Hottest Oriental collectable is photograph albums, especially of views that have since been obliterated by earthquakes or bombing
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Japanese katana or long swords are modestly estimated at a couple of hundred pounds in Christie's South Kensington sale of oriental ceramics and artworks, Thursday (10.30am). Could they be the same cherished family blades we have watched being laid down in surrender in 50-year-old newsreels?

The answer is yes - if they come with a metal scabbard, signifying military wear. The reason for their regular appearance in these fortnightly minor sales is partly condition - rust-pitted blades, dented scabbards - and partly because so few private buyers in Europe are interested in them.

A katana blade, dating from about 1600 with metal scabbard, is lotted with a maker-signed blade in a wood scabbard: estimate pounds 150-pounds 200 the pair.

All Japanese blades made up until the war can be assumed to be family blades, ceremonial repositories of family military honour. A sword of about 1940 with red lacquered scabbard, silver inlaid tsuba (hilt plate) decorated with flowerheads and silk-bound hilt is est pounds 200-pounds 250.

One of the biggest collections of Japanese family swords lies at the bottom of Portsmouth harbour - chucked overboard from homecoming troop ships after penalties were announced for bringing them ashore.

Now is a good time to start collecting Oriental artworks - while the new rich of South-east Asia are beginning to repatriate their heritage and a handful of dealers are keeping London auction prices artificially low. Some sectors have already been exploited - netsuke, snuff bottles and tsuba, fancied by American collectors. Others, such as carved ivory, are unpopular and likely to remain so.

Hottest Oriental collectable: photograph albums, especially of topography now obliterated by earthquake or bombing. An album of 52 photographs of Japanese figures and temples, its covers inlaid with mother-of- pearl and ivory birds and chrysanthemums, is est pounds 400-pounds 600. Six years ago it would have been lucky to make pounds 100.

The sale of the pioneer aviator Amy Johnson's personal possessions (Christie's South Kensington, Thursday, 2pm), has made headlines just as she herself did. But her honorary life membership certificate of Hull Aero Club (est pounds 400-pounds 800) is a dull thing. Her flying certificate bearing a photograph showing her quizzical gaze, is riveting, but no casual collector of ephemera will pay the pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000 est.Bidders will find themselves up against rich specialist collectors and aviation museums.

The model steam engines session (10.30am) of this transport memorabilia and model sale convey none of the excitement of pioneer solo flights. Most of them do not move from their mounts. The earliest were Victorian apprentice pieces. By the turn of the century engineerswere making them as a hobby.A steam spirit-fired water pump with flywheel, brass boiler, water and pressure gauges, beam engine, rod-driven feed pump and other sophisticated accessories, is est a mere pounds 350-pounds 500.

The sale's curio is a tiny mid-19th-century brass "pipe" engine made by a Midlands watchmaker. The cylindrical brass boiler fits into a tobacco pipe. Puff, puff, the water boils and the piston on top turns the flywheel. Est pounds 300-pounds 400.

For countrywide auctions and fairs, see page 15