COLLECTABLES / A little of what you fancy: A porcelain coffee set two inches tall could fetch over pounds 2,000 at auction. Nicole Swengley meets a collector with a small fortune

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The Independent Culture
MARGARET KAYE is known to friends as 'the miniature lady' - an appellation that has little relevance to her stature and much to do with her passion for collecting Lilliputian china.

A single display cabinet is all she needs for her extensive collection of Royal Crown Derby, Coalport, Crown Staffordshire and Limoges. For none of this china, all in the form of doll-sized miniatures, stands more than two inches high. A tiny teacup measures under an inch in height and a teapot is all of 1 3/4 inches tall.

Dainty and delicate, much of this diminutive crockery is now fairly rare, with a steadily increasing investment value. A Royal Crown Derby plate bought in 1965 for pounds 33 is now worth around pounds 400, for example. A minute china iron bought in 1978 for pounds 350 would cost more than pounds 600 today.

'I've always had a mania for tiny things and have collected china since childhood,' Margaret Kaye explains. 'I come from a family of eight, none of whom ever collected anything; so I can't say I inherited this love of fine porcelain. My knowledge is all self-taught.'

When she married at 17, her first husband would apparently come home and roar at her for spending the housekeeping money on china rather than kippers. 'My family all thought I was crazy,' she recalls, 'spending over pounds 100 on a weeny plate. But I never cared what I paid because I love these pieces so much.'

Mrs Kaye's second husband, the cantor Jacob Konssevitsky, was more amenable to her passion for miniatures. So was her friend Pierre Jeanneret, the Daily Mail art critic, from whom much of her knowledge of the arts was gleaned.

Well travelled and widely read, Margaret Kaye became a notable hostess of her day, accepted at one point as a lady freemason and one of the first women allowed into the male-dominated Arts Club in London's Dover Street. Last October she opened a stall at Gray's Antique Market in the capital's West End, selling miniatures identical to the ones she has at home. 'I want only one of everything,' she says, 'so it seems sensible to sell any designs that I already have.'

All the china is hand-made and exquisitely hand-painted. Dating from around 1890 to 1920, some of the pieces are thought to have been salesmen's samples from the peak of the porcelain industry's production. Others were made purely for decorative display purposes, or as toys for children.

Despite their minuscule sizes, Mrs Kaye does not believe the pieces were originally made for doll's houses - although that's where some end up today. As well as dozens of different teacups and saucers, her own collection includes miniature teapots, tea caddies, vases, cake plates, coffee pots, tea kettles, rare beer mugs, milk jugs, saucepans, shopping baskets, washing pitchers in bowls, coal scuttles, watering cans, and irons on triangular china stands.

Many of the pieces are Royal Crown Derby and Crown Staffordshire, although she also has examples of Limoges and Dresden. Technically fine antique Coalport with painted rural scenes takes pride of place in her display cabinet, along with green and gold 'jewelled' Coalport. 'It has never been easy to find miniatures,' Mrs Kaye explains. 'Not many were made, and then they were only produced for a short length of time. Most of my pieces date from around 1911.' A cypher on the base of a piece indicates its age.

So how can such small delights be found today? Scouring antique shops, fairs and markets around the country is the usual method. It is still possible to find Goss teacups from around 1900 which sell for about pounds 100. 'I remember when you could buy them for a pound at the seaside,' muses Mrs Kaye.

For potential collectors, she has the following advice: 'Never buy anything unmarked or without a name, and only buy pieces which are in mint condition. If the gilding isn't rubbed and the painting is in good condition, snap it up. You quickly gain knowledge through handling the pieces and becoming familiar with them.'

Mrs Kaye's personal collection has been eyed by many an envious collector. 'I've had several offers,' she says, 'but I would never sell it to one person. I'm prepared to sell duplicates in the same way that stamp collectors do, but not to anyone who complains about the price; either people like the work or they don't. But I do like to help people who are just starting off making a collection and are really interested in the work.'

With a personal collection already worth more than pounds 20,000, isn't it time to stop now? Mrs Kaye answers firmly: 'Not yet. I still need the Royal Crown Derby fish kettle to complete the set.'

Margaret Kaye can be contacted at Margaret Miniatures, Stand 371, Gray's Antique Market, 58 Davies Street, London W1 (071-629 7034)


OLD MINIATURES are fairly rare but do turn up at auction from time to time, in sales of ceramics, dolls or toys. Antique shops and one-day ceramics fairs held throughout the country are other likely sources (see the local press for details).

Spode stopped its production of miniatures in 1973, and was followed by Coalport and Wedgwood in the early Eighties and the Royal Worcester potteries in 1987. But some miniatures can still be bought new from stockists of Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Royal Doulton and Mason's Ironstone.

(Photographs omitted)