Expert looks for hidden works of art in Sussex

David Battie from the Antiques Road Show
David Battie from the Antiques Road Show

Bring out your Rembrandts. Antiques Roadshow expert David Battie will be holding a valuation day from 10am-4pm at Buxted Park Hotel on September 29.

From 10am-4pm people can bring their precious – or not so precious – works of art to the hotel and find out whether they have something worth millions on their hands, or whether it is something painted by Uncle George during his holiday in Bognor Regis.

David revealed how one of the earliest valuation days he took part in more than 40 years ago provided the inspiration for what was to become the hit BBC series that has now run for decades.

David, who is a consultant specialist with Sworders on Asian works of art and European ceramics, appeared on the first episode of the Antiques Roadshow in 1979. By then he had spent 15 years in the auctions business and later became a director of Sotheby’s. While working for Sotheby’s in the early 1970s he found himself on a valuations tour in the West Country.

“Someone phoned BBC Bristol and told them that there was a queue of people a mile long holding bags outside what I think was the town hall in either Exeter or Barnstaple, and that they ought to get down there and film it,” he recalls.

“They filmed me talking to a woman about a pot. The producer was a man called Robin Drake and he later put the idea of a dedicated show to the BBC, becoming the first producer of the Antiques Roadshow.”

One of his most celebrated discoveries came in Skegness, when he revealed to the owner that a small brown bottle was the work of the 19th century architect and designer William Burges. Valued at £20,000-30,000, the bottle was decorated with a spider’s web of silver, enamel, pearl and moonstone. It transpired that photographs of it were on show in the Victoria and Albert Museum and it had been missing for decades.

It was a stunning revelation for the owner, whose father had paid a few shillings for it in 1950.

“What made it all the more interesting is that the bottle itself, was quite an ordinary Chinese snuff bottle that Burges had decorated, producing the most fantastic object. Normally, when people change things like this, it destroys the value, but in this case it absolutely made it,” says David.

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