such venue, a confident little boy with an outgoing personality came up to our display and made a beeline for an interesting Asian metalwork junk.  I could see why he liked it; it was definitely a ‘boy’s piece’.

‘How much is that?’ he demanded.

‘That’s an expensive piece, I’m afraid,’ said I, ‘That’s two hundred and fifty dollars.’

He gave me a look that can only be described as ‘scornful’.

‘No, seriously,’ quoth he, ‘how much is it?’

It was all I could do to keep from laughing.

I love introducing children to antiquing. Oh, sure, it requires patience and a game plan, but if you ask me, it’s worth it for the entertainment value alone.  Their natural curiosity and complete lack of embarrassment about their ignorance leads them to ask probing, often insightful questions in a manner that many adults can learn from. Children challenge me to become a better teacher and to learn more, and for that I am grateful.

Ye Olde Antique Shoppe

From a parent’s point of view, antiquing with children has some compelling plusses. One is getting them away from television and computer screens, another is involving the whole family in the same activity.  I also see it as an opportunity to teach children about design, art and culture, knowledge that will serve them well throughout life. Yet another aspect is an opportunity to talk with kids about money and finance, an aspect where many of us fall down. Sure, we tell our children they have to get an education and a job, but do we talk about financial planning in any way? We may teach thrift by getting them a piggy bank or a bank account, but how about investment?

This post isn’t intended as professional advice; it’s meant to get you thinking about some possibilities.

The Auction

Some years ago, my family and I were at an auction of antiques from a business that was closing. It was a fine day and there was such a huge turnout that the sale of ‘smalls’ – ceramics, glass, some jewellery – was moved out of doors. 

To my surprise, a rather nondescript couple in late middle age set up camp right in front of the auctioneer’s platform – not obnoxiously close, just giving themselves a good vantage point.  They were well-prepared, with fold-up chairs, a picnic basket, sunglasses, visors and a cooler; obviously the veterans of many an outdoor auction, and clearly, attending auctions was their hobby, as it quickly became clear that they were not buying. 

‘My word!’ I said to my husband, ‘Why didn’t we think of this ages ago?!’

Attending an auction can be a great day out

Attendance at auction is an entertaining and inexpensive family day out, and a great way to introduce children both to the responsible use of money, and the wonderful world of art, antiques and collectibles.

This can give your little ones some valuable life skills:
  • It teaches children to save
  • Children learn investment and money management; it leads to curiosity about other aspects of finance
  • It teaches children art appreciation in an active, interesting way
  • They develop good taste and a sense of personal style
  • They develop ambition and self-confidence

A Simple Action Plan

Teach children to save their pocket money towards buying all sorts of toys: vintage dolls, trains, tea sets, piggy banks, and also decorative items such as signs, banners, lights, and wallpaper and fabrics. (Incidentally, the need to give children a regular allowance, even a small one, will help your money management skills, too!)

Encourage your children to subscribe to mailing lists of auctions online. Children should learn to:

 Children can use a computer to plan
Image credit

  • Watch for things that interest them
  • Follow auction results, learn about market trends, and understand  how popularity and condition affect price.
  • Older children can learn to ‘trade up’, that is, buy a less expensive or a slightly damaged item, then sell it off to buy something better later. This is a technique you must also learn; you just have to be aware a) that you may sell things back at a loss and b) that you need to learn what the best venues are for selling things back to minimise loss and possibly make a small profit so you can ‘trade up’.

Teach children how to bid at an auction. Set a budget and don’t go over.  Arrange with the auctioneer; at an informal sale, stand behind your children and catch the auctioneer’s eye so you can nod or shake your head. (Incidentally, if you’re not all that conversant with ‘real life’ auctions, my husband Martin and I have written How to Bid at an Auction and you should feel free to contact me for a free electronic copy.)

Note: A couple of words of caution about children and auctions.  Many jurisdictions have regulations and a minimum age for bidding at an auction, and some auction houses do not allow children on their premises at all. Find out the local rules before you go, and speak to the auctioneer or staff beforehand. The auctioneer will require you to be responsible for your children’s conduct and for their purchases. At the very least, you can bid for your child, and when the item is knocked down to you and the auctioneer asks for your bidder number, the child can hold up your card and feel as proud as punch.

