CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today CLICK HERE

Antiques and Curios

PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:55 20 February 2013

Antiques and Curios

Antiques and Curios

Sherborne is a major hub for fine art and antiques in the South West. Jeremy Miles meets some of those involved in this fascinating world

Sherborne is a major hub for fine art and antiques in the South West. Jeremy Miles meets some of those involved in this fascinating world



Patrick Macintosh is proudly showing me a battered and broken chair. The frame is coming apart and whats left of the upholstery is in tatters. To the untutored eye it would not look out of place on a skip. But antiques dealer Patrick knows different. This, he says decisively is a very nice piece of furniture indeed. In fact Ive just paid 1,200 for it.
He tells me that its late 19th century and was made by Lenygon and Morant, furniture makers to Buckingham Palace. With an investment of 600 or 700, and some careful restoration, he reckons it will fetch around 3,000.


Im getting an inside glimpse of the fascinating world of antiques. Patrick is one of a group of experts who have settled in the ancient Dorset market town of Sherborne. His business is housed in an 18th-century mews building. Originally a stable block for the adjacent Sherborne House, it went on to become a Workingmens Literary Institute opened by Charles Dickens no less. This is the kind of historic detail that you find everywhere in this extraordinary town and one of the reasons that, over the years, fine art and antiques dealers have gravitated towards this thriving centre.



Sitting majestically amid the stunning countryside of north Dorset, Sherborne is unquestionably one of the most beautiful towns in England. With its wealth of medieval buildings and imposing abbey, it positively oozes history. It has world-famous schools, picturesque almshouses and not just one but two castles. Its strategic position in the heart of the Wessex region has enabled it to flourish for centuries. Even now, as the economic crisis continues to bite, Sherborne looks and feels like a town that is still very much open for business.
Solid and reliable, it remains a bustling beacon of hope, that unlike so many clone towns, has managed to retain many of its small and specialist businesses. It is a place where the discerning shopper can find quality handcrafted goods and elegant fashion, as well as a myriad of outlets offering a wide selection of arts and antiques, with a particular emphasis on furniture.
Its not all good news. The classic market, Patrick Macintosh tells me, is pretty flat. Highly polished, ornate antique furniture is out of favour. People dont eat in the same way now. They dont tend to go in for formal dining, so things like Georgian mahogany tables simply dont sell in the same way that they did 10 or 15 years ago, he tells me. These days, people want big old rustic refectory tables, painted dressers and solid farmhouse chairs.



Patrick is one of a group of fine art and antiques experts who have settled in Sherborne



A few hundred metres away in Cheap Street another longtime Sherborne dealer, Simon Dodge, elaborates on this. Running a hand over an elegant Regency rosewood davenport, he tells me: At the moment its so quiet and prices are so low. Its not just the recession, its a fashion thing too. Most of the pieces in our shop are half what they were in 2000. Reproduction furniture is becoming increasingly popular. At the moment we sell far more of our new stuff than antiques.
He gestures to a Georgian tallboy, its price tag is 6,700. Thats the sort of money that people dont want to spend anymore, says Simon ruefully. Its a beautiful piece but its been here for a couple of years now. In the old days it would have gone in ten minutes. He stresses, however, that there are bargains to be had. We can always do a deal. Basically, if anyone offers us a profit we take it.
Next door, Piers Pisani is finding plenty of work for the three-man team that make and restore furniture in the workshop behind his retail store. Ben Fry, who has worked for Piers for 13 years, is fixing a slightly battered chest of drawers. Its French provinial, probably early 19th century, and made of fruitwood, he tells me. He reckons its worth 6,000 to 7,000.
I ask if he gets excited when a particularly nice piece comes in. He looks surprised. Not really. Its just a bit of furniture. Fellow worker Stuart Malbon agrees. You get used to it. You dont really think about the money.



Away from the world of furniture the fine art and antiques business is perhaps faring a little better. However, as art dealer Mark Jerram from the Jerram Gallery in Half Moon Street tells me, there is no room for complacency. Business, he says, is reasonably steady but nothing like as good as it was three years ago.
With a stock of high-quality 20th-century and contemporary paintings he is offering a highly sought-after product but says that he has noticed that buyers have started to rein in. To counteract this, he offers people the opportunity to take paintings home on approval and to spread payments over several months.
Mark knows that Sherborne operates as a magnet to people who love the arts but says it would be madness to take things for granted in the midst of an economic downturn. One might have thought that people would stop buying art all together but theyre tending to buy now because they really like a piece and that maybe it will be a sound investment. I always say dont bank on it though. I cringe when I hear dealers saying Oh yes, you cant lose. The fact is that buying a painting is no more sound an investment than BP shares were before the Gulf of Mexico!
I did find one apparently recession-proof business among Sherbornes antiques dealing community. Silver expert Henry Willis moved to the town from London 18 years ago. His shop, housed in a building which dates back to the 15th century, is rarely short of customers. Im very busy, admitted Henry, but then Ive been here since 1993 so people have got to know me by now.
One of Henrys strengths is that he buys as well as sells and operates in precisely the kind of cash-in-the attic market that thrives when people need money fast. A window display indicates the kind of things he is interested in. He picks up a spoon. This is my favourite subject, he tells me. Its Charles I, about 1625. I discover it could be mine for 1,400. Thats an awful lot of money for a spoon, I remark. Henry chuckles. Not really, he says. Theres one over there for 4,500.
So check that old cutlery drawer. A lot of people have some very interesting silver in their houses, says Henry. But be warned, he also has a string of people bringing what they believe to be treasures to his door only to be turned away disappointed. Most people think that because they can see what looks like a hallmark, its real silver. Unfortunately its far more likely to be electroplate.

0 comments

More from Out & About

Friday, December 7, 2018

This easy walk takes us into Hardy territory as well offering some glorious views towards Weymouth and Portland

Read more
Thursday, November 29, 2018

Here are some Dorset walks, easy and challenging, to get you out and about over the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

If you’re willing to brave the cold this Christmas Day, check out Dorset’s festive swim calendar for the best organised dips taking place in 2018

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Confusion reigns on the county’s eastern border

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

From festive light switch-ons and Santa’s Grottos, to German Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Dorset this season

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

From your first step, you will see superb views from hilltops and farmland footpaths on this walk

Read more
Sunday, November 11, 2018

Martin Clunes and his family have called West Dorset home for over two decades. Here he shares some of their favourite local places

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

To mark the centenary of the end of World War One we visit some of the memorials erected across Dorset to remember the fallen in the ‘war to end all wars’

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

This lovely walk takes us from watercress beds to a church famous for its life-size carvings of apostles

Read more
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Autumn is a great time to brush up on your gardening knowledge with the help of some experts, as well as see some well known gardens in a different light

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The guide to Dorset’s best firework displays and bonfire events happening in 2018

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Prepare to experience the paranormal this Hallowe’en as Visit Dorset reveals some of the county’s most haunted pubs, stately homes, historic buildings and tanks

Read more
Monday, October 15, 2018

Dorset villages are some of the most beautiful in England – think winding lanes, thatched cottages and a cosy pub or welcoming tea room. We suggest ten of the prettiest villages to visit in the county

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

Follow in the footsteps of the Romans on this lovely walk that takes in rare habitat, ancient woodland and glorious views

Read more
 
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search