Saturday, 19 November 2016


By popular request, Tavernicus has come out of writer’s block as so much is going on that silence is no longer possible. I was recently asked why I had not written a blog for so long. My answer was I have been too angry. I imagine that is how millions are feeling as about half of the western world is on the wrong side of the argument, dependent entirely on your point of view.

Former top man, Michael Gove, made one wise comment before self-implosion when he said “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”.  I am not sure why he limited his sentiment to this country.

I have expressed similar sentiments on experts in earlier blogs in so far as “experts” are invariably wrong so let me say I am not one and these words are nothing more than musings which occasionally turn into a rant.

Enough has been written about Brexit and there is little point in adding to the huge pile of rubbish already in the public domain other than to say that the dire predictions have almost all been wrong with the exception of the significant devaluation of the pound against the euro and the dollar. No doubt you will have read the views of experts that this is both a good and a bad thing. Go figure!

Now we have the latest development, where once again the experts and pundits were wrong, Donald J Trump as President Elect, which presumably the voters in the USA thought was the least worst candidate, (based on their electoral system). Now politicians in the UK and the EU are having to choke on their words. It is wonderful to watch these clever people standing on their heads. No doubt we are all left wondering how is that a country with 300 million people which claims to lead the free world produces two duffers as the best they can muster.

Underlying the events in the USA, in the UK and in the EU is the relative decline of the west versus the emergence of the east which has led to governments of all persuasions to run deficit economies for a very long time so as to create a fiction that all is well. Even before the balloon went up in 2008/9 western governments were, to a man, spending well over their tax receipts and making up the difference by selling government bonds. The buyers of these bonds were domestic and foreign financial institutions and when the recession broke the house of cards came down. Then it got worse; taking the UK as just one example the UK government has borrowed a further £500 billion on top of over £1 trillion in 2008. National debt is now £1.776 trillion and growing by over £5000 per second.

The Donald inherits national debt of $19.8 trillion. Under Trumpanomics, he is going to reduce taxes by $1.4 trillion and spend on infrastructure to the tune of $600 billion. Clearly the king of the deal does not do math, (US spelling). Don’t even mention the alchemy of Quantitative Easing which has only made matters worse, or better, no one knows.

After a long period of slumber the worm is turning and Disruptors are on the march. Assange, Snowden, Grillo, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Farage and now Trump. Disrupters are the phenomenon of the age and in this interconnected electronic world the elites are struggling to cope with the rise of the Disrupters because majorities are emerging who want the elites turfed out. This does not augur well as the alternatives do not have answers to the rise of the emergent economies, technological advances and uncontrolled migration. The old norms are fragmenting as pollsters cannot rely on their algorithms as voting no longer falls neatly within social class, education or age. Pollsters pack up and shut up please.

I offer no comfort except to say if you still have money earning the square root of nothing in a deposit account go out and spend it on something that makes you smile. Be profligate, everyone else has been, and you will be helping as dead money in deposit accounts will not drive the economy in these difficult times. Oh and by the way, the price of clocks has probably reached the floor although you might ask an expert before diving in.

One final thought. I have written on occasion of a wonderful free website, The USA is now possibly entering a period of KAKISTOCRACY. Look it up, particularly the origin of the word.

If you have been, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


I wonder how many of my followers subscribe to the free website This site emails subscribers every day with the Word of the Day. Every so often a gem of a word livens up an otherwise dreary day. This week the theme is “Insults”. The word ULTRACREPIDARIAN has the following meaning; “one who gives opinions beyond one’s area of expertise”.

Every morning on the Today programme, the BBC’s reality chat show, several people are wheeled out to give us pearls of wisdom concerning their field of expertise. The pursuit of diversity and equality at the BBC has resulted in a shocking downgrading of the quality of such persons as for the most part they are anything but experts. Often they have scant knowledge of the subject they are paid to talk about and very often they are promoting vested interest. This morning, on the eve of that utterly useless self-congratulatory bun fight in Davos, an “expert” on the world financial system was wheeled out to explain the consequences of the Masters of the Euro initiating a programme of Quantitative Easing, QE. As always, the expert failed totally to explain what QE is and why it is needed (or not as the case may be). I have an idea of what QE is but as an ultracrepidarian I would not deign to make a fool of myself unless the BBC wants to pay me as an expert.

And another thing! The general election is on the 7th May. If you have not noticed, then let me alert you to the BBC’s facilitation every morning of appellants to the electorate being given a platform requesting us to feel sorry for them as after the election they are going to need more of our money to survive in the world of “cuts”. David Starkey on Question Time said there have been no cuts. He is nearly correct. The cuts have been to capital spending with current expenditure having reduced by about 1%p.a.. Hence, the halving of the deficit has by and large not happened by cuts to operating expenditure and meanwhile the country’s debt has grown by over £500 billion in this parliament, and is now well over a trillion pounds. I look forward to someone at the BBC being brought on to the morning show in the pursuit of balance to explain to the appellants that “there is no money”. However, according to certain political experts things are booming with the strongest economy in Europe; go figure!

