The Dealer: Don't split up antiques this Valentine's season

Some things, like the animals who boarded the ark, ham and eggs, and gin and tonic, just need to be in pairs - warns antiques dealer Ian Butchoff

Where would salt be without his foil pepper? The same can sometimes be applied to antiques – whether it be a pair of mirrors, cabinets, urns, occasional tables or candle sticks. The pair can be worth up to ten times what the individual item might fetch. On occasions, something that I would find quite unsalable on its own, will reach a fair price if it is presented with its pair.

When inheritances are passed down to the beneficiaries, all too often sets are split up to placate various family members. A pair loses its twin and the value is diminished. A single Blackamoor Torchere would be unlikely to find a home, but a pair will give balance and symmetry. So if you end up in such a position try if you possibly can to keep sets together.

We had a wonderful Chinese Chippendale style cigar humidor some years ago and inside were both the royal crest of Edward VIII and it was also stamped “Bensons & Hedges”.

With research we found it turned out to be a shop fitting from the B&H Store on Bond Street, from the 1900’s. We approached Gallagher - who had by then bought out B&H - to let them know we had acquired it and they were keen to buy it back to start their own museum.

“The dealer there was asking almost double for this one than he was for his, but he knew how inflated the asking price could be if he could produce a pair to his table so he bit his lip and purchased”

They duly bought the piece and waxed lyrical about how delighted they were to have found it and would we please keep an eye out for any further objects that we might think they would like to add to their collection.

Seven or eight years later I saw the humidor’s twin at an auction sale and was delighted, knowing all too well how desirable it would be to have the pair for their museum. I bid and won, paying far more than I wanted but with the reassuring knowledge that I had a certain client. I rang them in great excitement only to be told that they had decided to have a bit of clear out and had just sent their original version to be sold. Guess what I had just bought back!

On the same theme I had a London dealer friend who before the days of mobile phones was on the road looking for stock, when he thought he spied the pair to a really rare and unusual card table he was trying to sell back in London in a shop in Yorkshire. The dealer there was asking almost double for this one than he was for his, but he knew how inflated the asking price could be if he could produce a pair to his table so he bit his lip and purchased.

He drove all the way home to find that in the meantime his son had sold the original card table, and within two days it had sped through various hands up to Yorkshire even faster than he drove himself. Long live the mobile phone!

Meanwhile, back in the more recent past, it has been interesting to note that the provincial sale rooms have been posting impressive sales figures for 2011, and that, by and large, they were not due to some extraordinary sums realised on just a few unique pieces.

The Chinese continue to buy and are widening their fields of interest.

A clock dealer friend of mine told me only yesterday that just before Christmas he had sold over 30 clocks to three different Chinese clients and was actually pleased for the holiday break for some rest and now says there is nothing fresh coming on the market to replace his stock with.

Another Dealer told me that, amazingly, he had sold several pieces of 18 century English walnut furniture to Chinese clients. The market is awakening, buy now whilst you still can. You have been warned.

Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street. He entered the trade aged 11 and is today recognised as a leading authority on 19th century furniture. He is a co-founder and board member of the dealers’ association, LAPADA, and writes a regular column for


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