NO major works are being ventured in London's Old Master paintings sales next week. The market is not out of the doldrums and high-rolling Italians will not be much in evidence. As one picture dealer in Rome put it: 'Most of my best clients are in jail'. Some Canaletto-type views and still-lifes of the sort that attracted suitcases full of lire a year or two ago, before Italian corruption scandals surfaced, are now back on the block estimated at half their price. An 18th-century 'Venetian school' view of Venice is estimated at a bearish pounds 7,000- pounds 10,000 at Sotheby's, Wednesday (10.30am). But bidding by the Dutch is strengthening and London dealers will again be looking for stock. Other Old Master sales: Christie's, Friday (11am), Christie's South Kensington, Thursday (2pm), Bonhams (with drawings), Thursday (11am) and Phillips, Tuesday (11am). Drawings at Christie's, Tuesday (10.30am).

The week's bidding could be strong in the pounds 5,000- pounds 30,000 range for good furniture, which has been fought over this month. There is fine Continental furniture at Christie's, Thursday (10.30am) and Sotheby's, Friday (10am). Estimates from the low hundreds in Christie's South Kensington's sale of furniture, carpets, decorative objects, Wednesday (10am). Phillips has early European furniture, sculpture, rugs, Wednesday (11am).

Estimates for antiquities, recent proof that age does not necessarily confer value, seem to have been bumped up for Christmas. There are sales at Bonhams, Tuesday (1pm), Christie's, Wednesday (10am), Sotheby's Thursday (11.30am) and Friday (10.30am). Most fascinating as gifts: two dozen semi-precious stone seals, some royal, from 1800- 700BC, lowest est pounds 300- pounds 500 for eight, in Christie's Egyptian sale, Wednesday (2.30pm). Greek vases from the Hirschmann collection, pounds 400 to pounds 10,000 and more: Sotheby's, Thursday (10.30am).

GOLD PLATES

Motorists' vanity has raised pounds 120m for the exchequer since the sale of never-issued registration plates began four years ago. Christie's South Kensington offers 70, Friday (10.30am), including L1 ONS (get it?), est pounds 12,000.

BEST OF THE REST

George Bernard Shaw and his Friends, all nude, oil on board by George Houston, est pounds 1,000- 1,500, at Bonhams, Wednesday (2pm). Cigarette cards: Eccleston Hotel, Eccleston Square, London SW1, next Saturday (1.30pm): London Cigarette Card Company (0458 273452).

At Christie's South Kensington: Monday teddies (7pm), Tuesday fans (2pm), Wednesday objects of vertu, miniatures (10.30am), silver (2pm), Thursday mechanical music (2pm).

COUNTRYWIDE

Hull: Charity auction of artworks by leading Northern artists at the Waterfront Hotel, Dagger Lane, next Saturday (2.30pm). Manda Smethurst (0482 883104).

Castle Upton, Templepatrick, Co Antrim: Angus MacDonald collection of ceramics, Irish pictures: Thursday (2pm). Christie's (041-332 8134).

Crewkerne: Ceramics, silver, jewellery, Oriental artworks, Thursday (11am). Lawrence, South Street (0460 73041).

Clare, Suffolk: 'Ornamental and miscellaneous' items among furniture and artworks at the Town Hall, Wednesday (10.30am). Boardman (0440 730414).

Chepstow racecourse: 1,000- lot computer sale, tomorrow (11am). South West Computer Auctions (0934 642437).

FAIRS

Today and tomorrow: Mammoth, Donington Park, Leicestershire (Four in One Promotions 0455 233495).

Monday to December 16: Orangerie Italiana 1993, Accademia Italiana, London SW7 (071-225 3474).

Tuesday-Thursday: Antique Stock Exchange: 1,000 decorative antiques at the Collection Gallery, 264 Brompton Road, London SW7 (071-736 9927).

Next Friday to Sunday: Giant Antique, Bingley Hall, County Showground, Stafford (Bowman Fairs 0532 843333). Christmas Ilkley Antiques, King's Hall, Ilkley, Yorkshire (Bailey Fairs 0277 362662).

Countrywide: Antiques Trade Gazette (071-930 4957) and Government Auction News (0686 668851, hotline 0891 887700).

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