Antiques Trade Talks – James and John Bly

James and John of John Bly Antiques
James and John Bly

The Blys have been dealing fine antiques in Tring, Hertfordshire, since the beginning of the 19th century. Now, in the firm’s 100th year, John (a familiar face to fans of Antiques Roadshow) and his son James are carrying on the family tradition at John Bly Antiques.

What do you think are the current ‘good investment’ items – ones to watch?
In the longer term, any top-quality, authenticated and provenanced pieces from any period and category. Currently, European examples of the above from the mid-18th century have to be worthwhile as everything is cyclical.

What antiques do you have at home and why?
One or two modest inherited pieces of sentimental and functional value. An Arts and Crafts dining table and my erstwhile headmaster’s stick-back office chair!

What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
Again top quality and provenanced pieces by contemporary leading artisans. My wife Virginia and I have two Mendlesham chairs made for us with our names and those of the craftsmen carved on the underside of each seat. Unique antiques of the future.

How is the industry changing and what will it look like in the future?
There are already signs that the ‘Get the Look’ culture is changing to get advice and get the real thing. This has to be the way ahead. Instant info on the net is being replaced by a demand for personal tuition from those with professional experience and expertise.

Antique sofas from John Bly Antiques
Pair of 18th century carved giltwood settees attributable to Thomas Chippendale. An important pair of carved and giltwood settees of attractive small size showing several features characteristic of Thomas Chippendale, such as the vertical bearer to the backs and the clamp grooves to the underside of the frames. Formerly at Stapleford Park, Leicestershire thence to Ufford Old Rectory , the home of Margaret, Lady Gretton. Circa 1775

Tell us some trade secrets – what are your top tips for buying antiques?
If it’s out of your field of expertise buy from the best accredited dealers. They will always help because they want to build customer loyalty.

What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
The first Orrery by George Graham and Thomas Tompion and the first Cave Drawing, to show how we have progressed in space exploration and modern art.

You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?
A good, generous size Regency wine glass.

Chair from John Bly Antiques
George II period mahogany open arm chair attributed to Matthias Lock The carving to the front cabriole legs and arm supports is exemplary, and well reflects the period and rococo style fashionable during the second quarter of the 18th century. The proportions are faultless and the comfort supreme, being aided by traditional upholstery applied in our own workshops and a cover of silk woven in France. Illustrated double full page in ‘Chairs’ by Judith Miller. Circa 1755

Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations?
The houses of private clients.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
Not seeking professional advice.

Antique chessboard from John Bly Antiques
Regency Pollard Oak and Marble Chess Table by G. Bullock to Designs by T. Hope. Attributable to George Bullock with design features similar to a table of Thomas Hope, illustrated in the book on ‘Thomas Hope by David Watkin’ (plate 98, page 227), and now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. A wonderful pollard oak chess table with specimen marble top and faux bronze applied decoration. The octagonal marble set into rectangular top supported by inverted lyre shaped standard ends joined by a turned stretcher, on concealed castors. There is a single divided drawer for chess pieces. Much like the taste for faux rosewood paint effects of the day the applied acanthus, gadrooning, frieze, rosettes and claw feet on this table are patinated plaster to look like bronze. Circa 1810

What key questions should buyers and collectors ask before buying?
How do you know how old it is?

What is the appeal of antiques in modern interiors?
Taken out of its country house comfort zone setting, an antique will have greater visual impact in a modern area. A new purpose and a new lease of life.

Why should people buy antiques over new items?
Antiques tell a story. They are tangible history, reflecting the life and times of when they were made.

Antique furniture from John Bly Antiques
George III period demi-lune commode in the manner of John Linnell. A fine and important George III period demi-lune commode of rare small size and classical form, decorated with marquetry veneers of satinwood, tulipwood, harewood and other exotic timbers, enriched with cast and gilt metal mounts, in the manner of John Linnell, circa 1790. There are flower sprays depicted in the vase paterae, considered to be a feature exclusive to Linnell. The single door is opened with a turnkey via a camouflaged escutcheon enabling access to the concealed frieze drawer by means of a spring catch inside. Circa 1790

Do you think young people are interested in antiques and, if so, how do they appeal to them?
For the reasons above, young people are increasingly intrigued. In situ, antiques create a talking point, they are decorative and can be functional, and given the criteria in previous answers, they are a sound investment.

What’s the best single lesson you’ve learnt from a career in antiques?
Enjoy research, and research some more.

Which do you prefer: presenting on TV or dealing antiques?

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