IT IS Old Masters week: the sales are well filled - especially at Christie's - as vendors aspire to ride the market crest that last month lifted Victorian and Impressionist paintings out of the doldrums. But Old Masters do not run with the herd of investors: this is a collector's market, sniffing at boom and bust alike. Even at the best of times, their unpredictable prices can teach over-confident vendors a lesson. Today's market is still choosy.

This year's drawings are more interesting than the paintings. Christie's, which claims market leadership in Old Masters by a long chalk, has in its Tuesday (11am) Old Master drawings sale the first major Michelangelo drawing to come under the hammer since 1936: The Holy Family with the Infant Baptist on the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Cautious Christie's is offering no estimate for the chalk- and-ink masterpiece, but is reminding inquirers of the pounds 3.5m raised by Raphael's Study of a Man's Head and Hand in the Chatsworth sale of 1984. From 2.30pm there are 185 bargain- spotters' lots estimated as low as pounds 2,000- pounds 3,000.

In a sale of a private collection of early portrait miniatures, Tuesday (2.30pm), Christie's offers two by Holbein of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, who dissolved the monasteries. Less than 20 portrait miniatures by Holbein are known: this pair is expected to fetch more than pounds 500,000 in the same sale.

Sotheby's Old Master sale, also with bargain-basement end-lots, is on Wednesday (10.30am). Drawings are Monday (10.30am) - a chance for cognoscenti to firm up attributions of, for example, two 18th-century 'French school' figure drawings est pounds 200- pounds 300 the pair. A good Old Masters paintings and drawings rummage is at Bonhams, Thursday (11am).


Those with little money and less taste can find refuge in the end-lots of Sotheby's book sale, Monday and Tuesday (10.30am daily), which offers issue number one of Marvel Comics' The Amazing Spider-Man of 1963 - a mere 30 years old - for an estimated pounds 250- pounds 350. As for The Eagle, a run of 816 issues, 1952-69 (Eagle just failed to reach 1,000) is est pounds 400- pounds 600.

Christie's book sale, of an altogether different calibre, Thursday (10.30am) is the stock of the antiquarian bookseller, the late Ernst Goldschmidt, once reputedly 'the richest undergraduate at Cambridge'. Take at least pounds 1,000 with you.

Original book illustrations at Christie's South Kensington, Wednesday (2pm) has charming work by the Victorians Thackeray, Doyle, Cruickshank and Tenniel estimated under pounds 300. Bobby Locke's golf memorabilia: Christie's, Friday (11am).


Leominster: Two days of antiques and effects; Wednesday (10am) - silver, jewellery, stamps, photographic equipment, Dinky toys, textiles, musical instruments; Thursday (10am) - porcelain, furniture, clocks, sculpture, pictures. Russell, Baldwin and Bright, Ryeland Road (0568 611166).

Grantham: Complete warehouse and factory contents of a pine manufacturer and retailer; Tuesday (10am), Unit 25, London Road Industrial Estate. Escritt & Barrell (0476 65371).

Ossett: Contents of a coffee shop, Monday (10am), at C W Harrison, Illingworth Street (0924 279 005).

Chepstow: At the racecourse, 1,000 lots of computers and peripherals, tomorrow (11am). South West Computer Auctions (0934 642 437).


Sandown Park: 550-stand indoor Antiques, Tuesday. Wonder Whistle Enterprises (071-249 4050).

Newmarket: Summer Antique and Collectors, 400 stands, tomorrow. IACF (0636 702326).

Countrywide: Antiques Trade Gazette (071- 930 4957) and Government Auction News (071-734 8291/4, hotline 0891-887700).

Look out for . . .

Sandbank by Dunoon: Boatyard plant, equipment, stores and six classic cars are for sale at Robertson's Industrial Estate, Wednesday (11am). Shirlaw Allan & Co (041 885 1163).

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