Monday, October 30, 2006

Street hawker themed restaurants

A SG$16,000 (£5,350) Qing dynasty 100 year old horse-drawn rickshaw in the half-acre Food Republic's latest cafe a VivoCity in Singapore [Photo Mohd Ishak

Singapore - IT could be that the ethnic eatery is about to take over from the Irish theme pub in Asia. And if so, you can bet it will be heading to America and Europe soon. Singapore's most expensive cafe, the 27,000 sq ft 900 seat Food Republic at VivoCity cost $6m (£2m) to fit out, and comes complete with 24 hawker stalls, five mini restaurants and a shop. It aims to recreate the street hawker scene in Asia from the 1900s to 1940s with bygones imported from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Reclaimed materials like floor tiles came from houses in China due to be demolished, as well as old wooden chairs and tables. The ersatz hawkers wear traditional Mandarin collar shirts, three-quarter pants and walk round in old-fashioned clogs.

Food Republic's Patsy Loo said that it took two years to plan and find materials. They found inspiration in Signapore's National Museum and Heritage Board. Next they went to Malaysia and China, and shipped back two containers of furniture and materials. Said Ms Loo, "We want to help locals and tourists understand what Asia was like in the pre-war period, when there were a lot of street hawkers. People were poor, but they had simple and good food. We want to recreate that flavour."

Though the food court in VivoCity was expensive to create, the food there is not. A plate of tahu goreng costs $3.80 (£1.20), while a bowl of bak chor mee from the famous Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall is about $5 (£1.75)

Food Republic is a subsidiary of the Breadtalk Group, a bakery whose hallmark shops have see-thru plate glass kitchens (see photo below). Breadtalk Group

One of Breadtalk Group's hallmark 'see thru' plate glass high street bakeries.

I was a 50 year old woman - he was a 25 year old man

New York USA - This snippet of architectural salvage seen in a New York Times pot-boiling love story between a 50 year old woman and her 25 year old lover, hits the nail on the head: the strongest market for salvage is rich middle-aged women. No complaints. It should be compulsory reading for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace who for the past few years have been extolling the virtues of FSC and eco-friendly new wood, but seem to have completely forgotten that the greenest wood is reclaimed. FoE and Greenpeace are pushing for ever-higher exo-taxes that will be used to allow more reusable wood to be diverted away from salvage yards to be mulched chipped and burned by wood recyclers.

We sat outside at Brasserie Perrier — a fancy place I had never been but where he seemed quite comfortable. It was a warm night. A pack of women in their 20s twittered by, and I watched him watch them as they passed. I waited. He swiveled his head back toward me and said, “Don’t pocketless jeans just get on your nerves?”

He took me to a junkyard of architectural salvage, where we peered though the chain-link fence and talked about what we would buy if we could only get in. Because he had left his parents’ home at 15 to attend a high school for upcoming pro snowboarders, he was domestic enough to keep a cute house dotted with weird things he collected, like old wooden rulers.

We shared many of the same interests — fashion, photography, design. Once, after a long discussion about his burning need for a green leather duffel, I found the perfect one in Details magazine and held up the page to him. “Hey,” he asked, squinting. “is that Balenciaga?”

From Modern Love "We Lived in the Present, Then the Future Arrived" by By FRANCINE MAROUKIAN Published: October 29, 2006. New York Times

Lion top lot at steady Gaze sale

19thC gilt mirror with spiral column, sold £231 (est £100)

Pair of panelled pine doors from Redgrave Hall orangery c1760 by Henry Holland under Capability Brown for Rowland Holt, each 1.08m wide by 3.78m high, sold £220 (est £250)

14ins roll ridge stone coping, sold £300 (est £300)

Old brick shapes from Brome Hall, Suffolk, sold £670 (est £200)

Arched top pine sash window with four blue glass panes
, sold £253 (est £150)

A Portland stone sundial base tapered panels on square base, the top 13ins square, sold £620 (est £300)

TOP LOT: a pair of compo lions couchant on plinths, sold £1,320 (est £1,200)

A cast iron boot scraper with decorative support set on a stone slab, sold £264 (est £150)

Six-sided steel tree seat, sold £440 (est £300)

Late 19thC slate clock face 3ft dia 2ins thick, Roman numerals incised, minutes marked, sold £464 (est £400)

Diss, Norfolk UK - Site

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Twelve inch pamments £10 at Gaze

At Gaze's October sale five pallets (lot 5820) of two-block blue stable pavers totalling 1340 sold for a mid-estimate £550, or 41p each. [Photo Gaze

Four York stone flagstones sold for £154, estimate £50, roughly £77 square yard.

