In the attic of your dreams

Feeling the urge to acquire a glass walking stick, salami mould or an 18th-century sock drier? They're not too hard to find
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prowling the 130 stands of the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, which continues at Battersea Park until tomorrow evening, is akin to exploring the attic of your dreams. The only drawback is that someone else has already discovered the objects in this cornucopia and attached a price tag bearing a sum that is slightly more than you'll actually have to pay. Though I found myself repeatedly boggling - a 9ft stainless steel patisserie table dating from the Thirties for £4,850, a dozen battered, glass-fronted biscuit tins for £440 - I was assured by visitors that the "Decorative" offers good value. "It is much more reasonable and interesting than the Olympia Antiques Fair," insisted an American collector called Steven Haines, who was surveying the wares on the stand of a retailer from Beckenham, Kent, called Taurus. "I bought a perfect 1790 Newhall teapot right here from £125 last year. It would have been £950 in New York." A Taurus representative looked surprisingly sanguine at t

Prowling the 130 stands of the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair, which continues at Battersea Park until tomorrow evening, is akin to exploring the attic of your dreams. The only drawback is that someone else has already discovered the objects in this cornucopia and attached a price tag bearing a sum that is slightly more than you'll actually have to pay. Though I found myself repeatedly boggling - a 9ft stainless steel patisserie table dating from the Thirties for £4,850, a dozen battered, glass-fronted biscuit tins for £440 - I was assured by visitors that the "Decorative" offers good value. "It is much more reasonable and interesting than the Olympia Antiques Fair," insisted an American collector called Steven Haines, who was surveying the wares on the stand of a retailer from Beckenham, Kent, called Taurus. "I bought a perfect 1790 Newhall teapot right here from £125 last year. It would have been £950 in New York." A Taurus representative looked surprisingly sanguine at the news.

If you want two 4-ft-high Victorian apothecary's jars, a pair labelled "Magnesia" and "Colocynth" are available from Victoria Harvey at £3,200. Perhaps a plaster bust of the hack Hannen Swaffer is just the ticket for your mantelpiece: £250 from Vivien Youlton. Or maybe a Japanese leather pillow resembling a block of wood: just £150. "Very comfortable," says Ann Gordon of Great Haul of China.

It seems that foreign visitors prize our eccentric heirlooms much more than the inheritors of such items. At the stand of Smithson Antiques of Lincolnshire, I was expressing surprise that anyone would want to buy porcelain shop slabs labelled "Margarine" and "Lard" at £400 each, when a Japanese dealer appeared and snapped them both up. No, he didn't want a companion slab labelled "Butter", but he did succumb to the lure of a hand of papier-mâché bananas (£80) and an ancient oven thermometer (£120). Infected by such rampant acquisitiveness, I was tempted by a twin-handled French herb chopper from the Twenties (£78). Fortunately, perhaps, a gimlet-eyed American woman got there first. She also snaffled the butter slab. However, there's plenty left for the discerning collector. Treasures remaining on the stand include a papier-mâché butcher's pig for £780 ("Very rare"), a collection of tiny copper aspic moulds for £20 each, a battered fake ham for £66 and a porcelain rolling pin bearing the legend "Coombe's 'Eureka' flour. Antidote for indigestion. Awarded Nine Gold Medals" (£185).

At the stand of Shore to Shaw of Stow-on-the-Wold, Paul Shaw guided me round his trawl of aristocratic bric-a-brac. "Those are cavalry officer's full field boots: £300 including the beech trees. That's a leather top hat box, round about 1870, £335. Over there, a saddle horse. You polish saddles on it and there are drawers for cloths and dubbin. £1,470, I'm afraid. A bit of a rarity." An 1840 silk coachman's hat in a violent shade of peach was going for £795. "It is well-preserved and it's a good size. Most hats from that time are very small, but this could be worn today. It'll probably go to someone with a coach."

"Eighteenth century sock driers - £195," explained David Maggs of Yew Tree Antiques, Whipsnade, as I puzzled over a pair of foot-shaped planks. An over-sized football rattle turned out to be a bird scarer (£75). "No, I daren't whirl it. It goes off like a bomb." David jiggled with a small brass block and a dozen nasty little blades popped. "It's called a 'scarifier'. Used for bleeding people: £125. That's a glass walking stick. Yes, they were actually used by dandies: £135. The wooden mould over there? For salami sausages: £70. The bowl with overlapping blue transfers is for an earth closet. Around 1860: £295. There's a Twenties dog sledge for £125, a 1910 potato lifting fork: £68, an 1880 tree pruner: £145 and a grocer's Quaker Oats container: £135. This thing like a cosh is called a priest. It's for killing fish: £35."

A slightly grubby white cone, about 9in long, is the somewhat unlikely piÿce de résistance on the stand of Newsum Antiques of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. "It's an original sugar loaf," explained Mark Newsum. "Fifty quid. If you think that's a lot, try and find one yourself. Funnily enough, I paid £35 for it." In order to chop it up, Mr Newsum can also supply a sugar loaf cutter (£255). Bearing the single ominous word "Mortgages", a Victorian Filing Cabinet might have been appropriated directly from the office of Scrooge & Marley (£1,850). A 19th century copper weather vane in the shape of a lively fox is available for £750, but it's too late to snap up a weather-cock with flamboyant tail feathers. Acquired for £650, it will shortly be flying the Atlantic.

An alarmingly austere Thirties doll's house is on sale for £325 at the stand of John Goodison and Chris Paraskeva of Camden Passage, London N1. A Brutalist construction made of tin, you just know that it once belonged to the daughter of a Hampstead Marxist. Other items on the stand maintained the gleaming theme: an aircraft ejector seat in aluminium (£1,500) and a suite of dressing table, wardrobe, tallboy, bedside cabinet and bed, also made in aluminium by Hunting Aviation (£8,000). The stand also boasted a milliner's sign in the form of a 3ft-wide hat with feathers (£1,500) and a large Victorian bell used to announce boxing rounds (£650). A row of hefty wooden stakes was simply labelled "Pointy Things £275 per pair". "Yes, they're pointy things from seaside groynes," answered Mr Paraskeva, a raffish figure with more than a touch of Lovejoy about him. He was also selling an item which until now I had always believed to be just a figment of cartoonists' imaginations: a "Silence" sign from a library (£295).

* The next Decorative Antique & Textiles Fair takes place 24-29 April

Comments