Sunday, February 15, 2015

Architectural antiques

Thirty years ago, the term architectural antique had yet to become part of the vernacular of the antiques world. Such items as Victorian fireplaces and chimney pieces, cast-iron jardinières, wrought-iron gates and garden seating were available in great quantity at low prices and generally came under the heading of salvage.

19th century bench with branch and snake pattern.  Made by Scottish iron founders McDowell, Stevens & Co, Glasgow 1840.
But with the passion we now have for recreating the past, all these objects have acquired value. Architectural salvage has become very big business and collectors are prepared to pay large sums of money for the right piece.

One of the main reasons for buying these objects is to install them in houses and gardens which have suffered a series of "improvements" during the 1950s and 1960s, and are now being passionately restored to their original glory.

Early 19th Century Stone Figures, £1,600
Buyers are paying not only for the craftsmanship of the past, but for age and wear. The genuine patina of a section of oak panelling, the original paint on a garden seat, the moss and lichen on a stone urn and the original chains and drops of a chandelier are all desirable qualities in this market.
In fact, fine carved wood and marble fireplaces have become so expensive that they become the target of some particularly determined teams of burglars who hacked them right out of the wall.

Antique weather vane became a home decor
Early Flemish and German glass in small panels (say 25 x 23 cm) from the late 16th and 17th centuries can still be bought for less than £1,000, but the best value for money is the English 19th century ecclesiastical window glass which has never appealed to a wide range of collectors, especially that featuring martyred saints or the body of Christ. Angels have greater appeal. If you can attribute a piece to a maker such as Heaton, Butler and Bayne or Edward Kempe so much the better. Pieces by Morris & Co. May be prohibitively expensive, but you may find a piece by either of the other two makers for around £400. The original artwork for stained glass designs is a growing market. 
A massive, late-17th century, Italian, walnut, painted fireplace surround (1650 to 1700 Italian)
Among other items that are now very popular are stone garden sculptures of figures, angels or animals. One of the famous makers is Mrs. Eleanor Coade, who invented the clay-based artificial stone at her factory in London in 1769. It looks like a limestone, but it is more durable and less prone to wear. The value of stone garden decorative items vary depending on size, quality, condition and other parameters, and  can be in the range of less than £100 to few thousands. 

Colourful yellow, blue and brown stained glass panel with bird , £185
 Collectors' notes

The Coalbrookdale ironworks in England produced the cast-iron garden furniture and ornamental gates and hallstands which are most sought after today. Look for the foundry mark cast in relief on pieces, often with the registration number.

In the area of stained glass, look for painted figural decoration, not the simple coloured glass set into patterns and used within door frames. Avoid stained glass that is cracked but don't be put off by loose leading as it can be mended quite easily.

Regency brass and cast iron Fire Grate (c. 1830 England)
Wrought-iron gates incorporating elaborate designs can often be found at reasonable prices, lower than that of a modern replacement.

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