The days of cheap furniture are over, unless you can discover some provincial auctions that have not yet been discovered by foreign shippers
Foreign furniture shippers are forcing the auction trade in Victorian household furniture out of London and into the provinces. They got fed up with London's high hotel prices and parking difficulties.

This month, Bonhams abandoned its weekly sales of cheap, mainly Victorian, furniture in Chelsea. It now sends "brown" furniture in the pounds 200-pounds 500 bracket to its Honiton saleroom, where it is offered in 500-lot sales on the last Friday of each month (11am).

Bonhams Honiton has been wooing shippers for the past four years: B&B is pounds 15, parking is 80p a day. Shippers from Italy, Belgium, France,Germany and the Netherlands leave containers at Plymouth docks and drive in vans to West Country furniture sales - including Phillips Exeter, Bearne's Torquay and Greenslade Hunt of Taunton. East Anglian furniture prices are also rising, due to bidding by foreign dealers, notably the Dutch, who ship out of Harwich.

Bonhams has upgraded its Chelsea sales: these are now fortnightly and offer not only antique furniture - higher quality, a mere 200 lots - but also carpets, mirrors and art objects (next one is Wednesday, lpm). Which means the days of cheap furniture at auction are over - unless you can find provincial auctions not yet discovered by shippers.

Honiton prices are still worth the journey: pounds 200 might buy a Victorian oak wind-out dining table, and mahogany dining tables are mostly well under pounds 1,000; 100-year-old wardrobes are pounds 200-pounds 500. For private buyers, the West Country furniture run could be the future summer holiday: one parent bids while the other minds the kids on the beach.

Silliest lot of the silly season - the French camera disguised as a revolver at Christie's South Kensington's camera sale, Thursday (10.30am). The estimate is serious: pounds 25,000-pounds 35,000. Surely only an Inspector Clouseau would be sufficiently imbecile to point it at a suspect?

For auctioneers that is not the point. This expensive plaything has "crossover" value and both gun and camera collectors will be bidding. Only eight of this model are known, placing it among the world's top 10 rarest cameras. A Pentax camera disguised as a watch also has crossover value (est pounds 180-pounds 220) but pen collectors are not expected to bid for a Japanese Harukawa pen camera (pounds 600-pounds 900). Perhaps they have more sense.

The sale has some revealing Edwardian erotica: 17 amateur photographs of a nude mixed-sex group engaged in various acts. This is not rich young bucks having a jape with father's camera. The males are muscular, apparently manual workers. Most probable motive: money (pounds 400-pounds 600).

Christie's South Kensington - whose sales of Clarice Cliff deco pottery began in 1989 and are held twice a year - has a rival; Bonhams' first dedicated Clarice sale is next Saturday (2pm). It has a lot to beat: South Ken's sales have fetched pounds 226,000 with 90 per cent sold. However ghastly some of Clarice's wares, this is a market of knowledgeable, relatively sane collectors who have kept prices relatively stable. No speculators yet.

For nationwide auctions and fairs, see pages 14 and 15

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