In Lancashire, the antique desks and cabinets in the windows of antique shops are as likely to have been purchased at auction as from a private seller. Provincial auctioneers have enjoyed a steady rise in popularity in recent times, with some unexpected and highly exciting sales to rival those of London.
Mainly, this is down to the boom in sales of Chinese artworks, many of which are sold in country house sales. Affluent Chinese buyers have been flocking to snap up Imperial artworks, paying many times over estimated values. Vintage wines, English artworks and natural history specimens (notably rhino horn) were equally popular exports.
Furniture sales were not quite so promising. Four of the biggest provincial auction houses – Duke’s of Dorchester, Sworders of Stansted, Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury and Tennant’s of Yorkshire (just over the border from Lancashire) saw Victorian dining chairs and other brown furniture see mixed returns, though large antique desks have risen in popularity. In general, the interest in better quality “traditional chattels” is growing as people realise their value – both in financial and environmental terms.
All four sale rooms announced 2010 as their highest grossing year to date, with W & W alone achieving hammer sales in excess of £23m – though Chinese sales dominated. At Duke’s, the contents of Melplash Court achieved £3.35m, the highest amount ever recorded for a provincial “at premises” sale – again, this was largely down to the £2.5m raised from the Chinese collection.
Chinese artworks aside, the general outlook is good for buyers of better quality antique furniture, such as Victorian dining chairs and antique desks. Preston antique dealers have superb examples of both, at highly affordable prices.
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