The enduring pleasure of treasure
ALthough Carphone Warehouse, Starbucks and Boots might be banishing the shops parodied in Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques from the high street, the demise of these quirky features of British life is no symptom of a trade in crisis. Like so other many bricks-and-mortar businesses, the antiques trade is evolving; many dealers have retreated to less expensive premises, such as barns and warehouses, or online, where they harness the power of websites and social media to reach an audience far wider and more responsive than the population of Manchesterford.
In the mid market, the millennial generation is discovering that antiques are often more interesting and better value than anything to be found in a department store and, in the higher echelons, dealers and auction houses are being boosted by both a buoyant market for quality and a weak pound.
however, the antiques trade is driven more by passion than by market forces; aesthetic appeal, quality and provenance are far more nuanced and subjective than FTSE prices or analysts’ reports. And in an increasingly transient, digital world, they serve a role that is more vital than ever before: the tangible, sensual and sentimental quality of a much-loved possession —whatever its value—has the potential to crystallise a memory far more effectively than anything that could ever be posted online or stored on a hard drive.
Antiques also serve another important purpose. It isn’t just the digital onslaught that’s made the world transient—so has mass manufacture. only a fraction that’s being made in the early 21st century has the capacity to make it to the 22nd. Even if we wanted to bequeath our flatpack furniture to our nearest and dearest, the chances are that won’t stand the test of time in the same way as a gillows library table or a Minton dinner service, which so eloquently express the enduring power of craftsmanship and high-quality materials.
It is for this reason that, in this week’s Country Life, we publish, in collaboration with Christie’s, a guide to heirlooms that explores the almost infinite possibilities of furniture, jewellery, paintings, sculpture, wine, watches and sporting guns that will not only give pleasure to their owners, but will do the same for their heirs—and their heirs’ heirs.
the aim is not to give advice on speculative opportunities, but simply to highlight items that have the potential to give infinitely more pleasure than a deposit account or a buy-to-let property.
In addition, there are descriptions by those who cherish more esoteric heirlooms, such as a lion-skin cartridge bag, badges from henley Regatta and a set of gold teeth. Although they might not have much commercial appeal, they have an almost talismanic power for their owners. Like the best heirlooms, they have the capacity to encapsulate human bonds and that’s what makes them priceless.