If you make a mistake, shake your head and if necessary say ‘no, sorry’ in a clear voice. Do this at once; it is too late after an item is knocked down.

Do not even attempt this if your child is stubborn or disobedient.  You will make yourself very unpopular if proceedings are disrupted by a temper tantrum, and our goal is to give your children life skills, not to get you banned from auctions in several counties!

The family can follow an auction online

These days, many auction houses have online bidding platforms. This can be particularly useful if your children are too young or recalcitrant to take to the venue. With a good Internet connection you can see and hear the auctioneer, and bid online if you're so inclined (bear in mind that fees and premiums are usually higher if you're using online services). The good thing here is that you can quit any time you or the kids are bored, you can have snacks and lavvy breaks without disturbing anyone, and you can 'leave' and rejoin the auction later without a problem.

Next post: Antique shops

Book Review : Bagley Glass - Bowey, Parsons

Bagley Glass 
Third Edition
Angela Bowey with Derek & Betty Parsons

I love being able to recommend reference books, and this one is a delight. 

Those who liked the second edition of this book will be thrilled with this expanded third edition.  If you’ve not seen any of the previous incarnations, you’re in for a treat.

It's extremely well-organised, clear and easy to read. Further, it's absolutely packed with illustrations; these alone are worth the purchase.

Since I'm a historian, I appreciate the opening chapter with a history of the factory and the founders.  Of even greater value to the collector, of course, are the sections on identifying Bagley glass, organised alphabetically by type (Ashtrays, Celery vases) in the most helpful manner.

Mrs Bowey includes named pieces, where these exist, although she explains that Bagley workers generally didn’t name items, referring to them by pattern number instead.  There is also information on decorations specific to Bagley, and a final section on Bagley Registered designs, trademarks and labels.


A useful concept from the second edition that is expanded here is the comparison of similar products from other companies, i.e. items that look like Bagley pieces but which were not produced by Bagley.

The book closes with a comprehensive cross-reference index.

Altogether a very worthy book, one that will make the sometimes onerous task of identifying British pressed glass much easier, and of invaluable use to collectors, hobbyist and professional alike.

Note: You can find more information and order this book here.

In the news: Cars Crash; Austen Ascends, Riters Rule!

I'm not sure whether it's a brag, or just the thing to say at the moment, or what, but antiques dealers, valuers and auctioneers keep repeating that world economic crisis notwithstanding, art and antiques are selling well at the top end.

Winter auction results for classic cars give lie to that, at least here in Australia.  I note that both Bonham's and Sotheby's had a hard time with June classic car auctions. Cars that were runaway best sellers in the 1980s and even ones that were still hot-ticket items at the turn of the millenium didn't fare so well last month. Several noteable collectors' items passed in at the Bonham's sale.
I'm not a car specialist, so if you're inclined, you can read about it from James Cockington in his article for the Brisbane Times.
Riters Rule!

Image via Wikimedia
194 years after her death, English novelist
Jane Austen's book sales still make headlines.

Image via Wikimedia

Sotheby's knocked down a cool AUD 1.5 million ($1.6 million US, £993K) for the original (draft) manuscript of Austen's unfinished novel 'The Watsons'.

You will recall that in December of last year, a first edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America sold for a record-breaking £7 million.

So, even in the 21st Century, a book doesn't have to be replete with graphic sex and violence to be a 'bestseller'.  Cool!

Royal Doulton Blue Children Series

Royal Doulton’s Blue Children series, (sometimes referred to as The Babes in the Woods series, especially in the US, though these should not be confused with Royal Doulton’s Babes in the Wood design of c.1900) is a category of collectable in a genre that has come to be known as Royal Doulton Series Ware; items depicting scenes linked by a common theme.

Blue children is among the most collectable of the Royal Doulton Series Ware.  Documentation on the line is scarce, and no one seems to know quite what makes it so popular, perhaps it is the calming effect of the distinctive flow blue palette, or the emotive nature of the subjects, wistful children (and occasionally adults) in situations that seem to evoke the innocence and gentility of a bygone era.  One forgets, when gazing at the paintings, that the Victorian and Edwardian ages were actually harsh times for many marginalised British children.

