Like many other stay-at-home hobbies, the collectibles market has soared in the past 18 months. In this article, the second in our collectibles series, we focus mainly on wine and unique objects, looking at sourcing items, starting from scratch, mistakes to avoid and how to find the perfect gift for the collector in your life.
“As a fine wine merchant, we had a bumper year last year,” says Tom Harrow, Wine Director, Honest Grapes. “People weren’t able to travel, and they weren’t able to go out to restaurants, so a lot of their pleasure centres were curtailed. One which of course wasn’t was the ability to purchase wines. So, we saw a lot of people using their discretionary income to build up their collections.”
The reasons that people opt to start building a cellar, however, can vary greatly. “We get some people who will quite literally consider it a personal failure if they haven’t consumed every last bottle by the time they die,” says Harrow. “But then you also have clients who have no intention of touching a single bottle. They’re putting it away to diversify their portfolio, with the ultimate aim of selling it to potentially make a profit.”
James Clare, Managing Director at DandyFox, a company that specialises in sourcing unique objects, agrees that Covid upended the collectibles marketplace, but that this ultimately benefitted buyers. “I think because of the pandemic, we saw a real shift to online marketplaces. The leading auction houses are very online savvy now and invested a huge amount in making their platforms extremely user friendly. This also meant that people could purchase products without going into a shop or gallery, which they may have found quite daunting before.”
Wine collecting too can seem like an intimidating world, especially for novices. “In recent years, lots of merchants, writers and commentators have gone a long way to demystify wine and make it more accessible for everyone, which is great,” says Harrow. “But at the same time, dipping your toe in the water takes a degree of courage because there’s an awful lot to learn and to think about.”
When working with a new collector, Harrow has an initial conversation with them about their specific interests – do they prefer sparkling wines, whites or reds, for example. “Then I ask them to have a think about what they’d like their starter cellar to look like – would they want maybe 20 per cent of sparkling, 30 per cent white and 50 per cent red, with maybe some fortified wines in for good measure? Then we drill down a bit more – are there particular regions or grapes that are of specific interest, or do they just want more of a general collection that references great wines from around the world?” He also tends to suggest splitting a collection into three categories – everyday drinking, dinner party wines and treats.
As well as being an intimidating world, in the past, it’s also been one where people can easily be caught out by scams. This is why Harrow stresses the importance of developing a relationship with a merchant you trust. “Often, sellers are effectively asking someone for an upfront payment for wines that aren’t bottled yet, known as en primeur, which can lead to scam merchants taking people’s money, never actually buying the wine and then just disappearing. There have certainly been some bad apples in the past. This is why it’s vital that you never buy fine wine from anyone who cold calls you.”
When it comes to personal and household objects, Clare recommends building a collection based on what you are passionate about – “Buy what you love,” – but he also suggests paying close attention to four key principles: quality, rarity, condition and provenance. Thinking outside the box and looking beyond what would traditionally be considered an ‘antique’, plays a big part in this world, too. “Some people hear that word and automatically think, I don't want that in my house,” says Clare. “They forget that there's actually some really stylish periods in the 19th and 20th centuries – Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Bauhaus. There are all of these amazing designs, and they're kind of timeless. And it’s really easy to add items from these eras into your homes and lives.”
When shopping for someone else, Clare advocates considering artefacts that relate to hobbies, passions and interests, such as cufflinks, bookmarks and cigar cases. “You can find clock fitted desk tidies taken from vintage cars, or silver cocktail sticks that look like mini golf clubs. Drinking accessories are among my personal favourites – things like cocktail shakers or hipflasks. During Covid, there were cocktail shakers going for USD30,000 (many multiples of estimate) in prohibition themed sales, which obviously chimed well with what was going on globally.”
What about if someone is looking to purchase a special present for an avid wine fan? “Buying something that they might already have or that is an obvious fit doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” says Harrow. “Instead, think about trying to find something from a really unknown up and coming grower from a region that they might not have heard of. Personally, as a collector, I love it when I get something weird and wonderful from an unknown grape or a new producer that I’m not so familiar with. Look at what the critics and commentators have been reviewing in the last couple of months and see what surprised and delighted them. At the end of the day, wine collecting is storytelling in a bottle, and people love being part of that story.”
In recent years, lots of merchants, writers and commentators have gone a long way to demystify wine and make it more accessible for everyone, which is great. - Tom Harrow, Wine Director, Honest Grapes