Design: Old tat or object of desire?
Don't look in the attic for treasure - your humble kitchen may contain its own design classics. By John Windsor
Saturday 01 May 1999
Not only that, the range helped to turn into design icons some of the Fifties designs it depicts - Robin Day's reclining chair, for example, and Terence Conran's spindly-legged wicker plant-pot stand.
Higgins is best known as the antiques presenter for Sky News and has presented the BBC's Antiques Show, ITV's Schofield's Quest and the TLC/Sky Collectomania series. Are You Rich? is her first book. At first I sniffed at it. Another of those wishful "Treasures in Your Attic" pot-boilers, I thought, which send us up loft ladders on searches that yield, instead of Victorian rocking-horses worth pounds 1,000, dusty old rolls of flooring felt.
Higgins, however, ignores the attic and takes us through the kitchen, the living-room, the bedroom - where you are quite likely to find collectable design classics dating between the Fifties and the Nineties. These days, she says, some designs become collectable as soon as they leave the shop. The London design collective Jam's foam "Dino" table-cum-chair is still in production at pounds 828 retail and Higgins reckons it will hold its value. As for that Fifties Robin Day lounger, it could be worth pounds 1,500. And she puts a tag of pounds 350 on Conran's Fifties wicker plant-pot holder.
Higgins has benefited from from clued-up viewers reporting hefty prices for modern design at boot sales and auctions. She was born at the right time - the late Sixties. That means that she is less likely than old fogies to dismiss Woolworth's "Homemaker" plates as tat. To her, they are social history.
"After the austerity of the war", she says, "many young couples had little money but wanted to appear fashionable. They could not afford a Robin Day recliner from Heal's, but they could afford Woolworth's `Homemaker' crockery.
"Those were the days, remember, when you invited the boss home to dinner. That cheap, fashionable crockery, bought to impress him, should have as much social significance for collectors as late-18th-century Wedgwood creamware.
"You may claim `Homemaker' plates as tat, but when you get absorbed in the concepts behind the design, you start to admire it. There's nothing in my book that I don't like."
Even chunky brown Sixties Denby Arabesque ware? Surely even jumble sales are turning that away. But have you looked recently? It is suddenly scarcer, and selling for pounds 11 a plate to home-makers/ collectors who want to cultivate a Sixties look.
As collectors go, Higgins is of the advanced, American kind. Americans have started collecting historic electrical goods, such as Fifties Hoover steam irons and Braun kitchen mixers. They are also more alert than we are to the value of vintage electronic goods, such as computers. To them, industrial design means not just the shape of things but advances in technology.
On her study bookshelves Higgins displays a late-Fifties Pifco electric travel iron with the sales brochures that went with it. She would like to own an example of the world's first pocket calculator, the Sinclair Executive of 1972; it is worth pounds 100-pounds 150.
Collecting tip; some of our modern icon-spotting is being done for us by astute curators - note the objects in Higgins's book that have been selected by the Design Council for the Millennium or were displayed at the European Summit Meeting in London in 1997 or last year's Powerhouse :: UK exhibition in London. Meanwhile, I have confiscated my cats' "Homemaker" plate and put it in my antiques showcase. They are now eating off crockery bearing the logo of Commonwealth Railways, with its map of Australia. Until I come across a book on antipodean railway collectables, they are welcome to it.
An exhibition of valuable household items, curated by Katherine Higgins, is at Grays Antique Markets, South Molton Lane, London W1, from 5 May to 30 June (open 10am-6pm Monday-Friday). Enquiries 0171-629 7034. `Are you Rich?' by Katherine Higgins, is published by Chameleon, pounds 14.99
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote