February 9th, 2012
06:37 PM GMT
London (CNN) - You may never look at your aunt’s old armchair quite the same way and, once you’ve read this, grandpa’s grandfather clock may seem worth keeping after all.
Why? Because some of the world’s most coveted customers are literally crazy about your historical heirlooms.
A burgeoning middle class in China is flocking to London to stock up on English antiques that are fetching a veritable fortune back home.
As the room filled up, numerous Chinese buyers flooded the room - as they do most weeks - eager to snatch a pair of Queen Anne chairs or a Georgian chest of draws.
Tom Keane, the owner of Chiswick Auctions, says their numbers have been building up steadily for a year now.
The business coming from Beijing is so big that he recently visited China himself and was astounded by the amount English antiques were fetching there.
"Items which sell for just a couple of hundred pounds here can go for 10, 20 or even 30 times that price in China," he says.
The surge in demand has also had a positive - though more muted - effect on prices in Britain.
Keane shows me a chest of draws which he says 18 months ago would have fetched the equivalent of $150 to $300. Today it would go for $700 to $800 instead.
"We’ve got some wonderful antiques here in the UK but because we grew up with them we don’t appreciate them. The Chinese appreciate the workmanship that goes into them. They like the history, the culture and the heritage that these items have.’’
James Wang is one such collector. With business interests in China and the UK he often travels to London for work. And when he does, he stops by the auction house to pick up an item or two.
Wang and his wife Alice have a 5,000-square-foot apartment in Beijing and a budget of $95,000 to spend on furnishing it with…you’ve guessed it: English antiques. One hundred meters from the auction rooms they show me their 40-foot container which is so far half full.
"I’m a regular here," says Wang.
"I come often. I see a few things I like and I wait until the right thing comes up."
On the day we meet, two high Victorian chests have caught his eye but he’s also considering bidding on an ornate, French ‘bureau de dame’ which is around 200 years old.
"You can’t buy these things in China. It doesn’t matter how much money you have," he says.
Wang and his wife favour Georgian and Victorian items. When he bids, it’s always with his personal card bearing the Chinese lucky number 888.
Across the room is another buyer just as keen on securing a slice of British history.
Lin Fan doesn’t just collect English antiques, she trades them as well back in China and her list of clients is growing.
She says she never goes home from an auction empty handed and often buys as many as 20 items at a time.
"Now the Chinese are rich and they want something different. We love the history."
Britain is awash with antiques changing hands week by week in auction rooms across the country.
Many of these items have survived world wars, woodworm and the worst of the British weather and now they’re heading for a new life thousands of miles from its shores.
With the Year of the Dragon well and truly upon us, England’s once moribund market for antiques is now finding what’s old is worth gold … and long may that continue.
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