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Home > Business > Special


White Christmas

Kishore Singh | December 20, 2003

If we're governed by trends in America and the Continent then, no matter how bright the sun shines here in India, our interiors are in for a white X'mas. Pretty much as is happening in the world of fashion, white has become the season's hot favourite.

And though one would like to believe otherwise, these trends have an affect on the antique business in all its manifestations too.

So it's all right to shake out that old damask (and never mind the holes) for the celebration table that must mandatorily have grandma's vintage white service (silver will do too).

And to make sure the only colour on the table comes from the food, even the flowers must be a bleached white -- lilies will do, as will roses and carnations.

The season of white is becoming so overwhelming that even the fake antiques industry has not remained unaffected.

For months now, containers full of trashily painted woodcraft have been exported from India to stores all over the West. If the finish is tacky, and the colour looks like a preliminary coat of primer, blame it on fashion.

For the obviously fake country look is the rage this winter, and quality is not the issue. Wooden candle stands, shelves, key racks, mirror frames, boxes -- the whole works, are crudely carved and equally crudely painted, and for once it isn't the China factor that is at work.

Looks, rather than the price factor, are behind the less than perfect finish. Hopefully, the trend won't last.

But while it's at its peak, there's no escaping white. Vivid paintings on walls are being replaced by black and white photographs, everything from the very contemporary to the very old. Antique sepia-toned pictures with a hint of humour are being especially sought out.

India was more given to pictures of grandeur, or formal portraits, so we can be excused if all we can find to mount on our walls are pictures of ancient relatives, not all of whom we can identify -- but as long as we're with international trends, who's to complain.

Where it's possible to combine humour with black and white images is in old illustrations (think Pickwick's Papers).

While realistic etchings -- mostly ripped out of books because collectors favour illustrations over whole books that they cannot show off -- have always enjoyed a good market, for the first time a streak of eccentricity has become acceptable.

Therefore, everything from old cartoons and caricatures to images with a light touch are enjoying an airing. Sometimes put to use in club bars and golf clubs, you can now have them in your corner office or home study without feeling the need to apologise.

It's time too to pull out everything white -- from ceramic to porcelain, and that's harder than it sounds. All those china and porcelain figures that your forebears collected so assiduously seem to be painted in delicate, pastel shades.

Momentarily, therefore, if you can find some that are not painted, you know you can get a good price for them. It's also Wedgwood revival time -- the white-and-blue combo is workable, more than most else, so even if it's chipped, you know the Wedgie vase is precious.

White jade, though expensive, is hugely popular. Marble statuary is probably at the peak of its popularity, so if you're selling, this is the best possible time; but if you're buying, it might be wise to wait out the season, since prices will cruise down to more acceptable levels sooner rather than later.

Clear glass has made a similar comeback, and from platters to chandeliers and everything in between, clear glass without any hint of colour can be dusted (or sold) while the going is good.

Blown glass is particularly appealing right now. There's also a sharp interest in the market for old glass that has been rimmed not with gold but with silver, which was almost never, and therefore is enjoying a premium.

Silver, overall, is back on the collector's board, but with one proviso: the engraved label has become an important indicator of origin, and European houses that did silver objects d'art or table services are enjoying a huge comeback.

'Indian' silver on the other hand, apart from being too fussy in design, because it was cottage-crafted, has only a mid-level of interest, though, of course, Indian owners do own huge amounts of European silver that used to be imported for much of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth centuries.

While it's hardly rare that interiors are dictated by thematic style or colour, it's more unusual that the antique market is so governed. Hopefully, though, it's unlikely to last, if early trends for the summer are any indication. Till then, enjoy your white Christmas.


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