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Fri Jan 4 2013 11:13:00

Author Judith Miller Dishes on Antiques and Collectibles

By: Julia Wilkinson

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I'm very excited on this first Antiques Friday (hashtag #ABAntiquesFri on Twitter) of 2013 to bring you an interview with legendary antiques & collectibles books author Judith Miller. With some 100 books under her belt, her latest being Mid-Century Modern: Living with mid-century modern design (Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., 2012), Miller began collecting in the 1960s and has become one of the world's leading experts in the field, co-founding the international best-seller Miller's Antiques Price Guide in 1979. Today, she dishes with AuctionBytes Blog about how she got started, her favorite areas of collecting, her advice for collectors, and how she determines the trends and topics that make for a new book. 

- In your bio, it says you didn't grow up collecting but when at university in Edinburgh, you became fascinated with chinoiserie porcelain plates. Do you remember the first one or ones you bought? What was it about these plates that drew you in -- you mention it was partially their history?

I didn't grow up with antiques - in fact my Mum used to tell me that in the 1950's they used to pay people to take my grandparents' things away! I started buying in my mid-teens but got hooked when I frequented the junk stores in Edinburgh in the late 1960s. I just started buying old plates and saucers that had exotic Chinoiserie themes for a few pence (cents). I still have one of the first I bought - a First Period Worcester pickle dish with (what I now know to be) the 'Two Peony Rock Pattern' made around c1750. I just felt that buying these objects gave me a touch of the history - who made them and who used them.

- Where are you from, originally? A small town, big city, in-between?

I grew up in a small Scottish Border woolen mill town called Galashiels and went to the local state comprehensive. I had wonderful history teachers and was fascinated by the objects that were produced in the 18th and 19th centuries - particularly by the Staffordshire potteries.

- What did you study in college, and how did you get into the field of antiques and collectibles?

I studied a BA in History and English with an MA in History. I was a great collector and I produced the first Miller's Antiques Price Guide with my then-husband Martin in 1979 because it was a book I wanted.

- You have said in terms of your favorite time periods for antiques, you are more fond of Georgian than Victorian. Can you explain why this is?

I love the symmetry of Georgian, but then there are many Victorian objects I enjoy and I collect Roman and 20thC glass. I have recently published a book on Mid-Century Modern and I'm excited by objects from the 1950s–70s.

- What type of costume jewelry do you buy (and/or wear) yourself?

Oh my goodness! I have a vast collection of costume jewelry – I started with Joseff of Hollywood, Miriam Haskell, Stanley Hagler, Hattie Carnegie, Chanel, Christian Dior etc., etc., and I wear them all!

- You've written a number of books about vintage costume jewelry; what got you interested in that?

Because I'm an addict. Some of my collecting areas have become too expensive and so I thought costume jewelry was an area I could research and then I love wearing it. The pieces give you an individuality.

(See Judith's latest book on Costume Jewelry).

- What type of porcelain is your you mention is Chinese blue and white - can you explain why?

I am very catholic in my tastes. I love my early Chinese porcelains but I also love the early English delft (17thC) and English porcelain (mid 18thC) that were inspired by it. My son Tom, who is 19, has a German girlfriend and for Christmas she brought me a present from her grandmother of a German porcelain Meissen teacup and saucer c1830 because she said her family knew I would love it. What joy! It is in pride of place in our living room.

- How has your collecting or interests changed over the years, or has it?

I am very lucky in that I have spent days, weeks, months with specialists in many fields and so my horizons have been broadened. For example because of my research with David Rago in Lambertsville, NJ, I became fascinated with American Arts and Crafts pottery and now have a small collection.

- With over 80 books under your belt, you must be very busy! How does a new book come into said you sense a need for one on a particular topic? Do you look for a type of antique and collectible that hasn't been written about much, for example?

