Antiques Trade Talks – Matthew Barton

Matthew Barton antiques expertMatthew Barton, who started in Sotheby’s silver department 30 years ago, is the director of Matthew Barton Ltd which holds biannual sales in Asian and European works of art

What was the first antique you ever acquired?

A Belgian slate mantel clock I bought when I was 10-years-old from a bric-a-brac emporium in a country house in Lancashire.

Who influenced you most when you started?

When I started at Sotheby’s, aged 21, I was the youngest cataloguer there and lucky enough to have the silver and jewellery specialist John Culme as my mentor and teacher.

What piece would you still most like to find?

Anything in my ‘virtual’ collection – in other words all those pieces I bid on and didn’t get, especially a small silver figure of the Drunken Satyr, probably by the Chiurazzi Foundry, late 19th century, after the antique figure found at the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum.

Best buy and biggest mistake?

An Austro Hungarian silver and enamel nef
An Austro Hungarian silver and enamel nef sold for £12,000 at one of Matthew’s recent sales, sailing past the estimate of £4,000-£6,000

One piece of furniture answers both questions in a way. I bought a really good North Country oak and mahogany cross-banded linen press with a wonderful architectural ‘broken’ pediment from an auction in Sussex. Of course it was far too large for my flat or anywhere else I was ever likely to live, but happily I sold it in another auction for twice the price. In reality, the biggest mistake is that Belgian slate mantel clock, my first acquisition.

What do you like most about today’s antiques business?

It is wonderful to be able to research a huge amount on the internet. So many archives and records are available at the tip of your fingers.

Do you attend fairs? If so, which?

I enjoy visiting the Olympia Art and Antiques Fair which is around the corner from us, as well as BADA, Masterpiece and TEFAF.

What is the reference book you couldn’t live without?

There are many, but I wouldn’t do without John Culme’s Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders, 1838-1914 (published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, 1987)

What is your favourite non-antiques activity?

I am an omnivore and love eating all good food (and quite a lot of bad food, too). I also love playing tennis – often badly, but nevertheless with enjoyment.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

An eternally-fruiting lemon tree.

Matthew Barton holds two Asian and European Works of Art sales in May and November. For more details go to

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