What about the world of antiques and closer to home clocks? Not a lot to report, especially as no decent tavern clock has appeared since early last year. In fact, 2014 produced one really top quality clock and much mediocrity; I live in hope but for quality to come out of the cupboard and into the auction rooms sellers need to see rising values. There is no evidence of that except amongst the Golden Age makers. A situation where restoration costs exceed the value of a clock or other antique is not helpful.

So, what will 2015 bring? If things do not change they will stay the same.

Friday, 17 October 2014


What is going on? Just about everything. A complex situation in the Middle East, a potential pandemic in Africa making its way to our shores, a property bubble emerging in China which is potentially a house of cards, a deflating property bubble in London, Eastern European tensions, North African tensions, social media depriving governments of control measures, traditional news channels becoming irrelevant, the political structure of the United Kingdom in flux…..etc.

With this background which is a kind of Armageddon it has been business as usual here in Blighty. Whoops, are we allowed to say Blighty any longer after the Scots nearly cut themselves adrift. I had predicted in an earlier missive that the Scots would jump ship and it was closer than most expected and the panic was manifest resulting in many long grass promises. Now the phoney war has broken out between the parties as they limber up for the election next year, all wondering how to deal with borrowings which continue to rise by £100bn+ p.a..

Markets were taking little notice, drifting within their recent ranges. The growth rate in the UK is trumpeted as the best of the developed economies at 2.7% expected for this year. The pound against the Euro and the US $ is at high rates. Is this the calm before the storm or is the trend our friend? Well, markets seemed to wake up overnight and suddenly there is a run for the hills. In a world where concentration spans are down to 3 minutes and Radio 4’s Today Programme has become a chat show, where can you get good analysis. No hope really, as no-one can accurately predict where we are headed in this maelstrom. I can only recommend you discover Radio 4 Extra where you will be able to bury your head in the finest repeats of a simpler pre-pc world---- Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Round the Horne etc.. Brilliant!!

In the art and antiques world things are buzzing; possibly a consequence of the devaluation of money and the lack of trust in the old norms. Things are in. Why else would Stanley Gibbons pay £8.6m for the dealer Mallet which two years ago was deeply in the red. Stanley Gibbons now owns Dreweatts, Bloomsbury, Baldwin’s and Apex. Someone thinks the market just beneath the top two auctioneers has a good future or at least that auctioneering in all its forms is a money spinner. Bonhams has invested millions in its Bond Street venue. And what do you make of the latest development from Christie’s? Having increased “buyer’s” premiums to record levels, a misnomer as there must be a consequential depression of the hammer price effectively borne by the seller, Christie’s have announced what amounts to a success fee to the seller. Seller’s commission is between 10-15% on lots up to £60k, and somewhere between 2-8% above that and once the lot price goes stratospheric there is no commission. Of course it is an illusion as the hammer price takes the buyer’s commission into account. However, now sellers will pay an extra 2% fee if the lot achieves its upper estimate, a success fee based upon the auctioneers’ view of the estimate. Could this lead to estimates dropping? Interesting. That is not all, in the cyberworld, Paypal is splitting from Ebay and online only auctions proliferate even amongst the top houses. Buying things unseen has become normal. The bricks and mortar auction houses’ days must be numbered just like supermarkets. Change change change everywhere.

A pretty dull year for tavern clocks as there has been only one special clock auctioned and another which would have provided some excitement was withdrawn after a public uproar at its removal from the hotel in which it had hung for as long as drinkers could remember. In this lull, Tavernicus is busy updating the book “The Tavern Clock” as change is in the air.

Meanwhile more news for Spitfire lovers, (reported here from time to time). These machines are now over 70 years old, but for the man who has everything including a PPL and a huge wodge you can pick one up that needs work for about £2-3m or indeed have a completely new airframe made at Duxford. A 27 litre Rolls Royce Merlin engine will set you back £170,000 and every 200 hours another £120,000. Oh and there is fuel at up to 90 gallons per hour. Bless!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The June Masterpiece Fair was a blockbuster for antique clocks. With the uncoupling of two major dealers there were five important displays of the best of the best; Carter Marsh, Raffety, Howard Walwyn, Anthony Woodburn, and Ben Wright. There cannot be a finer assembly of important horology for sale anywhere in the world than at this fair. There were five tavern clocks on offer with prices ranging from £20-48k. In no particular order; an early shield dial by Gabril Holland, the smallest white round dial on record by Ralph Glover, the only recorded chain driven 8 day white round dial with bezel by Abraham Bernard now in the UK from the USA, a white round dial by Thomas Green and a smallish white round dial by Chas. Penny. All of these clocks were already known to Tavernicus.

