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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