1. Price trends for retro ceramics and glass, 2001-2006
Price slumps for some big-name, big-ticket
retro ceramics; prices stable or rising for others
Retroselect has been tracking the prices achieved
on eBay, for a range of items in good condition, since 2001. People
often pontificate about the ceramics market without actually having
any real evidence. eBay provides a useful way to check price movements
(provided you track the same piece, namely a piece from the same factory,
with the same shape, style, colour, size and condition).
I present some of my findings in the graphs below.
Please note that the number of records is quite low, particularly for
expensive pieces which do not come onto the market very often. This
means that the results are not statistically reliable. They may, however,
give a crude snapshot of market trends.
2. Market Analysis: UK retro ceramics
The market for UK, factory-made retro ceramics is
fairly large, and is based mainly on eBay, in charity shops, boot fairs
and lower-price antique markets. Almost all the buyers are British, with
much smaller numbers in Australia and New Zealand, and virtually none
in the US, Japan or Europe. The British 'fine arts' acution houses, in
London and the major cities, are not interested in retro, which is perhaps
surprising because prices for the most expensive UK retro ceramics are
beginning to converge on those of established, big-name traditional ceramics.
For example, some 1950s Midwinter pieces are fetching prices comparable
to those of the classic Moorcroft tudric range (£200-400); and a
pair of relatively obscure Hornsea Home Decor from the 1960s vases
recently fetched over £1000 on eBay. There is definitely a niche
for an auction website where people could get reliable and guaranteed
condition descriptions something that is so often not the case
The UK retro ceramics market is rather poorly-developed,
in terms of research and publications, compared to traditional antiques
and ceramics. Astonishingly, many major factories of interest to retro
collectors, such as Alfred Meakin, are still not covered by any specialised
books, and existing books on Carlton Ware largely ignore post-war items.
However, this is beginning to change quite rapidly, and there are already
excellent reference books for a growing number of factories (e.g. Poole,
Hornsea, Beswick, Denby, T.G. Green, Sylvac, Whitefriars and Midwinter).
There are also general collectors guides for retro, notably the excellent
Miller's series. BBC TV programmes on Antiques largely ignore
The three main factors that could push prices up in
the future would be: (1) if the retro market becomes more mature (which
would mean more books and research being published); (2) if the public
demand in the UK for retro increases (which would mean retro breaking
through into BBC programmes, for example); (3) if the demand for UK
retro expands beyond the shores of Britain (which would mean that US
and other buyers start to take an interest).
Global stock market. The boom of the late 90s
was followed by crash and recession in 2000-2003, followed by strong
recovery until today.
As shown in my graphs above, prices for contemporary
ceramics appear to be more volatile than even the stock market,
making them a very risky investment.
Since most buyers for UK retro are British, prices
are very much at the mercy of the UK economy. The world stock market
crash of 2000 appears to have had a knock-on effect on ceramics, affecting
mainly the most expensive items (and the prices for some of these have
collapsed spectacularly during the period). However, it is far from
clear that price falls in the ceramic market are due simply to events
in the world economy. I guess that other factors could be:
(1) the bursting of a retro ceramics price bubble
(indeed, many people have been suggesting that this is happening with
1950s Midwinter). However, it is not clear that retro alone has suffered
recently, or whether it is simply that the whole antiques and collectibles
market is depressed
(2) the bursting of an eBay-fuelled, collectables
bubble. Again, I have no evidence for this. eBay is just as likely to
keep prices down (by allowing people to comparison-shop) as it is to
inflate prices (by making it easy for sellers to reach a huge audience).
It is possible that eBay-fatigue is setting in, and that many buyers
are becoming tired of receiving damaged or imperfect goods from eBay.
This is part of a wider problem with the poor customer service and lack
of guarantees provided by eBay.
(3) distortion of the market by BBC Antiques programmes
which tend to heavily promote particular collecting lines while ignoring
The results on this page show what any stock market
investor could have told us already: the value of your investments
can fall dramatically, as well as rise. Investing always involves
risk. And to make a return, you have to have the skill and judgement
to buy the right things at the right time.