The fair is clearly the market leader and although there was no major gimmickry this year i.e. no Spitfire at £8m, no classic cars, no scrap metal aircraft tables etc there was lots of bling for the overseas punters. Jewellery everywhere. For the serious art collector there were paintings priced in the millions; a Rene Magritte green apple with a table on it, a mere £3.5m, the same for a Lowry stick men painting. Restaurants galore, all from the same stable, Le Caprice, the Ivy, Scotts and so on. All aimed at the very top of the market and beautifully executed. It is worth reflecting on the fact that this fair was only born because the Grosvenor House Fair gave up its pre-eminent status. I wonder if they rue the day as its replacement is in a totally new class and there is no way back.

Other musings; the internet continues its inexorable rise. The saleroom-com the leading source of online antiques information and the bidding service reports that visits to its site are up by 80% and that each month they are getting 0.5 million visits. How long will it be before the Antiques Trade Gazette, a sister enterprise will go all electronic? Live bidding accounts for 27% of lots sold with 650 auction firms now uploading their catalogues for live bidding. The digital camera has made this possible. If you visit an auction room you will find them relatively empty and this will continue as a trend. There are now online only antique auction sites springing up. Where will we be in 5 years’ time; well the trend is your friend.
Meanwhile the major houses go from strength to strength but they are keeping all their options open. Bonham’s which has spent millions on its London operation is rumoured to be for sale or on someone’s radar at least. Christies and Sotheby’s strengthen their Asia operations, take on the trade with direct sales as well as auctions and are dipping their toes into online only auctions. They are ready whichever way the trend goes. The contemporary art market still fuels the engine of growth. In one week in May in New York $1.57bn of sales went under the hammer compared with the previous high of $1.34bn, with Christies setting an auction record of $745m in one session with bidders coming from 35 countries. Notwithstanding the trouble that guarantees have caused auctioneers in the past, Christies gave sellers 33 guarantees as to the price to be achieved. Sotheby’s sales were not in the same league by value perhaps because of board room diversion whilst they deal with shareholder activism, but still in excess of $330m in one sale.

In my next blog I shall write about the art detective on the net. A good summer to you all, time for a glass of rosé methinks.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Davos, Jay Rayner, Russell Brand, hybrid vehicles, wind farms, curling, anyone claiming   to be an expert, sous vide, special advisors, chuggers, businesses masquerading as charities etc.. What are they for; no idea. Glad we got that out of the way. They all have form but what about substance?

The Antique Furniture Index, AFI, has both form and substance as it has been measuring the value of antique furniture since 1968 and is the best guide to what is happening in the trade; or is it?
Just published in the Antique Collectors’ Club magazine, the AFI reveals another awful year for the furniture categories it measures. The indicators in 2012 suggested the worst may be over but in 2013 all seven categories declined in value with the average fall being 6%. The result is that the index is now at the same level as the late 1980’s.
What is going on? 2013 was a record year for Christies with turnover up by 16% at £4.5bn. Sothebys are having a positive year with turnover up by 5% in 9 months. Both houses are seeing major growth in private sales which were $1bn for Sothebys in the 9 months. Poachers and game keepers under the same roof! Contemporary and modern art continue to drive sales as does Asia and new money generally. The big boys are immune to what used to drive the antique business. In fact the big two are more or less out of the traditional business as they close departments and restrict their minimum lot values, together with ever rising buyers’ premiums. 

It might be expected that the regional auction trade would be dying based on the AFI; not a bit of it. The main players including Woolley & Wallis,  Dreweatts, Tennants, Fellows and Sworders to name a few all report healthy rises in sales. These companies benefit to some extent by the withdrawal of the big boys from their turf in favour of mega ticket items. Internet live bidding must be a saviour.

The lower end of the trade must be in terminal decline as the best lots evade them and ebay diverts lots to private sales.

So who is really affected by the implications of the AFI. The answer must be nearly all of us as the prized possessions handed down over the generations reach negligible value. Collections may no longer justify restoration other than for sentimental reasons.

The substance of the AFI is not what it tells us but what it does not. As to the others in my list …………

Sunday, 22 December 2013


Almost at the turn of the year which seems to have had a speed of its own, one can but wonder where it went. Conditions appear to have calmed somewhat as markets have settled in to a form of somnambulance. After almost six years of so called adversity and even more mythical cuts most people have resigned themselves to the long term nature of getting out of a deep, almost black hole. Japan spent more than 20 years getting out of their banking crisis. We have become so inured of crisis news that the nation has taken in its stride the news that the COOP Bank has had to be rescued. Not a single branch was mobbed by savers wanting their money. Contrast that with the queues of angry savers outside Northern Rock branches in 2008!

