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This Month: The Europe and UK columns from the Summer 2012/13 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
An update of European news from Judith Dunn

In spite of the dreadful situation in the Middle East, the Beirut Art Fair in September was a great success. Forty-six galleries from 14 countries attracted 18,000 visitors, notably from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. Many expatriate Lebanese came home for the event, joining international auctioneers, collectors and celebrities. Beirut is now firmly on the international art map, with new galleries and museums opening regularly. Also organised was an 'Art Week', including a trail of artworks across the city. This is a tried-and-tested formula now in Europe and featured in Paris in September. The tribal art trail had 60 exhibitors - locals and guests - showing a rich selection of African, American and Oceanic artefacts. One dealer, Michel Thieme from Amsterdam, had sold two-thirds of his stock of shields by half-way through. A key factor here was scrupulous research. Later in the month came the ceramics trail around the left bank and the Louvre des Antiquaires. FIAC, the Paris international contemporary art fair, now in its 40th year, with 180 dealers from 25 countries, launched Hors les Murs (outside the walls) in 2006. This year sculpture was on show and performance, film and lectures took place in squares, gardens and on the riverbank.

Drouot, the Paris umbrella auction institution, has been having a refit so the auction scene was less busy on the right bank. The moving and shaking was going on over the river where, as we reported in our last issue, Piasa has opened its own space in a building that has been by turns a chapel, a dance-hall and a fashion showroom. It is dedicated to 20th and 21st century design and decorative art and run by Frêdêric Chambre, who until late 2012 was working for Pierre Bergê in Brussels. He has set up a whole new department with specialist staff. The left bank attracts a different clientêle and owning the premises means that there is total flexibility as to viewing hours and sale design. This is a feature; Chambre uses specialist designers for each auction and takes pride in catalogues which are works of art in themselves. Themes in 2013 have been Italian design, Scandinavian lighting, Precious (designer jewellery) and Gambone ceramics. Sales have been healthy, notably the Scandinavian lighting with 73% of lots sold.

Less upmarket (as its name suggests), but equally successful, was the Puces du Design, a twice-yearly event with some goods on offer just in double figures, others in five. Eighty dealers and some 30,000 visitors give the event an international flavour and there is especially good vintage fashion on offer. The next event will be in May 2014.

Elsewhere in Europe, the autumn season got off to a good start. Old Master paintings did particularly well in Zurich, where an early 17th century Village Scene with Fair, attributed to the circle of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and estimated SFr10,000-15,000, made a cool SFr200,000 ($234,752) at Koller. Top lot in the same sale was an Adoration by Lucas Cranach the Elder, mid-estimate SFr500,000, which ran away at SFr1.01million ($1.19m).

There were good results in Germany, too; an early 17th century silver gilt cup by Heinrich Mack of Nuremberg - with impeccable provenance - was last sold in 2010 for EUR14,000. This time, at Neumeister in Munich, the digits were reversed and it made EUR41,000 ($59,448 - double the lower estimate). In Belgium, bearing out the theory that sales coinciding with relevant events are a good idea, Bonhams October European Engineering sale at Knokke-le-Zoute, adjacent to the Zoute Grand Prix Rally and the Zoute Concours d'Elêgance, saw some excellent results. One such was the astonishing price of EUR166,750 ($241,779) paid for a 1991 Lamborghini LM 002 4x4 which had just 1,266 kilometres on the clock. This result must make it one of the most valuable off-road cars ever sold and probably a world record for the model.

