Mark Ashley is a senior valuer and auctioneer at Bigwood Fine Art Auctioneers in Warwickshire. With over 30 years’ experience in the world of art and antiques, he is also one of the experts on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt.
What areas/items are currently selling well?
There is and always has been, a demand for the best of things. Whether paintings, silver, bronzes. I would add though, that in all my years, the market has changed considerably. Items are purchased more for their decorative and functional use, than being of academic interest. The connoisseurship has been replaced by the “look”.
What do you think are the current ‘good investment’ items – ones to watch?
Again, quality, quality. Provenance is also very important. I do wonder that “brown” furniture, from the Georgian through to Edwardian era, is so cheap at auction, that it must be an investment. If it doesn’t prove to be, then it is well made, useful furnishing for everyday home use.
What antiques do you have at home?
The chipped, cracked and restored items, which are affordable types of the items I would wish to surround myself with. My downfall is books.
What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
The toys of our childhood. The toys of each generation which are, naturally, played with often to destruction. Then given, or thrown, away. Adults with disposable income, tend to collect the toys they had, or remember, or the toys not afforded by their families at the time.
How is the industry changing and what will it look like in the future?
In my thirty odd years the big change has been technology. Computers, internet, mobile phones, digital cameras. I am so old, I can remember, in response to an auction enquiry about a lot in our sale, taking a Polaroid photograph and putting it in the post. I remember going on house visits, using maps and if you were running late, using a pay phone to ring the client. Technology will continue in ways we possibly can’t imagine. We may be selling “virtual” antiques!
Tell us some trade secrets – what are your top tips for buying antiques?
Learn, look, listen. If you are buying at auction, spend plenty of time viewing. When rooms are piled up with items, it is so easy to miss the most interesting items, “the sleepers”, then check condition, look for chips, cracks, restoration. This is vital time spent in order to avoid mistakes.
What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
My Lottery winning dream would be to buy an empty manor house. To have the time and money to trawl auctions, fairs and antique shops, to furnish and dress the empty shell. A little like Charles Paget Wade at Snowshill Manor.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?
I would go to an auction or antique fair, without any expectation or item in mind. I would rely on my experience and sixth sense to unearth something, on which I could at least double my money.
Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations?
I have always enjoyed Malvern flea market. Held on the Three Counties showground. A wonderful location, always plenty of material to view and sort through. Bargains to be had.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
We all make mistakes, that is how we learn. Study antiques, read, visit museums, view auctions. Talk to collectors and dealers. Hone your skills, but always view well.
Do antiques appeal to young buyers and, if not, how can the industry reach out to them?
Most of the customers, both trade and private, who come to our saleroom, range from middle to old age. I am always pleased to see young people, to encourage them to get involved. When this business gets under the skin, it gets into the blood. Saleroom viewings are more like social events, it’s an interesting, educational and fun place to be. Sadly, if we don’t engage young people, then we could face extinction. We could go the way of the brass warming pan, redundant, unloved, unwanted. In my opinion, the antiques world is a fantastic place to be. I want more people to visit and I know they will stay forever.