Introducing Will Farmer, Director and design classic! Wills tells of his love art and antiques which goes right back to his childhood when he spent time with his mum and gran hunting down the next find....
My love of antiques goes right back to the tender age of just six months old when I was taken to my first auction by my mum. Parked underneath the auctioneer’s rostrum in my Silver Cross pram mum always told me that I slept soundly and only cried on leaving the saleroom, a clear indication of my future career!
My childhood was spent scouring auctions and antiques shops around Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire with my mum and gran. By the age 6 I had started collecting myself with an interest in silver. Back then I was given 50p or if I was really good a green crisp £1-00 note to spend. The first thing I collected was small silver backed prayer books called 'cherub silver' which was based on the cherub head painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. From an early age I became a keen negotiator securing a lower price from the many dealers who got to know me and my mum as we travelled around. By the age of 8 or 9 years old I had moved on to Steiff toys and bears but the thing that changed my whole future was a chance discovery at my late Grandmas house.
Growing up I spent a lot of time at my Grandmas, and she had a house full of things, some on display, others tucked away in cupboards and me being me, well I couldn't help being nosey and rooting around. On one such occasion, aged around 10 years old, I discovered, tucked away at the back of a cupboard, the most wonderful Art Deco Shelley Art Deco coffee service. Filled with excitement I ran to tell my Gran what I'd found, of course she knew it was there and what it was! I asked if I could have it however she said 'No, that was my wedding present!'. That Christmas it was wrapped up and given to me with a little note telling me to look after it and its something I still treasure today. That gift sparked what has now been a love affair with Art Deco, design and ceramics for over 35 years. My discovery of that Shelley set led to my passion for the work of Clarice Cliff which has become the foundation for my career and is always my touch stone when it comes back to what I love most.
In addition one of my strongest childhood memories was Sunday evenings! A bath and then down stairs in time to settle down and watch the Antiques Roadshow sat in front of the open fire. Then, just as today, we played along, trying to guess the price before it was revealed. I always used to say that it was my dream to make it on the programme with something from my collection, never could I have believed that my dream would be fulfilled in such a way!
So fast forward forty (or so) years and you’ll find a career auctioneer whose passion for ceramics, glass and 20th Century design goes well beyond my working day. I am still a keen collector and my idea of time off is, well... more of the same! I'm never happier than when searching out the things I love, from Deco to Danish or Mid-Century to Modern!
And the Roadshow dream... well that came to be back in 2004 when a chain of events led me to be invited to join the Antiques Roadshow team as a specialist in ceramics, glass and 20th Century design. I can hardly beleive that I am now in my 16th year with the programme and I still love it as much as the first day I walked on set. I have been to some of the most wonderful places, seen some of the most spectacular things and made some very special friends along the way.
I've always said, I am very lucky to have a job that is my hobby and a hobby that is my job! I am never happier than when I'm surrounded by, learning about or discussing art, antiques and design, it really is my happy place!
This is a tricky one as I have been so lucky to find and see so many amazing things......from the original Monet oil painting hanging quietly in a clients dining room to being flown out to New York to value one of the most stunning collections of Clarice Cliff on display in a Manhattan apartment! However from all the wondrous things I've seen it has to be my discovery of the Clarice Cliff May Avenue charger!
It was deep in winter and a dark, wet end of the day when just as I was about to sign off and head home when an email came through. Titled 'Clarice Cliff plate' I stopped the shut down of my computer to check the email. One thing that will always get my attention is the name Clarice Cliff, I can't help myself but check.
As the email opened and the images downloaded there was one of the holy grails of the Clarice Cliff world, an 18" ribbed charger in one of her most iconic landscapes, May Avenue! In absolutely stunning condition and beautifully painted it was a heart stop moment! The design for May Avenue is believed to have been based on Modigliani's Landscape at Cannes and for Clarice Cliff collectors remains one of her most loved and sought after landscape patterns.
I immediately emailed the owner back and asked if I could have a phone number to speak with them. Within minutes we were on the phone chatting away about Clarice, the plate and its history.
You can imagine my surprise when the owner told me it had been his Grandmas and that it lived its life in the (unlocked) front porch where every week she put the money in it for the milkman! After his grandma died it went back to his parents house where it was kept under the snooker table and was used to keep the snooker balls in!
You can imagine the silence at the end of the phone when I told him it was worth £20,000 to £25,000! After a few more weeks of discussion I made my way over to Norfolk to meet the family and collect the charger for the next specialist Clarice Cliff sale. After a great deal of pre-sale interest and a lot of press coverage about our discovery it went up for sale. On the day we finally sold the piece for £24,800 which to this day is still the highest price realised for a piece of Clarice Cliff at Fieldings Auctioneers and one of the highest prices ever achieved at auction for a piece by Clarice. My one regret.....that I couldnt afford it! Since this day I have handled so many pieces of Clarice Cliff and as the leading saleroom for her work I never tire of her work. It always brightens up a day and never fails to make me smile....something Clarice would be so pleased to hear all these years on.
As someone who love his job and loves the things I see over the last 20 or so years with my career at Fieldings combined with time spent with the BBC's Antiques Roadshow I've been fortunate enough to see so many amazing things, Martin Brothers Birds, Pierro Fornasetti Furniture, Chiparus bronzes and rare Lalique glass....... so at the risk of sounding boring, I'm sorry to say that its Clarice again!
There is one thing that keeps eluding me......and that is an Age of Jazz figure! These sensational figures were created by Clarice to either dance down the middle of a dining table or to be positioned in front of the 'wireless' to appear as if they were dancing along to the latest music from the Jazz age! They were based on the cover artwork from a 1926 issue of Vanity Fair which Clarice must have seen at the time and they are just so iconic of the era and the period with thier simple line and form and elegant outfits. There are five Age of Jazz figures in total, the double dancers, the quiet dancers, the flamboyant dancers, the drummer and the pianist. At the time they were terribly difficult to make and as such this made them expensive. The figures would often warp in the kiln making them an expensive item in her huge output so as you can imagine they didn't sell in huige numbers making them incredibly rare today.
Rumour has it that there were a number of figures sat on the stock shelves for many years and Clarice Cliffs boss and then later husband Colly Shorter was so cross he had them thrown in to the scrap pile!
I've been fortunate enough to handle examples in private collections but I've yet to see one come through our door or appear on the Antiques Roadshow!! Heres hoping that one day this will happen and I can strike my dream find off my list!
You can read more about Clarice Cliff here on our website and for those of you who'd like to learn a little more Will has written a book on Clarice Cliff, one of his favourite designers. Failing that you can always email Will as he never gets bored talking Clarice Cliff, email him on firstname.lastname@example.org
And could you make wills day, no his year by surprising him with an Age of Jazz figure......Will's sure that there are still some out there in the world to be discovered!
Posted on 27 April 2020