About Judith Miller
Books by Judith Miller
Author Interview  
Author, Judith Miller

Judith Miller

About Judith Miller

An Interview with Judith Miller

More About Judith Miller

Judith Miller is an internationally acclaimed antiques expert and well-known television presenter and author
One of the world's leading experts in the field, Judith Miller began collecting in the 1960's and has since written more than 80 books, many of which are held in high regard by collectors and dealers. Judith Miller – you have been collecting antiques since the 1960s, when you were studying at Edinburgh University. What first sparked your interest in collecting?

I didn’t collect as a child, but my passion has always been history. When anyone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a history teacher. Later, when I went to university, I passed antiques and junk shops on my way to and from lectures. I couldn’t help but be drawn in, and then drawn in particular to the bright colours of chinoiserie porcelain plates. I began to research them and very quickly I became hooked. Stories of how they were exported and then how the English tried to make porcelain for themselves fascinated me, as did the objects themselves. By building a collection I could literally touch this part of history. All of this was in stark difference to my parents, who were part of the ‘formica generation’ and threw away my grandparents’ furniture because it was both old and ‘old fashioned’.

You have published books about antiques and collectables (Antiques Price Guide, Collectables Price Guide) and about more specific subjects – Art Nouveau and Costume Jewellery, for example. Is there a particular period or type of antique that you are especially fond of?

Every period has a fascination for me, even those that appear so visually different, like Art Nouveau and Art Deco. There will always be one part of a style that instantly appeals to me on a number of levels, for example from its eye-appeal to its connections to society of the time. But if ‘push came to shove’, I’m more fond of Georgian than Victorian, even though I live in an Edwardian house! Porcelain has always been one of my favourite subjects, especially Chinese blue and white. Over the past ten years I have also been buying more and more 20th century glass, such as Monart, which was produced in Scotland where I grew up. But it’s probably costume jewellery that I buy most frequently.

In all your years of collecting, what has been your most exciting find?

It would have to be my 18th century Worcester ‘guglet’ shape bottle, made around 1755. The Chinese inspired pattern of a man, pine tree and house is extremely well-painted as well as being very rare. It was a real ‘sleeper’, hidden and un-appreciated amongst a number of other Worcester pieces on a stand at a fair in the country. Although its neck is damaged, the quality is there and its worth around £1,500, considerably more than I paid for it!

Your Collectables Price Guide offers information on items that some may not even consider as collectables, such as Star Wars figures. Would you say that the younger generation (under 35’s) are becoming increasingly interested in antiques and collectables?

Collecting has without doubt become a national, and indeed international, obsession. It’s become any nation’s most popular hobby and age doesn’t define it as so many different people collect. The first thing I do when I’m in a new town is go to the antiques area and if I pass a shop, fair or car boot sale, I can’t resist stopping to have a look. I think lots of us do that. You never know what you are going to find, which is an exciting and highly addictive motive. Much collecting focuses on collectables, which are often whimsical objects that we remember from and loved in our childhoods. But as well as appealing to nostalgia for the past, building a collection allows you to express yourself today. Decorators are also having an impact, for example in the field of tribal art, where quality doesn’t always have to be there to make a piece valuable if it has a strong ‘look’ and style.

If a person is interested in collecting, but feels a bit overwhelmed by the range of shops, markets, auctions and fairs, where would be a good place to start?

Auction catalogues are a great start. Nowadays they are often quite well illustrated and they will help to give an excellent idea of general prices in a field. Internet sites such as eBay can be good too, but bear in mind that prices and descriptions are not regulated, so you need to read carefully and compare like items. Of course I would say this, but my annual price guides really are one of the best places to start. Not only is every item illustrated in full colour with a description and price range, giving you plenty of information, but there are lists of recommended specialist dealers and auction houses. Covering a great many different subject areas every year, we also include content such as ‘Collectors Notes’ and ‘Closer Looks’ that help a beginner learn more.

You have written over 80 books – what is your favourite stage of the publishing process?

Without doubt its that buzz I get when I get a gut feeling that a books needs to be produced on a subject. We read auction reports and talk to dealers and auctioneers all the time, but the excitement I feel when I know a book has to be produced, on the history of the poster for example, is quite special for me. I think the most difficult stage, and therefore the worst is the ‘flat-plan’ of the layout of the book as its incredibly hard to decide what to leave out. Seeing the actual book for the first time is also an interesting moment too. No matter how many times you see printed pages, nothing is quite like the ‘birth’ like feeling I experience when the first copy arrives on my desk.

Finally, what would be your top tip for all budding collectors out there?

It would be to spend as much time as you can doing research. This may sound boring, but it doesn’t have to be! Away from reading books, one of the best ways to learn is to look at the best examples by viewing a really good collection. This could be in any part of the world, and could be combined with holiday or a weekend away. Looking at the best will help you develop an ‘eye’ so you can distinguish high quality from poor - you’ll see many more poor than fine quality examples. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince! I learnt this fact early over 20 years ago when I visited a Meissen dealer in London. I saw a miniature slop bowl painted by the decorator Höroldt priced at over £600. When I asked why it was so expensive, the dealer made me examine it under a strong magnifying glass. I was amazed to see that each of the tiny faces of the fishermen had different expressions and that the rigging on the boats was both finely and accurately painted. Today that bowl would be worth around £10,000-12,000.

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