The public's fatalistic reaction to bad news has had some peculiar effects on the media. The BBC in the form of its Radio Four channel has dropped all pretensions that its output is aimed at intelligent people. It has joined the entertainment industry. On the Today Programme which used to be a news programme, not a day passes without celebrity guff being featured. Even Newsnight is not worth a candle any more. It is not all bad, there is Ed Reardon's Week to look forward to.

As far as the antiques world is concerned, a pretty dull period. The annual price index comes out in January and I imagine we will see sideways drift with a continuation of the best pulling away from the rest. Certainly if you have Knibb, Tompion, Graham, East, Vulliamy et al in your collection you can feel justifiably smug. If you don't have such a jewel then the prices are running away with themselves. That said, the Tompion table clock, numbered 171, recently offered at auction in London did not quite reach its lower estimate of £200,000, selling for £195K including premium, significant nonetheless.

On a seriously bright note it was great to see the advent of another quality horological dealer opening in London in Kensington Church Street; congratulations to Howard Walwyn. Collectors now have the choice of the finest English clocks in one street, reinforcing London as the home of horology.

After a very lacklustre 2012 for tavern clocks, with only one great clock appearing at auction, 2013 has not impressed. In December 2012 the Gabril Holland of Coventry early shield dial was sold by Bonhams, the best tavern clock of that year. Only one tavern clock caught my attention in 2013, a white round dial with a mahogany trunk by Louis Recordon with great provenance. Watch the Tavernicus website for pictures and details of the provenance in early 2014. Something to brighten up the dull alcohol free, carbohydrate free miserable days of January.

Sellers have stayed away from the auction rooms as only 7 signed tavern clocks appeared at auction in 2013 with most prices down in the £5-6k range with the two better examples topping £10k. The auction market does not respond well to restored tavern clocks whereas unrestored untouched original and complete examples get the trade in a lather. Not much lather in 2013.

So what does 2014 hold. Unrelenting electioneering getting worse as every month passes as 2015 hoves into view. Expect massive political fall out as Romanians and Bulgarians make their way to London. Politicians on the left, suffering from amnesia, will be facing both ways whilst those claiming conservative roots will be nonplussed by the unstoppable rise of the eurosceptics. Expect total panic as the Scots decide to leave the Union in September. There will be more bad news on IDS's new computer system for universal credit limping to the starting grid. These distractions will be the perfect backdrop for the economy to begin to heal itself with politicians running around in diminishing circles whilst business gets on with business. The next sacred cow to be exposed will be the charity/ third sector which will deservedly join the roll of honour comprising politicians, the honours system, banks, NHS, education, tax avoidance by global brands, failed Regulation etc etc.

With interest rates set to remain at miserable levels and the stock market drifting nowhere, money is becoming a devalued asset class by the year. There is no remedy for this unless you have the wisdom of Croesus which most mortals do not. Hence you might consider spending it on a non taxable chattel in the form a great English clock by a great maker. Properly maintained it will see you out, be an endless friend and be witness to all your secrets for future generations to ponder upon. Merry Christmas and best wishes for the year to come. Look out for a teardrop by Jos Barber in February and for a real treat click on the link below.

Friday, 11 October 2013



Just to amuse myself I obtained a copy of a book published in 1967 bearing the title “Investing in Clocks & Watches” by PW Cumhail. With nearly half a century having passed I expected some hilarious gaffs given what has happened to values of some classes of horological chattels. First, the book was purchased for 62p on ABEBOOKS, the best site for buying out of print books. Originally retailed in old money at 50 shillings, the wisdom in the book has clearly left investors cold as collectors have not made this a must have and much searched after tome.

Eagerly looking for gaffs I highlighted some passages which are repeated below:-

Collecting provides a hedge against inflation and currency devaluation, but this should be thought of as a fringe benefit..

The main aim behind any kind of collection should never be profit.

All things being equal Thomas Tompion’s clocks will fetch the highest prices….it is rare for even a suspect clock to fetch less than £750, a good one can easily go to 20 times that price.

Clocks …should be cleaned and oiled once every five years. People may say that they have had a clock for 40 years and it has never needed cleaning… When it eventually makes an expensive noise they will probably cry bloody murder if the repair estimate is over £5.

Mostly the horological market has been steadily rising….

The price of Knibb clocks has been rising steadily since the publication of R A Lee’s book…at over £5500 only the rich…..

The difficulty today is not always one of separating the wholly true from the wholly false but deciding how much may be original.

There are perhaps 12 horological experts in the world..

It is difficult to forecast the future of the long-case clock. There is no reason to think there will be any drop in the prices of really good specimens….

If the prospect of successful horological investment looks black, it is a mistaken impression. It has never been so good.

Mr Cumhail only really got it wrong in repeating the famous phrase uttered by Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1957 that we had never had it so good.