The series has been continually popular since it debuted in the 1890s. According to recognised Doulton expert Louise Irvine, it had been discontinued by 1930, so the limited production run would help to account for its limited availability ergo its collectability, scarcity being one of the criteria which increase a collectable’s value. There were 24 known Blue Children scenes, though in an online article c. 2008, antiques aficionado Christopher Prudlove mentions that a collector of his acquaintance believed he had discovered another.[i] To our knowledge this has not been confirmed.
The pictures depict children, women with children, and in three cases women alone: ‘Woman Playing a Guitar, ‘Woman with Muff in Snowstorm’, and ‘Woman by Seashore’.

The Market
Like many collectables, Royal Doulton’s Blue Children have been somewhat affected by the economic downturn which began in 2007, and people who bought in an inflated market may have some cause for worry.  Good pieces are holding their value. For example, a 13 inch plate sold for £130 at auction in 2005, comparable items are fetching similar prices on eBay in 2011[ii].  At Tuckerbox Auctions in Binalong, NSW Australia in 2010, a 9 inch Blue Children plate sold for AUD300[iii].  In general, retail prices are increasing modestly; prices for rarer items can run into the thousands.


To date there have been no Blue Children reissues, so one will not see bona fide new Blue Children pieces produced in Indonesia or Asia.  According to the Antique Trader Guide, fakes began appearing early in 2003. Blue Children should exhibit some age related wear; the gilding should not look as if it were done yesterday, and quite a lot of the earlier pieces will exhibit crazing.  The paintings are transfer printed, with hand painted touch ups and/or embellished  hand painted backgrounds and details, and that is why in general they were not signed by the artist, nor were the artist’s or decorator’s monograms engraved on the base like other Royal Doulton pieces of the same period with multiple monograms to the base. Having said that, artists who touched up the transfer prints on the earlier pieces sometimes signed their work. One can find a few examples signed by the artist who did the hand painting, made through about 1902.  Recorded signatures are J. Boulton, M. Brown, P. Curnock, C. Jackson, F. Jones, Kelsall, A. E, Simpson and “Yomans” (sic).[iv]


[i] Christopher Prudlove. Royal Doulton Blue Children pottery is rare and sought after. sourced online 27 February 2011 at: http://writeantiques.com/royal-doulton-blue-children-pottery-is-rare-and-sought-after/
[ii] According to results in eBay’s ‘completed listings’, February 2011
[iii] Auction Results, Tuckerbox Auctions, Gundagai NSW
[iv] Irvine, Louise.  Royal Doulton Series Ware Vol 3, Doulton in the Nursery 1986

Avoca, Here We Come!

Avoca, Victoria, is apparently a lovely little town.  Everyone loves Avoca. Everyone I've ever heard about it from, at any rate. The town is in old goldfields country, and is famous now for wine, recreation, romantic getaways and views, though I'm given to understand that the hopeful still go prospecting!

It would seem that Avoca has much to commend it, and there's always something interesting going on. I'm not going to get to find out anytime soon, however; Martin's going to represent Aleta's Antiques at the Avoca Antiques Fair.

I'm holding down the fort, answering calls, keeping up with my blog, updating the website, watching the market all over the globe, researching our next book and, when I'm not busy, I'll catch up on administration...but then I'll get to curl up with a thick book on ancient ceramics or art glass just to relax...!

The Shoalhaven Gorge
Tallong, NSW Australia
Home to an amazing Cast of Characters, and
Aleta's Antiques

Usually, it's wonderful having time to myself in the natural surrounds of our place in Tallong, but maybe not in the dead of winter with the wind howling. 
Anyway, back to business: Martin has taken some really nice items with him, as always. There's a selection of float bowls, which was to include a penguin by Libochovice, (a Czech house that needs no introduction to glass aficionados, but not so well known by the general public) but alas, it sold to a lovely couple from Melbourne, and I'm delighted, 'cause they love it.

Here's a peek at some of the items we'll have there, because, well, not everyone lives in Victoria, and I want you to see them, wherever you are.

Bohemian glass, including Moser

Art Deco era glass

Walther and Söhne

Kitty Blake for Royal Worcester
The photograph to the left can't do justice to the talent of K.H. Blake, one of Royal Worcester's 'Saucy Six' - the nickname given to the group of female painters (well, I think it was five paintresses and one of their sisters...do I have that right? I'll have to check with MC) That she could paint with such finesse in miniature astounds me!