Diss, Norfolk UK - The sale of architectural salvage and statuary at Gaze's 21 October 2006 included several lots of reclaimed floor tiles and pavers. Five pallets (lot 5820) of two-block blue stable pavers totalling 1340 sold for a mid-estimate £550, or 41p each. A lot (5854) of 65 12ins square pamments sold for £638, or £9.82 each, while 9ins square red pamments sold for £1.39 each, and 9ins square buff pamments sold for £2.01 each. T W Gaze

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mammoth tusks - ethics, fakes and myths

Blue-hued mammoth tusk from the Tamyr peninsular, Siberia, which sold at Sotheby's Billingshurst sale (below) on 26 Sep 06 for GBP£6,000 (est£2.5k), 102cm.; 40ins on outside curve.

WOOLLY mammoth tusks are often the top lot of the fossil section of Sotheby's sales of 'Garden, Architectural and Fossil Decoration'. Fossils have always had a following from collectors, but their increase in popularity may be a result of the art world's move into the natural, deathly, sensational and anatomical, by people like Damien Hirst. Movements in art influence exterior and interior design, and fossils are one of the nearest things you can get to tasteful and naturally decorative sculpture made into durable materials from the death of animals and plants. Death and anatomy are recurring themes of Britpop. Fossils are perhaps a more acceptable way to represent them. Fossils are attractive because they will fit with stark minimalist interiors as well as junk-filled maximalist ones, although I have never seen a millionaire's retreat with interiors tastefully decked out in ammonites, trilobites, knightia fish and the odd mammoth tusk (publishable photo's gratefully received).

Fossils are strictly-speaking mineralised organic matter, which means living things turned to rock. Although you can find fossilised mammoth tusks up to 1.6m years old, those sold at auction tend to be real 20,000 years old ivory that has been preserved by being buried, often in bogs or alluvium, where the lack of oxygen has prevented their natural decay. Mammoths became extinct 3,500 years ago due to global warming and hunting by paleolithic man.

The recent global warming in places like Siberia results in melting ice and tundra, and soil erosion which exposes buried mammoth skeletons. Greater mineral exploitation, small aircraft, quads and four by fours, general mobility and local awareness of value, means more and more fossils will find their way to the relatively rich western markets.

Practically anything removed and sold results in accusations of desicration and profiteering. The world of architectural and garden antiques is familiar with that sentiment by conservationists. Now archaeologists are at loggerheads with fossil-hunters. A long ethical argument is described in the story of Confuciusornis sanctus in China, where fossil hunting is banned. In most parts of the world, collecting fossils from private land with the owner's permission is perfectly legal.

Butterfields in San Francisco is an auction house well known for its regular architectural and decorative antiques sales, where fossil selling has generated more of a public debate between academics and fossil-hunters. In 2001 a Siberian woolly mammoth tusk sold for $32,000 at Butterfields.

US Geologists on a field trip to Wrangel Island in north-east Siberia came across quite a few mammoth tusks, and took this photo of a local who had picked this one up - no doubt to pass it into the global dealer network. [Photo: Lyn Gualtier

"Things are being lost to science because we don't have enough people out there looking. There are not enough degreed paleontologists or tax dollars . . . to look at nearly a half-billion acres of public lands, let alone private lands," said Marion Zenker, marketing coordinator for the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota, a leading commercial fossil excavator. Zenker, a plain-spoken former tractor-trailer driver and mother of eight, said academic hunters "act like the high priests of paleontology." Robert Bakker, the Harvard and Yale trained paleontologist who helped advance the idea that dinosaurs were warmblooded, has said many of his colleagues promote a class system. "We guys with PhDs think we have a God-given right to dictate where and how specimens are collected," something Bakker said is not in the public interest. Zenker adds that scientific credentials should not be the only entry into a fossil dig: "The people who are in this field are here because they love fossils." Zenker's Black Hills Institute found Sue, the world's most famous Tyrannosaurus rex. And the world's most costly. Sue sold at a Sotheby's auction in 1997 for $8.4 million - leading to fear that important dinosaur fossils would be priced out of the reach of museums. Sue's story ended happily; corporate benefactors sponsored her donation to Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. There is a comprehensive set of Fossil Protection Links on a site compiled by W Douglas Boyce, a Canadian paeleontologist.

Ivory Jack's website describes how mammoth tusks are found. It also describes their colour. 'The beautiful hues of tan, brown and blue are a result of thousands of years of mineralization. Exact hues depend upon the mineral deposits in the immediate soil surrounding the fallen mammoth.' There are more hued tusks, and also a complete skeleton, for sale at Arizona Skies.

