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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.

 


   
Whitefriars large tangerine drunken bricklayer (£) Whitefriars small tangerine drunken bricklayer (£)
ABOVE: The expensive large drunken bricklayer by Whitefriars has slumped in price, whereas its less expensive, smaller cousin has grown. Note that these pieces have been heavily promoted by the BBC's Flog It! programme, for reasons which are not entirely clear to me. This is likely to have distorted the market. Paul Matrin, presenter of Flog It!, frequently gives investment advice on the programme, saying 'now is a great time to buy Whitefriars' or 'Troika hasn't peaked yet...'. While I am sure this is well-intentioned, I feel that it is unwise to make statements about how the market is going to move in the future, because nobody really knows.

   
Meissen polar bear by Jarl (£)  
LEFT: The weakening US dollar may have contributed to the spectacular slump in prices for this Meissen piece (Germany), normally popular with US buyers. By contrast, British retro ceramics are bought largely by UK buyers, and so are less likely to show a dollar effect.

 
Denby tigo ware rendezvous wall plate (£)
LEFT: If these 5 records can be relied on, then they tell a fairly sorry story. The last data point is a plate that failed to reach reserve, attracting bids of only £108 on eBay.

   
Ridgway homemaker 'Cadenza' jug (£) Ridgway homemaker (not 'Cadenza') coffee pot (£)
ABOVE: Prices for Ridgway homemaker appear to have fallen over the last few years

   
Midwinter Colin Melbourne brontosaurus (£)  
LEFT: Prices for big-ticket Midwinter items, such as Colin Melbourne's brontosaurus, have slumped, if these 3 records can be relied on to give an accurate snapshot of the market.

   
Midwinter Zambesi coffee pot (£) Midwinter Zambesi milk/cream jug (£)
ABOVE: Mixed fortunes for Midwinter; are people rotating out of the big ticket items into cheaper pieces in the same range?

   
SylvaC bee honey/jam pot (£)  
LEFT: this chart is based on a decent number of records, which gives confidence to my conclusion that prices for the SylvaC bee have slumped by more than half. A factor here may be the growing doubts among collectors about the large number of reproduction or fake SylvaC pieces in ciculation.

   
Wade shooting star fruit bowl with porthole piercings (£) Beswick zebra striped large fruit bowl, shape number 1346. (£)
ABOVE: At last, a couple of possible success stories. These wild fifties designs seems to have grown in popularity. Maybe this is an example of how changing taste can affect the market price of a piece. However, the number of records I have here is low, and so the conclusion should be treated with caution.

   
Wade first series Noddy figurine, unboxed (£)  
LEFT: prices for Wade's original Noddy figurine have remained fairly stable over the last 5 years

   
Poole blue and black seagull (£)  
LEFT: Prices for the Poole seagull (blue and black colourway) are very volatile, showing wide variation within a trading range of £5-45. This volatility makes it very difficult to judge what is happening. And although the trendline appears to show a decline, the two early records (2001 and 2002) are within the range of the later cluster of points.

 

 

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 with eBay.

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 retro items.

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 others.

 

3. Conclusions

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.