Lladró figurine
c. 19-ahem!

This darling girl is about as old as I am, 
and, like me, she's still looking good!

Royal Worcester
Blush Ivory Vase

Clarice Cliff
Royal Doulton
Art Glass
Depression Glass

Clarice Cliff Lidded Tureen
c. 1935

Royal Winton
Chintz Teapot c. 1950

Royal Doulton
Jug by Frank Butler

It wouldn't be Martin if he didn't have some serious ceramics, and he's got a couple of surprises. Of course he has Royal Worcester, including George Evans, Kitty Blake, James Stinton, and J. Llewellyn.

In addition, there's a piece I urge you to have a look at if you're in the area: a very large vase hand painted by Edward Raby.

Here's another interesting item - can you guess who's responsible for this little 18th Century imposter?
(Answer in a future post)

There's tons more, so if you're in the area, pop in to the fair and drop by Booth No. 13, Aleta's Antiques Museum (so called because it's not just a selling venue, we really do love hanging out in lovely surroundings talking about antiques, and you're welcome, anytime).

What are Float Bowls?

The Stump Lady - Sowerby (UK)
Grecian Lady - Jobling (UK)
Float bowls have remained an important genre in the decorative arts for decades.  So, what are they?  If you’re guessing that they have something to do with water because of the word ‘float’, you’d be right. Specifically, they’re bowls used for floating flowers or sometimes candles in. 

Modern float bowls are usually simple clear glass bowls with petals or more often a votive candle, floating in or surrounded by water, and sometimes used as centrepiece at weddings.  But the float bowls I love are decorative bowls designed to hold water and flowers and used as centrepieces on mantles and dining tables right through the mid-twentieth century.  They usually required a frog, an insert with holes all around it, designed to hold the stems of the flowers and greenery to be used for decorating the bowl.  Other additions were beautiful figurines or figural groups, which were either made to sit in the frog, or designed to be the frog themselves, with holes all around the base of the figurine.

This example of Walther's Hollanderin is Uranium Glass, prized for its glow-in-the-dark attribute
These float bowls, frogs and figurines are all highly collectable today.  As with any other collecting field, interest in them waxes and wanes, and now, with the worldwide recession, examples can be picked up for a fraction of what they cost only several years ago.  There are exceptions, of course, and rarer items will always retain their value.  As I write this (in June, 2011), a hard-to-find Walther Koala figurine has just sold on eBay for £600 - 600 British pounds; at current rates, that’s a little over 900 Australian Dollars, or 970 USD -  a goodly sum in a depressed market.

A Czech figurine/frog
Float bowls, frogs and figurines were produced by many different glass manufacturers.  Quality varied; there are many nondescript samples, but some truly beautiful items were produced by several outstanding houses. Some have become ubiquitous, like Sowerby’s Stump Lady or the Czech Poisson Volant.  Success guaranteed imitation, and like so many popular glass products, they were widely copies and one can find versions produced by several different factories; without some historical sleuth work it becomes difficult to discover who made what first!  Mass-produced items were manufactured for the export market in Czechoslovakia and exported by the thousands to England and other countries, to the extent that they were assumed to be English- (or Australia-, or American-) made.  Dissemination of information across The Internet has been most helpful here, and many of these pieces have now been correctly identified.
Orla - Walther & Sohne (Germany)

Few people actually use these items for flower arranging today, they are generally considered antiques and collectables, and displayed as such. My own favourites are Art Deco era glass figurines.  I’ve attached photos of some I adore, what do you think?

Pair Grainger Worcester Vases

Pair George Cole Vases - Grainger Worcester
I didn’t even get to tell you about this extraordinary pair of George Cole vases. They generated a lot of attention and sold immediately at the Melbourne Antiques Fair. The vases are signed George Cole, and are in pale blush with hand painted roses.  Date: c. 1902 Height: 30.5cm
In fact, all our Worcester and Royal Worcester urns, vases and potpourris sold in Melbourne.  I believe that is a result of our reasonable prices, and above all, our commitment to truthful dealings.

The good news is that we will have more quality Royal Worcester pieces on exhibit at the Avoca Antiques Fair, all with our mandatory condition reports and guarantee.