Provenance is key to salvaging the reputation of bargain finds
PROVENANCE separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Whether it’s a painting or an old pot, it gives you the history of an artefact’s journey through history; who made it, who owned it, what it was used for and whether it’s had an association with anywhere or anyone famous.
Knowing the source and date of an object can add significant value to it and is also important in the fight against thefts and forgeries.
This is especially when it comes to illegally obtained architectural antiques (or salvage as it’s more commonly known). Sadly, these are all too often stolen, then sold to clients who choose to ask not too many questions.
With the current economic climate, an increasing number of people are turning to salvage as a cost effective way of repairing their period home or adding a bit of character to their garden. I’m a huge fan of salvage and use it widely in my restoration projects. But, and this is a big but, unless you want to come a cropper you have to be absolutely clear about where your finds have originated. Most people are unaware that if an item they have bought turns out to be stolen, they will lose the item without compensation and could even be prosecuted for receiving stolen goods.
The vast majority of salvage is bona fide, especially if you buy from dealers who have signed up to the Salvo Code – guidelines which aim to give buyers confidence that items they buy have not been stolen or removed from listed or protected buildings without permission.
Many dealers have already established a sensible buying procedure but the Salvo Code makes this formal, understandable and obvious to the buying public.
To find out more about the Salvo Code and finding reputable dealers, visit www.salvo.co.uk
Reproductions are also common in the salvage business. Modern copies allow a buyer to purchase items such as marble garden statues which, if made from the original material, would be very expensive. Sometimes reproductions are used when an original would be impractical; some fantastic pieces of Victorian sanitaryware, for example, have been faithfully copied and then tweaked to comply with modern plumbing requirements.
But most of the time, reproductions simply exist because demand for certain types of architectural ornament – fireplaces, sinks, garden statuary – is so high.
The quality of reproductions can vary wildly. At the top end of the market you will find excellent copies, made with genuine care and craftsmanship, using materials and construction methods faithful to the original process.
Really high quality reproductions can even become collectible in their own right.
At the bottom end, you can end up with cheap imitations that often aren’t even fit for purpose.
The buying and selling of architectural antiques is protected by the Trades Descriptions Act and if you’ve been sold a repro when you were assured it was an original, you have a legal right to get your money back.
If an auction catalogue or price tag describes something in writing as “an original”, for example, and it turns out to be a copy, you have written proof that supports any attempt to recoup your money.
To safeguard against fake or stolen salvage always try to establish provenance. If you can get documentation or photographs supporting this, even better.
Don’t be afraid to ask where an item comes from. Always get a receipt for your purchase, with the name and address of the dealer.
Pay by cheque or credit card if you can: this leaves a paper trail of payments made. And if you suspect an item is stolen, contact your local police. Chances are if a dodgy looking bloke offers you a nice stone urn for your garden, there’ll be another homeowner waking up to find his favourite garden ornament has vanished into thin air.
Sally Coulthard is a writer specialising in period property.
SOLD: Architectural antiques come under the Trades Descriptions Act.