An old university friend got in touch with my wife Frances last week and invited us for lunch.  We’re going next Monday.  Anne and Bill live in Fife, about 50 miles from us, in a big converted farm steading with integral stables for their horses and donkeys.  We don’t see them very often but have been friends for well over 40 years and it’s always good to meet up with them and talk about our children and grandchildren, and how retirement is treating us, and all the latest news about our aches and pains and age-related ailments.

Do we discuss Random Treasure? No.  Then why are these people in the blog?  Ah yes, there’s a reason.  Anne’s mother, who lived in a granny annexe to the main house, died at a great age a few months ago.  They are clearing her possessions, which include a collection of ceramics.  And since Roger knows about ceramics, can he please have a look and advise us?  All we know about them is that they were brought back from the south of France, where Helen had an apartment for many years. She liked going to markets and came back with this stuff.

That’s the sum total of my knowledge thus far.  I’ll know more next week and will report on it if there’s anything interesting to report.  But it’s just the kind of request that starts my Random Treasure-hunting juices flowing.  I get this kind of request increasingly often, from friends or acquaintances dispersing collections left by deceased relatives and don’t know where to start.  They have heard that I know a bit about antiques, and they ask me for help.

I’m delighted to help where I can, and absolutely not for mercenary reasons.  If there’s anything of value in the collection, I won’t be trying to get my hands on it to make a fat profit for myself.  What’s important and pleasurable for me is seeing and handling and researching and identifying the objects, and for that, you don’t need to be the owner or a dealer.  So if I find something in a friend’s collection which has some value, then I’ll get just as much enjoyment from seeing it properly identified and sold to increase their wealth as I would if I were the owner and the profit were mine.

Of course it’s also true that one of the main sources of Random Treasure is the continual flow of unrecognised objects cleared from the homes of the dead by heirs or executors and either given to charity shops or consigned in bulk to local auction houses.  And if that’s where I find a valuable item which has become detached from its identity and provenance, then I regard it as fair game to be bought cheap to be kept or to be re-sold in the hope of a profit.  I expect to have more – possibly much more – to say on this subject in future postings.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing our friends and looking at the collection of ceramics.  I know that they are from France, but nothing else.  So what might I expect?  I hadn’t seen Helen for many years and had never seen the inside of her house.  But she was a great lady and I imagine she would have been a person of good taste and a buyer of quality items.  Which leaves plenty of scope for speculation about what kinds of things she might have collected.

Pottery plate made and decorated in Vallauris, France by the celebrated designer and potter Roger Capron. Found in a charity shop in Edinburgh

Maybe it’s porcelain from the great factories in Paris or Limoges.  Or maybe old French faience, the gorgeous tin-glazed earthenware made by artisans for hundreds of years in towns and villages all over the country.  Or perhaps she had a twentieth-century taste for wares from Vallauris, the ceramics town favoured by Picasso and other modernist luminaries for their occasional experiments with making and decorating pots.  It’s possible, because Vallauris is not very many miles from Villefranche where Helen’s apartment was.  Anything’s possible, including total disappointment.  But I must admit that I’m getting quite excited.

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