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The Value of a Signature

storyOlive Schreiner’s conversational guide.

What would “A Tourist’s Conversational Guide” in French, German and Italian, published in 1912 be worth today? R50 perhaps? More realistically, would there even be a buyer for a publication with such limited appeal? Bear in mind that there would have been millions of copies printed in the first place. Therefore, these travel booklets can hardly be classified as scarce. Sadly, its current value probably lies more in its pulping potential.

But hold on a moment. What if the softcover booklet belonged to Olive Schreiner (1855–1920), celebrated author of the 19th-century South African classic, “The Story of an African Farm”? What would its value be then? “James Findlay from JellyFishTree explains”: Provenance is a very important aspect when determining the value of an item. So, when one sees such a hallowed South African literary figure’s name inscribed in her own hand into what was once her own travel guide, this feature becomes of instant interest to serious Africana collectors. Essentially, one is paying for the autograph value of Olive Schreiner’s signature. But it’s more than that. The guide is dog-eared and amateurishly repaired with Sellotape, which leads one to think that this guide came into good use by the writer on her travels to foreign countries.

Another clue in support of this notion is that she added, in her own hand, her home address at the time: 30 St Mary Abbotts Terrace, Kensington, London, England. In 1911, Schreiner left South Africa for England, where she was to receive medical treatment for her attacks of angina. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, she remained in London until 1919. It must have been at this time that she bought the conversational guide. Schreiner lived in England and various European cities during those seven exiled years. She died shortly after returning to the Cape in 1920. During her time in England, Schreiner wrote about pacifism and women’s rights, corresponding with great intellectual allies, like Mahatma Gandhi and Emily Hobhouse. Ever since the publication of “The Story of an African Farm” in 1883, Schreiner has been considered one of South Africa’s most influential writers. Most of her manuscript material is held in museums and other institutional collections. Very little signed material is available on the open market. This personally inscribed booklet will be on sale at the next Collectable Book Fair for R4 500.

Come Dine With Me - In Style

Much of our entertaining is done around food and a table - thus making the dining room an important space in our homes.

During the pre-revolutionary era most houses were very small in comparison to today’s standards. The typical first floor plan of an individual’s home consisted of two principal rooms – the parlour and the hall, divided by only an entrance or a stair hall. In a Colonial home, the parlour was the finest room of them all. This is where you received your guests and entertained them. These rooms were furnished with the very best and would have typically included large sets of chairs, card and tea tables, gilt mirrors and a clock – which was the single most valuable piece in those times. The question on your lips might be – then where did the family and their guests dine in such houses? Literally in any room – it would depend on various factors such as the weather, amount of guests, the occasion, importance of the guest, the sex etc.. 

The earliest surviving type of dining table is the trestle table used in the Middle Ages. Since the top was made from long wooden planks resting on trestles, such antique dining tables could be dismantled and moved to the side of the hall when space was needed for other activities.

By the mid-16th century, however, it had become more common for the master and his family to eat in a separate room, and more permanent tables evolved. The term refectory table has been applied to these early “solid” tables since the 19th century. Styles varied, but such tables were popular all over Europe. 

In the mid-17th century antique gate-leg dining tables, which had flaps that could be folded down when the table was not in use became popular for dining. Initially, these tables were often quite large - up to 8 feet in diameter - but as time went by and it became fashionable to use several small tables rather than one large one, they became smaller.




japaneseantiqueFamily find £6.3 million Japanese antique at home

Courtesy: Radhika Sanghani and Agencies Source: &

A family have been turned into millionaires after their ‘TV stand’ proved to be worth £6.3 million. The wooden chest, which was being used as a TV stand and drinks cabinet, was a Japanese antique worth millions.

When a French engineer passed away, his family decided to put his items on auction. It turned out that a 5-feet wooden chest the engineer bought for only 130 dollars in 1970 at a private sale and used as a TV stand, was actually worth millions. At the auction, the Japanese antique chest was bought by the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam for around 8 million dollars.

The French engineer’s acquisition of the chest began when a Polish doctor, who was oblivious of the wooden chest’s real value, sold the antique to the engineer for only 130 dollars in London in 1970. The chest, crafted from cedar wood and intricately designed with gold lacquer, was made by Kaomi Nagashige, a master artisan from Kyoto in 1640. “The French engineer, thinking the chest to be of little value, used it as a TV stand.” said Menno Fitski, curator of the Rijksmuseum. “He also kept his drinks collection inside it,” he added. The container, made of cedar wood and gold lacquer, was identified as a lost Japanese chest dating back to 1640.

Fitski says this has to be one of the bargains of the century. Even the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has been searching for the 300-year old chest, believed to be one of only ten existing in the world, since 1941. “The thing to note about this chest is that it is the best of the best. It was the best when it was made and the same still applies today.” said Fitski. The wooden chest is said to have been made on commission for the Dutch East India Company.


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