I think I have written about 110 books! My next book is always a gut reaction. I travel a lot – I read a lot and somehow I find that the next idea is there in the ether. That was very much how I decided on a book on Mid-Century Modern. I have worked in the office over Christmas and New Year on a new book on Miller's Antiques Marks which covers international Silver, Bronze sculptors, Ceramics, Glass, Costume Jewelry, Teddies and Toys marks - to help people recognise and date. It will be published in the UK and US in September.

(See Judith's books,
Mid-Century Modern: Living with mid-century modern design).

- How do you get the pieces for the images in your books? Do you go to famous collectors and ask to borrow pieces for a photo shoot, for example? Are many of them your own pieces?

Our images come from many sources - some are indeed mine. We also source images from photo shoots which I organise - some from collections and museums. We also get images from all major auction houses globally and many from dealers and collectors. We are like a hub of antiques.

- How do you think a new collector starting out today can best educate them in their area of interest?

Do some work! Go to museums, auction houses, visit antiques stores, go to yard sales, read books. Start to find what you like - 'educate your eye'. And buy – even if you make a mistake – an old dealer from New Hampshire once told me 'If you buy something for $400 and find out it is worth $200 - the other $200 is experience' – you won't make that mistake again.

- I know you've probably been asked this before, but can you tell us the stories of a few of yourfavorite or most valuable finds?

Do you know asking me about my best finds is like asking me which of my (3) children I like best! The thing any collector remembers is the thing we didn't get – the time we walked away at a yard sale, stopped bidding or didn't get to a fair in time. I have lots of stories about things; I've missed 16thC Italian wooden carved figures that were catalogued as 20thC – I bid up to $1,400 – they sold for $45,000!

But most of my favourite buys have been from Tom Stansbury in Newport Beach, CA of a pair of Wedgwood creamware table salts c1770 which we use on our dining table and some wonderful costume jewelry and ceramics from the fabulous Forestwood Antique Mall in Dallas, TX. My collections are like a scrapbook of my life. I remember where I bought things, who was with me – even the weather!

- Do you have any thoughts on the differences between American antiques vs. English; e.g., do you see trends in collecting as different in either country? Do you spend much time in America? (I am not sure but think you still live in England?)

With the Internet, global trends have tended to make markets very similar. However there are areas in American antiques that are much stronger: American furniture; a good quality American Chippendale chair can sell for 10 times what an English equivalent will sell for; Native American tribal art and Inuit Art are both much stronger in the US, as is American Folk Art. I do live in London but travel to North America four or five times a year. In November I visited Toronto, LA, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Wilmington NC and New York. On the 16th my husband and I are coming over for several music events in Asbury Park NJ. We are great followers of Bruce

- In the Buy, Keep, or Sell books, what factors do you use to determine which items should be bought, kept or sold?

I do a regular column for Forbes magazine on this. It really is about keeping your eye on the ball. When you see an area like Chinese ceramics and jade explode in value, try to gauge when the market might soften - and don't be too greedy - make a good profit and be happy. Many 19thC objects are out of fashion at the moment, so it's a great time to buy. But really the old adage is true, "Buy what you love and enjoy it." People are always asking me what to buy. I say buy something that when you come downstairs in the morning it makes you smile – you want to stroke it. Like my collection of 1920s and 30s Scottish Monart glass – it's not worth a great deal but it sparkles in the early morning sun and reminds me of home. That's really what collecting is about.

- Thanks so much, Judith! It's been a real treat to get to interview you.

Have a comment about Judith or her books? Or do you care to share your own favorite areas of collecting and what drew you to them? Post a comment here!

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Perminate Link for Author Judith Miller Dishes on Antiques and Collectibles   Author Judith Miller Dishes on Antiques and Collectibles

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Sun Jan 6 09:40:02 2013

Excellent post, thanks to Judith for sharing her story!

Perminate Link for Author Judith Miller Dishes on Antiques and Collectibles   Author Judith Miller Dishes on Antiques and Collectibles

by: Theresa This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jan 7 08:28:33 2013

Loved this interview and have learned a lot from many of Ms. Miller's books.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion.

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