Woolly mammoth tusks have another ethical dimension: they are real ivory, and new ivory trading is protected under CITES regulation. However the sale of antique and prehistoric ivory is unregulated. How do you tell elephant from mammoth ivory? A section through both elephant ivory and mammoth ivory show natural cross-hatching. The angle between the cross-hatches can be an absolute test, outside the range 90 degrees - 115 degrees. Between these two figures a precise indentification is impossible. Clearly with single tusks this test will not work, unless a section has been cut and polished.

Whole mammoth tusks tend have flattened ends, roughly the last third towards the points, and have are often marked and worn on the undersides where it is believed they were used for foraging. They frequently wrapped inwards towards each other. Male tusks are thicker, more three-dimensionally curved and longer than female tusks. The longest mammoth tusks discovered are 16ft long.

A matched pair of mammoth tusks, with inward interlinked curvature described above. They are not always curved like this. [Photos: Canada Fossils

Ho do you tell real ivory from bone or resin replica? Much of the real ivory antique netsuke replica is carved in workshops in Hong Kong. The Asian Arts website describes, not only the hot pin test to tell the difference between ivoyr and resin, but also whether it is real ivory (hardenend dentine) or plain bone. It also gives pointers as to which animal the ivory may come from. The test is to take a pin or large needle, or large straightened out safety pin, and heat the tip red hot, then stick it into the item. If ivory, the pin will not penetrate but will only leave a tiny mark. If resin, it will go straight into the item and leave a raised area around the hole. If ivory, the smoke will smell of drilled tooth that you get at the dentist's. If it smells like burning plastic, it is resin. Bone is resistant to heat, but not as much as ivory. The smell is less (or hardly at all) and is different than that of burning tooth. Bone is free of grain and will always have little "pock marks" (sometimes brown) where the marrow was, visible with a magnifying glass. If it has any grain, especially crosshatching, you have the real ivory. Planet Ark the eco-website says, 'Mammoth ivory, now starting to come onto the market in large quantities as global warming thaws the permafrost in Canada and Russia and exposes the corpses of the long-dead woolly giants, is virtually indistinguishable from elephant ivory. However, unlike elephant ivory, mammoth tusks smell, and are harder to work.'

Another way to make check that the blue stained on mammoth tusk is real and not fake is to check for blue 'vivianite' using ultra-violet light. The photo shows vivianite on a mammoth tusk found at the Pamir Peninsula, Siberia. The tusks of mammoths are made of enamel externally and dentin internally. The dentin is calcareous and similar to bone but softer and chemically more active. Vivianite, a hydrated ferrous phosphate Fe3(PO4)2·8(H2O), and dentin, can form thin coatings on the damaged surfaces of fossilizing tusks. Vivianite goes darker on exposure to light. [Photo: Copyright © 2003 Giraud Foster & Norman Barker

If you have a polished section through the tusk it is possible to tell elephant from mammoth using the Schreger lines, or cross-hatching. If the angle between them is greater than 115 degrees it is elephant. If the angle is less than 90 degrees it is mammoth. [Photos: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services forensics laboratory

Another website with close-ups of Mammoth Tusks explains the difference between Siberian, American (bigger) and European mammoths (smaller with curvier tusks, many of which are still being trawled up in the north sea by Dutch fishermen. 'This fossil specimen is not subject to any bans. It can be legally owned and shipped to anyone anywhere. They are one of the most popular large display fossils of any collection. The woolly mammoth is the mascot animal of the Earth's final Ice Age.'

Enchantment with fossils and buried tusks goes back to Roman times. It is fair to say that the Romans were obsessed with fossils. Much of the mythology, especially legends of giants, has been attributed to the discovery of large buried fossils. The legend of the Caledonian Boar is believed to have come from fossil remains, possibly even woolly mammoth tusks. The web page Accounts of Greek and Roman Paleontology says, 'In 31 BC, the future emperor Augustus plundered the great tusks of the mythical Calydonian Boar from a temple in Tegea, Greece, and installed them in Rome. These were most likely prehistoric elephant tusks dug up in Pleistocene fossil beds near Tegea. Some 400 years later the historian Procopius saw a great pair of tusks labeled "from the Calydonian Boar" at Beneventum, Italy. He described them as "well worth seeing, measuring three hand-spans around and curved in a crescent shape," which suggests that the "Calydonian tusks" at Beneventum were a pair of woolly mammoth tusks, common fossil remains in Italy.'


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Quiet Billingshurst. Time for a reserve shake-up?