The fairs scene in Europe, especially in France, where la morositê is all around, is still dogged by the financial crisis. The usually buoyant bi-annual event at Chatou, the Foire a la brocante et au jambon, saw about 30 vacant stands out of the 800 on offer and a significantly reduced gate. One way in which SNCAO, the dealers' organisation that runs Chatou, is trying to cheer things up is by increasing customer confidence. There were hackles raised in September when police spot checks at the Puces de Saint-Ouen, the 2000-stand flea-market at Clignancourt, Paris, revealed 50 dealers without an up-to-date livre de police. This is required by law and records all purchases by type, date, price and provenance. SNCAO pointed out to disgruntled members that the law was the law and in everyone's interest. The organisation has for two decades awarded quality labels to some 50 events satisfying strict criteria: genuine stock accurately described, dealer expertise, documented provenance, adherence to regulations and a high profile with good management. The original six criteria cover 50 fairs at different levels, both public and trade. Two new ones now apply to antiques villages and permanent markets. The first village is the 50-dealer Village des antiquaires at Versailles, west of Paris, and the first market the 5-times-a-year event at Strasbourg, on the German border, the 70-dealer (and rather less than snappily titled) Marchê europêen de la collection et de la brocante du Broglie. Dealers in all eight categories have a badge to display on their literature and (if appropriate) in their shop window.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Ivor Hughes

The UK Column
An update of news on the UK scene from Ivor Hughes

The VATman cometh

Each European Union country charges Value Added Tax (VAT) on most goods and services - rather like the Australian GST. The UK rate of 20% is typical, with reduced or even zero rates for some essentials - rent is zero-rated. Businesses with an annual turnover of $120,000 are required to charge VAT but can also claim back whatever they pay themselves.

A recent ruling by the UK tax authority (HMRC) hit the middle ground of the UK antiques and collectables trade. General market and boot sale pitches remain zero-rated, as if the pitch fees were rent. But HMRC has decided that fees at all specialist antiques and collectables events, not just the very top ones, are liable to 20% VAT. Their reasoning is that organisers are offering a service package beyond the space itself - including security, power, advertising and connection with a dedicated clientêle.

Two major organisers are challenging the ruling, although one of them - IACF - felt obliged to apply the 20% charge on the 2000 or so pitches at their Newark Showground two-day event in October. Sportingly, they swallowed 7.5% of it themselves. But the writing is on the wall. With pitch fees at 1-3 day events ranging between $30 and $500, dealers with a turnover below the $120,000 VAT claim-back threshold are already rethinking where and how often they will stand. Events will contract even further and dealers will migrate to one-day general markets and boots with an established antiques fleamarket element, less likely to be adding VAT to already modest pitch fees - typically $50 or a lot less.

Percentage of fake antiques in the UK - forty or fifty?

The UK trade, particularly at the higher end, was outraged by a claim recently made on UKTV's Discovery Channel and repeated in the popular press - that up to 40% of antiques in UK are fakes. Not to be outdone, BBC's series Fake Britain went on to claim that, at antiques and collectables events, "fifty percent of the goods on offer are from China". BBC had obviously been looking hard for a self-proclaimed expert with extreme opinions but their 'expert' went on to make a valid point - all you need to be an antiques dealer in the UK is a shop with an electricity supply.

Similarly, all he needed to appear as an antiques expert on BBC TV was a voice in front of the camera. The more the legitimate trade protests, the quicker they will realise that they have no real defence against such allegations. The UK public has little protection from charlatans posing as experts, dealers or auctioneers without compulsory examination, registration or licensing - just like they already have in France. Who knows, the UK might end up being compelled to do the same - and about time too.

2014 - the rise, fall and rise of WWI memorabilia

Academics, museums and broadcasters have all been making preparations for the hundredth anniversary of the start of WWI in August 1914. Commemorative events will run for the same four years and news programmes are bound to carry an 'on this day' series throughout. Shrewd dealers, investors and collectors have been stockpiling WWI memorabilia, notably medals and cap badges, for the past five years and more but in the past year the market has slowed. Whereas latecomers to the party are still looking for stock for investment, sellers are upping their prices in anticipation.

It won't just be medals - trench art, postcards, costume and ephemera will all be coming out of the attics and the market will be flooded with run-of-the-mill material. Some will sell to newcomers whose imaginations are fired by media saturation but they, and others, will end up chasing the most desirable items. I predict that ANZAC connected medals and papers will go through the roof - buy them on eBay UK now while you still can.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine