Virtually every day I look on E bay to see what Dartmoor related listings are around and the sort of prices they are fetching. Much to my wife’s annoyance the office looks something akin to Steptoe’s house with every shelf and ledge stuffed with various items of Dartmoor significance. The shelves are groaning with Dartmoor and Devon related books and the walls are papered with numerous pictures, photographs and paintings of Dartmoor and I am glad I don’t do the dusting. The photograph opposite of the desktop is but a small selection of Dartmoor related items that decorate the office, I call it my Dartmoor Museum, the wife calls it crap but there are items on that desktop that range from 3,500 years old to 5 years young. I suppose as far as Dartmoor goes I am a freak, if I had my way the office floor would be turved with Dartmoor peat and tor would be sited in the corner and moorland air would be pumped in from Fur Tor. Therefore it’s not surprising that I have a magpie’s treasure hoard of bits and bobs that I have amassed over the years.
But what if someone wanted to start a Dartmoor related collection of some kind and they also wanted to use it as a type of investment, is this possible? It goes without saying that original paintings and prints by the acclaimed Dartmoor artists such as the Widgerys‘, Brittan, Sherrin, Morrish, Rowden and the like will be worth a decent sum of money. First edition books by the noted topographical writers such as Crossing, Rowe, Worth and Bray and novelists such a Eden Phillpotts will also be valuable but what about the smaller day to day items that people picked up as souvenirs and mementoes’? From what I can work out there is plenty of scope for getting a nice collection that in certain cases will include items of value. It is worth noting that people have been visiting Dartmoor for about 150 years as tourists and throughout that time local shops have stocked a vast array of souvenirs which were taken away as pleasant reminders of the visit. It’s happening today and what is regarded as ‘tat’ may well be worth a decent sum to a collector another 150 years down the line so I suppose it’s being able to spot a future trend.
As with any form of antique collecting it is knowing a bargain and where to find it, with any Dartmoor related item I have often noticed that the cheapest place to find them is away from Devon itself. For instance, quite often I have found rare Dartmoor books in far away towns that if purchased in any of the Devon bookshops would have cost many times more than what was being asked there. This I suppose is the old adage of supply and demand, the demand for such a book will be less in mid-Wales than in Chagford hence the lower price. This theory could be applied to almost any Dartmoor collectable albeit a book, painting or brass piskie, unless it is a well known masterpiece. Ok, so what things could one start collecting? Well here are a few suggestions that will not necessarily cost an arm or a leg at the higher price end and can be found for a matter of £1 at the lower end.
POSTCARDS – Everyone likes to send a postcard home to their family and friends, I suppose this does two things, it shows that you are still thinking or maybe missing your nearest and dearest and in a way ‘boasts’ that you are affluent enough to afford a holiday. Well, things are no different to 100 years ago except the early Dartmoor postcards depicted a much larger range of the aspects of Dartmoor. Today the majority of postcards show ‘honey spots’ of the moor such as Widecombe, Haytor etc, ponies, sheep and busty women who, “♥ Dartmoor”. In the early 1900s the cards also showed the ‘honey spots’ but also numerous lesser known places, aspects of Dartmoor life like photos of cottage kitchens, various farming activities and livestock and a whole plethora of varying subjects. It is here in these early categories that postcards are valuable, for instance I bought a collection 40 of early Dartmoor postcards for £10 , many of them were common ones that can be found on most antique stalls. However, the reason why I bought the cards was for the one depicted opposite of a peat cutter out on the moor. Similar examples of this postcard have since been listed on E bay, the last time being August 2007, on every occasion they have reached in excess of £27.00. This means that on that bulk lot I have made a profit of at least £17 or about 75% which is a fair margin. Ok I have no intention of selling the card but it is nice to know that it’s worth something. I have seen one postcard which fetched £75 on E bay which to me is astounding. But disregarding the exceptions the average postcard from the early half of the 20th century will go for a minimum of £1, what might that go for in 100 years time? Having said all that the cards can soon build into a nice collection of Dartmoor in bygone days.
BESWICK DARTMOOR PONIES – Royal Doulton – Beswick made two ponies that have been designed by Arthur Gredington one called ‘Jentyl’ started life between 1961 and 1984 and the other is called ‘Warlord’ and was made in 1995. Both make regular appearances in auctions and auction websites where they fetch anything from £25 – £50 with it seems ‘Jentyl’ fetching the highest price.
WILL YOUNG FIGURES – Will young was a potter would worked from a studio at Runnaford near Widecombe where in light of his surroundings produced a range of pottery figurines which depicted various characters from the ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ legend along with piskies and rustics. Personally I think they are grotesque but at auction the originals can fetch anything from £30 – £500. The family tradition is still being carried on by Will’s son Alan who now works from a pottery in France, he still produces the Widecombe figurines but as yet they are not commanding the prices of his father’s.
BRASS PISKIES – There are numerous brass items associated with Dartmoor Piskies which date back to the mid 1950s these include figures, horse brasses, candlesticks, ash trays, shoe horns, pin dishes, book ends, tankards, bells, matchbox holders, toasting forks, letter racks, crumb scoops, nutcrackers, tea scoops, bottle openers. door knockers, charms, key holders, trivets, and corkscrew to name but a few. These will never be a pension fund as most prices range between 99p and £5 but they do make for an interesting collection.
MAPS – The earlier the map the more expensive with originals fetching hundreds of pounds but there are still plenty of recent editions to collect at reasonable prices. Not only do the various series, scales and editions reflect the changing trends of map making the actual covers are all different. Some of the Ordnance Survey maps from the 1960/70s may include impressions of the early Dartmoor letterboxes as at the tine it was the practice to stamp them on the covers. The example in the photograph opposite is festooned with original letterbox stamps and cost me £1.50 – bargain. There are also various makes of maps to collect as well as the OS include; Harvey’s and Bartholomew’s. At present the prices range form about £1 to £10 for the later ones which again makes for an inexpensive collection.
MAGAZINES – Dartmoor magazines are a relatively new thing with the first one being launched in 1985 but now 22 years later the early editions and full collections can fetch some decent money. Basically there are The Dartmoor News, The Dartmoor Magazine and a new one called Margins still being published. There used to be another one called Dartmoor – The Country Magazine but that only lasted a few years. In addition to the general magazines there are also the newsletters from the Dartmoor Association and the Dartmoor Society. I am certain that as years go by a full collection of any of these will be a financial as well as an informative asset. I personally am looking for issues 1 and 3 of The Dartmoor Magazine and 1 – 15 of the Dartmoor News should anyone have copies they don’t want.
CRESTED CHINA – In the early 1880s Adolphus Goss began producing miniature Roman and Greek vases which were emblazoned with the coats of arms of numerous towns. These were intended as souvenirs which holidaymakers could collect and were made at the Falcon Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent It has been suggested that by 1901 around 95% of all British homes had at least one item of Goss Ware or, “Crested China” on their mantelpieces. The last pieces to wear the Goss trademark were made around 1938 and the collecting craze fell into the abyss. Since the 1950s the trend for collecting Crested China has been rekindled and now there is a healthy trade in the pieces. Prices for these miniature vases and urns range between £1 and £10, once more they will never make your fortune but are a talking point.
DARTMOOR BREWERY EPHEMERA – This stuff seems to becoming popular with both Dartmoor and Beer enthusiasts albeit a recent trend – the brewery opened in 1994 but already items such as pump clips, bar towels and playing cards are fetching several pounds.
TRADE DIRECTORIES – These to have become very collectable and in November 2007 a copy of Billing’s directory and gazetteer for Devon sold on Ebay for £175. The more commoner publications are the Ward Lock editions which normally sell for between £1 and 10 depending on the year. I presume the popularity of these books is down to the growth in the family history research market?
So there are a few suggestions should you want to start a collection, as to where to find these bargains I refuse to say because there won’t be any bargains left, I will say that these days they are definately not on E bay – far to popular.
Then there are the collections which come for free, they may never have a huge value but they will certainly be priceless as far as personal enjoyment and knowledge go. The obvious example is letterboxing where many hours of fun can be had from searching out the elusive stamps. I know people who collect mineral samples from across the moor and providing one does not go down any old mines this too can give great pleasure and satisfaction. Others make a collection of specific things visited and their achievement recorded, one such example would be trig pillars and another tors.