Billingshurst, Sussex UK - SOTHEBY'S September 26th garden and architectural sale could arguably be said to have bombed, with a cursory look at the results apparently showing roughly 50 per cent unsold by lot. Sotheby's no longer send SalvoNEWS a top ten lots and overall sales summary which makes it harder to get a picture of what happened. Rupert van der Werff, Sotheby's expert in charge, said they do still produce them, but Salvo is no longer sent them. Although the full individual sales results are posted on the web site, the top ten and summary are not.

"Given how quiet the trade is in general, and that this was not our most brilliant sale, with no six-figure show-stoppers, and a lower than normal turn out for the sale preview, the low sold figure is not surprising," Rupert said.

"But there is an extremely good market for good objects. The feeling we have is that the world of antique garden and architectural has caught up with the rest of the antiques sector. Meaning, there is the best, and then there is the rest. If you just take the lots estimated at over £5,000, we sold 90 per cent. But the lower value struggled to sell. We have not had a lot under £1,000 for years. When I started, £1,000 was a nice lot but now consignors expect tired old urns to sell for that price, but these no longer appeal to the market.

"The market is for very good, very clean examples. The very best is what we are good at. These days we turn down loads of fern and blackberry seats that would have sold quite well at modest prices a few years ago. But there is a very very strong market at £5,000 and above. Having said that, the market has also always been volatile which makes it hard to predict. At this sale sundials were very buoyant, but fountains were not. At other sales the opposite happens."

The average sold lot at the twice yearly Billingshurst sales has trebled in value in the past fifteen years, and the last sale was possibly one of the highest (we cannot be definite without stats from Sotheby's). If this is correct, the sale has polarised both lots and buyers. The low value lots which years ago would have been mopped up by the trade for stock are now consigned at too high a reserve for the trade to be interested. While the market in the high value lots is volatile and high reserves are pegged back due to uncertainty of finding a pair of bidders on the day. When the high value lots are wanted there seem to be privates willing to go a long way. These days the trade use Sotheby's for selling rather than buying - 90 per cent of the lots are sold privately with only a handful of lots going to dealers mostly bidding on behalf of a client rather than for stock.

The level of the open market in garden and architectural items is masked by Sotheby's reserve policy. Some items always fly away, bucking the market, But generally the market finds a level, and that level is constantly changing. High reserves deny the trade a valuable opportunity to assess shifts in the market. The trade find it pleasantly acceptable for prices to go up, but difficult when prices drop. This is what happened with brown furniture a few years ago. The auctioneers job is to inject some realism and buoyancy back into the market by pushing the reserves back down, perhaps even no reserve for the lower value lots. There is nothing like a load of no-reserve lots to generate a frisson of interest and excitement. That way the trade will turn out to buy, and the higher value lots could still find a high-value retail market.

Rupert Werff said that Sotheby's Billingshurst is currently reconsidering its reserves policy. "One problem is that fewer reasonable garden lots are appearing at regional sale rooms, so when they do they are being chased up above what we would consider to be a true market value. The trade might be forced up to buy at these auctions, and they then want to consign the over-priced stuff here, so we get pressured to take higher reserves. Whatever we do, we have to take a lot of stick from the trade. It is hard work doing these sales. If they were as easy to organise as I am constantly told they are, then everyone would be doing them."

He is correct, getting the balance right is not easy. The place is littered with failure. Christie's pulled out of the regular Wrotham Park architectural and garden sales in 1995, and Bonhams stopped doing theirs in 1999 when Sotheby's New York also stopped. Gaze, Sotheby's Amsterdam, and a few North American and European auctioneers are tinkering with garden sales, and there is always a smattering of specialist one-off style architectural salvage trade sales organised by the likes of Wellers. Results are hard to come buy. Only Sotheby's seem to be willing to divulge all, which does mean that trends are very hard to spot. And even on a good day Billingshurst squirms under the sword of Damocles.

"It is time for a sort-out on prices," said Mr Werff. "There has been a move by the general antiques trade to move into garden antiques which has chased up prices, many of which, in my opnion, are now too high. There have been blips and bubbles, like cast iron seats a few years ago, but we are careful to try to maintain core reserves when such blips occur. I think a rationalisation has to happen."

Yes, we know about the repro. Yes, we know about things that get broken. Yes, we know about funny goings-on. But a salvage world without Billingshurst would be poorer in market knowledge and benchmark prices, and would never allow the long hoped-for reappearance of a horde of jovial bantering dealers in the tent mopping up cheaper lots against a backdrop of monied privates doing their bidding. Over the years James Rylands has at times used the heady days of Pretty Polly as a benchmark, while perhaps we need the solid days that preceded them, and the measured reassessment that followed. Oh yes, and while I am at it, more big architectural stuff.

