Antiques hunting – best bargains

Jeremy Musson, Architectural Editor, Country Life

‘I think the greatest bargain I ever bought was a Gillray caricature of Napoleon I bought for under £20 as a schoolboy at Winchester, from a bookseller down by the old mill in the centre of town, and making room for it earlier this year revelled in the misery of a humiliating low estimate reaching 5 times the reserve at £250. Today I mostly buy small 18th century pieces which are damaged and therefore a snip, but I doubt they will make me much money!’

Leslie Geddes-Brown, contributor, Country Life

‘One of my most recent buys was a perfect terracotta horse’s head dating from the Chinese Han dynasty (203BC-265AD). I bought it earlier this year at a specialist dealer in Chinese artefacts at Castle Cary in Somerset. It cost £275. This is probably not a wild bargain today but in the Communist years, horses from the later Tang dynasty cost over £10,000 – this is the 1970s when the pound was worth much more – and I remember being wild to have one. Ten years ago I bought a damaged Tang horse at auction for £450. This, and my Han horse’s head, give me huge pleasure.

‘A real bargain was a perfect early 19th century mahogany military chest with integral desk drawer and all its brass fittings and handles complete. I bought it before I married, years ago, for £2.50 from a sale at a military barracks. No one knew what it was. At the time, a military chest like this would sell for over £50. Now over £1,000.

Leslie Geddes-Brown writes regularly for Country Life on a myriad of subjects from gardens to food to interior design. She has just updated Chelsea: The Greatest Flower Show on Earth (Dorling Kindersley) and is currently working on a book about walled gardens to be published by Merrell next year.

Mary Miers, Architectural writer, Country Life ‘I got some wonderful old amber beads, lacquer antiques and other things from an ancient woman at the top of a teetering building in Rangoon, Burma in about 1986. She had an Aladdin’s Cave of goodies up there and you could buy them for nothing. As Burma was undergoing a period of civil unrest at the time (Rangoon experienced a minor version of Tiananman Square, with students massacred in the streets, a few weeks later, but the world didn’t get to hear about it), there were few foreign visitors. And still fewer were interested in visiting an emporium like this, so I had a wonderful selection to choose from.’

Clive Aslet, Editor-at-Large, Country Life

‘My Best Bargain is always my latest. Today we took delivery of a piano for £150 which I thought was pretty good. I feel fondest of things that have been overlooked by other people. I am always surprised by how little some pieces of furniture cost in comparison even to Ikea. I am very thrilled by some second-hand curtains, acquired from a junk shop near work; they were supposedly made for a sheik. I also did very well at various car boot sales last year. We have a lot of prints from that source.

‘Does anyone know a piano tuner near Ramsgate?’

COUNTRY LIFE is sponsoring the New Collectors Evening at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, held in London on June 20, 2006.

First introduced in 2001, the New Collectors’ Evening is aimed at attracting a fresh generation of art buyers to the Fair. This invitation-only event is held to introduce future generations of collectors to the world of art and antiques and will attract some 1,000 guests from the art, media and business world. The guests, specially invited by exhibitors, will be able to able to view and buy art and antiques and get tips on collecting from dealers.