Little Things Please Little Minds

Posted on the 2024-01-26 10:49:46 by Abbott Antiques & Collectables.
Little Things Please Little Minds

Ever since I was a child, I have been captivated by the 'world of miniature things'. It is difficult to say whether it is the fascination of seeing a small copy of a larger piece or the wonder, even admiration, that someone has had the patience and the skill to make an exact, tiny version of a larger item.

Miniature items were often used as an educational tool, allowing small children to handle and examine them and learn about their use and significance. In 18th/19th century England, it was fashionable for extremely reputable factories, such as Wedgwood and Spode, to create miniature Tea and Dinner Services for use in the 'Upper Class Nursery', which were not intended just for playful purposes, but in order to help children to understand etiquette and manners, and also the presentation of food and the concept of service.

In the nineteenth century, which was a great period for collecting, both in Europe and Northern America, miniature pieces, often, were given pride of place in people's homes, assembled in glass topped/sided Bijouterie Cabinets to create impressive collections of unusual tiny pieces. 

In Europe, in particular, the influence of the diminutive even extended to the Catholic Church, with the production of hand-made miniature Altars, Vestments, and a whole range of related items. The Altar pictured above has a small Altar Book Stand (with small printed text), Candlesticks, an Aspergillum, a Thurible and Incense Boat, Chalice, Monstrance and even a tiny Triple Sanctuary Bell which, when shaken, actually rings! There is even a tiny set of Rosary Beads hanging to the right hand side of the Reredos.

So, far from being items to delight small children, miniature pieces captivate the attention of adults too. It is an incredible fact, that they often command much higher prices, yet the fact that their increasing popularity is, I feel, quite important, and may signal that public interest and curiosity, and the appreciation of tiny things, may be a genuine and healthy indication that the love of Antique and Vintage items may be experiencing a revival, albeit in a small way.
Recently, we attended a local Antique Collectors Fair in a Norfolk Village. It was a successful day and we met some very nice people and spent a considerable amount of time talking about Antiques, especially about some of the unusual and interesting items we were offering for sale. However, occasionally during the day, we noticed that, however enthusiastic we were, in talking about our items, a certain ‘glazed expression’ frequently seemed to come over the faces of many of those to whom we spoke. At first we thought that they may have been bored, yet, upon further reflection, some days later, it occurred to us that however well we described our pieces, or informative we were, we were simply speaking in a language that most people no longer understand.

Since our earliest experience of the Antiques Trade, some fifty odd years ago, there has been a distinctive but obvious ‘paradigm shift’. We have entered a world where, if we do not ‘mind our language’ we are in danger of ‘killing our business’. Previously, we could talk about ‘Pate-sur-pate, a ‘ground-out pontil mark’, ‘Repousse work’, ‘Regency’, ‘Victoriana’, or even mention the ‘Tek Sin Cargo’, and so on, and people understood what we were saying.

It is our opinion that Antiques are probably more popular now, even than fifty years ago, given the huge number of television programmes, from ‘Bargain Hunt’, ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ to the ‘Repair Shop’; however, it would be a great mistake to think that their appreciation comes with an understanding. We might get away with saying ‘polychrome’ when speaking of the multi-coloured decoration on a plate, but God forbid that we should mention a gadrooned pattern or a Daguerreotype.

A few years ago, whilst filming an episode of ‘The Antiques Road Trip’ with the delightful ‘scarf-wearing’ Antiques Expert Philip Serrell, it was quite fascinating to hear how he adapts his language to produce a clear, knowledgeable, engaging, comprehensive, and understandable, straight-forward explanation, without diminishing either his knowledge of, or his enthusiasm, for the item.

Understandably, some would argue that Traders have always used the appropriate terminology when describing Antique items, as a means of communicating their knowledge and experience. We need to be mindful that many collectors today do not come with that background, experience or underlying knowledge, and may be ‘put off’, at least, by a seemingly incomprehensible and strange kind of verbal or written ‘short-hand’ and, at worst, by an almost ‘secret language’, used by an elite group. Surely, the success of the Antiques Trade depends upon dealers presenting items to the public which are both engaging and understood. In describing what we sell, we need to be clear and informative, not incomprehensible.

Ultimately, which would be better, to say, we are selling ‘a lovely set of six, early nineteenth century, two hundred year old, cut crystal glasses’, or to say ‘we are selling a set of wheel-cut, heavy, lemon-squeezer-footed, Regency Rummers’? Certainly, for me, it is the former statement, in the interest of common sense and in the hope that our mindful use of language may better engage others and prove to benefit our Trade rather than make it inaccessible. After all, if our business is to survive, for future generations, minding our language now must be a necessity, not a choice.

Speaking of language, the fact that the glasses referred to above, were on sale ‘for a monkey’*, is a discussion for another occasion!

* 'a monkey' is a ‘Cockney Slang’ expression, sometimes used in the Trade, for £500

(The photograph is of Mr. Philip Serrell, ‘speaking to camera’, whilst recording an episode of ‘The Antiques Road Trip’ in Norwich, in 2021)