The value of antique furniture will continue to rise at 8 per cent a year, according to John Andrews, who calculated the 29th annual furniture price index for the Antique Collectors Club.
The spurt in prices has been caused by the upturn in the housing market. Mr Andrews says: "We thought the wild fluctuations of the Eighties were over - but here we go again".
Mahogany dining tables of the Regency, William IV and early Victorian periods are making the running in price, he reports. One that cost pounds 500- pounds 600 less than a decade ago would now cost pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000. The cheapest is not necessarily the best investment. He advises: "Buy the best you can afford - pounds 3,000-pounds 5,000 will buy a dining table with sustainable value."
You do not need the eye of a connoisseur to spot finely crafted antique tables. The most visible clue is the "reeding" - the parallel fluted chamfers that decorate table and chair legs and the edges of tables. It is smooth if machine made but there will be rough cuts on corners if a v-shaped chisel blade has been used.
Grime - or, more politely, patina - indicates age and is worth money. The wood should have rich "figuring" - the pattern made by the grain - and rich colour. It should not have been re-polished.
When buying tables, look for good weight - a generous plank of mahogany for the top, a sturdy block at the top of the pillar and stout bearers on the underside of the top. The casting of brass claw-feet should be detailed, not botched. Avoid mended chairs.
At Bonhams' dining room sale on Tuesday, furniture specialist David Higgs has raised pre-sale estimates by about 25 per cent compared with last year - but there is still enough demand to push prices higher.
Breakfast tables - more suitable for smaller dinner parties and, oddly enough, originally known as supper tables - are being fought over. Chairs are scarcer than tables, especially "longer" sets of over six. In the same sale is a set of six early Victorian dining chairs with curved "tablet" horizontal top rails: estimate pounds 1,000-pounds 1,500.
Estimates for tables in the sale are typically pounds 1,200-pounds 1,800. At Christie's South Kensington's furniture sale next week, estimates for Victorian extendible tables are in the pounds 1,500-pounds 2,500 range and sets of six late Victorian chairs from pounds 800.
Early mahogany has survived the recession rather well: the Antique Collectors Club index shows a peak index of 3,265 in 1989, dropping to a low of 2,529 last year: it is now 2,976.
Stewart Whittington, of the furniture dealers Norman Adams, an exhibitor at the Bada fair, emphasises the staying power of the market. "Furniture is the last thing people sell," he says. "You're really bust when you sell your furniture."
Bada Antiques Fair, The Duke of York's Headquarters, Cheltenham Terrace, London SW3, 12-18 March, entry pounds 10 (0171-589 6108); Bonhams Knightsbridge dining room sale, Tuesday, 2pm (0171-393 3900); Bonhams weekly sales: Lots Road, Chelsea, alternately Wednesdays, 1pm and Tuesdays, noon (0171- 393 3937); Christie's South Kensington weekly sales, Wednesdays, 10.30am (0171- 581 7611); Lots Road Galleries weekly sale, Mondays, 6pm (0171- 351 7771)