Antique lovers attend Flog It taping in St Albans
- Credit: Archant
Last week, the BBC descended upon St Albans Cathedral. Popular TV series ‘Flog It’ was in town, complete with its team of antiquity experts and the ever-charming host of the show, Paul Martin (sporting that powder blue suit he wears so well).
A queue was snaking out the impressively monastic door on arrival. St Albans residents stood clutching hopefully onto everything from ornate jewellery boxes, Victorian toys and carved smoking pipes.
In attendence was an eclectic mix - those who I would place in a Tudor mansion somewhere in Harpenden, who have a stack of heirlooms in their massive attic, curious to see if their great-grandfather had happened to leave anything of value up there; those looking a little tentative, possibly without a clue of what they were bringing to be appraised, most likely thinking that pretty vase they bought years ago at the market was worthless without realising that selling it will actually pay off their mortgage; then comes the opposite kind of punter - someone standing smugly brandishing an impressive looking sword, thought by them to once be King Authur’s, when in fact selling it would make them £12.99 at best. So, just because you live in a listed home and have a family coat of arms doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sitting on a gold mine.
I took something along with me. I was left some silverware by my Grandmother, Patricia Bullock, who passed away just under a year ago - an immaculately detailed box and three vesta match boxes. My Grandma’s home in Berkshire was a mish-mash of furnishings from the 70s, bits from the 90s and then the mod-cons of the 00s (although I’m pretty sure her Sky box was from 1998). A few antiques were dotted about the place randomly. You’d exit the living room through the sliding doors that went out of style in 1976 and turn the corner to be met with the most stunning and charismatic grandfather clock. This was meant to be part of my inheritance (God knows where I would have put it!) but sadly it surrendered to woodworm in the early naughties. It wouldn’t have quite gone with my various items from Ikea, Habitat and Cargo, and I don’t have a stately entrance hall to stand it in either. So perhaps this was for the best.
Old-meets-new trends in today’s world of interior design are popular but I’m not convinced its been mastered yet. Antique-looking furniture or artefacts look a bit out of place in a room designed as a contemporary space. It can look clumsy. There are items designed with ‘vintage’ or ‘rustic’ in mind as a USP but they are in fact mass produced in Croydon. I believe that heraldic pieces are best kept together and not merged too much with modern. Antiques in the home however, provide a slice of history and intrigue. They are feature pieces and even more interesting if they come with a story.
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At “Flog It” I was ushered immediately to a table where I sat with silverware and jewellery specialist John Kelly. Eye loupe at the ready, John asked me within seconds if my grandparents travelled. They did. Grandpa had been a pilot and they were both veteran holidayers. I had never really considered that these items had come from anywhere other than England. The box (most likely used for cigarettes) seemed to originate from Egypt but had Persian designs on the bodywork. Persia, as pointed out to me later by Paul Kelly, is of course now Iran. Dating back to the early 20th Century, I did wonder where my Grandparents would have picked this up, or whether indeed it had been passed down the line from their own parents.
Closer to home, the vesta boxes originated from Birmingham and John dated them from 1900, 1902 and 1917 respectfully. Two of the vestas have initials carved in them: JP and JB. The only connections I could make to these is the common family name ‘John’, the B standing for ‘Bullock’ and the potential P relating to my Grandmother’s christian name somehow. Personally I think this is a stretch. It was the third vesta that John found most intriguing, with its carved design of a horse and groom. This would have been totally bespoke and and very individual given that it was commonplace to have initials engraved rather than a unique design such as this one. Compared to the other two, valued at £15 each, this third box would likely come in at £150.
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But I wasn’t in it for the money, purely out of fascination for my family heirlooms.
Everyone in attendance at the filming gets a valuation, but a select few are pinpointed to feature on the show itself. These people are whisked off to sit along the side of the cloisters and wait patiently while a team of research experts dig deeper into the history of the artefact they’ve brought along. This then goes to the on-camera expert who films a scene with the owner discussing the item.
Annie Thompson from Flaunden showed me five coins, obtained 15 years ago from her mother’s cousin who “was a bit of a hoarder”. Amongst them was the thinnest coin I had ever touched - an Elizabethan shilling - a George III cartwheel twopence (made with reeded edges so as to prevent counterfeiting) and Roman coins. The latter might seem customary in our Roman-invaded city, but these coins were curiously dated pre-Invasion.
Sylvia Webb from Bricket Wood was just about to shoot a scene with her snuff bill boxes, passed down through the scottish side of her family since 1779. Pamela Ellis’ toy zoo collection was believed to come from a St Albans toy shop, and Rob Flower had travelled from Ilford with an art deco ladies’ watch, potentially worth £4000.
Michael Franklin, previous owner of Chester Copperfield in St Albans, showed me the silver salt dishes he had brought along, and the map of St Albans he’d obtained at an antiques shop dating back to 1721.
Presenter Paul seemed delighted to be in St Albans, commenting that “so much has passed through here; the history is diverse, and that’s what’s important when making our show. This city allowed people from all over to pass through it, who left things behind in the process. St Albans has done a good job for civic pride.”
Items selected will be auctioned at Tring Market on December 5th; the episode will air next year.