Top lot at this sale was a modern aluminium replica of the figure of Eros in Piccadilly Circus which sold for a bottom estimate £54,000. There is an illustrated write up in SalvoNEWS 261, due out next week. Next sale in May or June 2007.

SalvoWEB explained at this year's Salvo Fair

Knebworth, Hertfordshire UK - is a great site, but can be a little complicated and daunting, especially for trade users. Here Boz Kay, long-term programmer of and other Salvo web sites, explains how it works and what is available on a 14 minute video.

Watch out for a cameo appearance from Simon Wharton, a French antique fireplace dealer, who has been using a Salvo new style web site at The beauty of this system is that you cahn have your own web site, but every item placed on it can also appear on SalvoWEB, so you get the advantage of the 12,000 visitors a day traffic on SalvoWEB together with your own personal business web site.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Death of a salvage man

Erik Petersen, died 2001

Aberdeen, Grampian UK - Erik Funck Petersen was believed to have been alone, salvaging a piece architrave from a fire-damaged empty building in Aberdeen when it collapsed, burying him, in 2001. It took two days to recover his body. The official cause of death was crush asphyxia. He was 34.

The court of enquiry found in June 2006 that warnings had been given by a firm of engineers, that the main contractors had no method statement, that a mini-digger had created a worsening structural situation by taking out load-bearing internal partitioning, that Erik Petersen was a lone self-employed salvager, and that a minor collapse had occurred not long before the major resulting in the evacuation of the building one but no-one bothered to tell Erik Petersen. The materials being salvaged were being taken to Aberdeen furniture restoration business which also sells salvage called Awakening Restorations which had supplied Mr Petersen with a key to the building.

The Fatal Inquiry report goes into some detail, and at one point says:
The collapse which killed Erik Petersen was foreseeable from the outset of the refurbishment work because the building was in a dangerous condition following the fire in 1998 and as a result of having been open to the elements since then. Its dangerous condition was identified by the structural engineers and the design supervisors. It was also recognised by Riverside (the main contractors). However, the method of working employed by Riverside involving the use of the mini-digger and piling up debris without propping and without detailed inspection of the structure on an ongoing basis, made the collapse almost inevitable . . . The causes of this accident were manifold and inter-related. Correct implementation of existing codes of practice would have significantly reduced, if not eliminated, the risk of a fatal accident. Riverside Construction Limited have acknowledged their responsibility by pleading guilty to criminal charges in respect of Mr Petersen's death.

Erik Petersen has been described as a skilled and experienced man, who stood no chance when three floors of the building suddenly collapsed This is Scotland: Aberdeen Civic Society: Planning Matters. He came from Banff.

Riverside Construction was fined £35,000 in 2005 after admitting breaches of health and safety regulations.

Mr Petersen's father Jesper said afterwards, "As a family, we were very grateful for the opportunity, after four years, to find out the facts surrounding Erik's death. We sincerely hope that lessons have been learned by parties to the inquiry and by the building industry as a whole as a result of Erik's death, the circumstances surrounding it and the precautions that could have prevented it. I am satisfied that the inquiry has identified reasonable precautions whereby Erik's death might have been avoided." BBC Scotland".

Yesterday, Maggie Petersen, Erik's mother, addressed a conference in Glasgow organised by the Centre of Corporate Accountability calling for Scottish law to be tightened. MSP Karen Gillon had to withdraw the bill from the Scottish Parliament on Friday after it stalled through lack of parliamentary time and support from ministers. Ms Gillon felt Scotland needed the bill due to the passage of a much weaker UK version going through the House of Commons. Mrs Petersen, 63, said, "I feel that if there was a law like the one Karen Gillon is trying to put through it would have a great preventive effect".

Monday, October 02, 2006

Diss, Norfolk UK - Top lot at T W Gaze Modern Design sale 30 September 2006 was a Paul Kjaerholm PK 20 stainless steel framed lounge chair, leather upholstery, by E Kold Christensen, which sold for £2,100 (£1,500-£2,250 estimate).

The next Modern Design sale will be held in 2007.

Ferndown, Dorset UK - Cheffins of Cambridge will hold an auction sale on at Ferndown in Dorset on Saturday 7th October 2006 of historic UK, USA and Australian tractors and vehicles (estimated up to £40,000), stationery engines, and the contents of a country museum. See Cheffins Stapehill Catalogue here.