Lennox Cato’s Antique Furniture Essentials
Antiques Roadshow furniture specialist Lennox Cato was brought up in the antiques trade and embarked on his own career in the business after leaving school. His first shop was in the Lanes in Brighton, and he later moved to Lewes, in East Sussex. In 1997, he moved his business to Edenbridge, in Kent, and in 2007 he took over the adjacent shop and set up The Edenbridge Galleries, an antique center showcasing high-quality stock from specialists who are all members of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) and LAPADA, the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers.
Lennox was awarded Best Antiques Dealer in the South of England at the BACA Awards in 2003. In 2004, he was delighted to become an Antiques Roadshow specialist—especially since the program was one the whole family would sit down to watch on Sunday evenings. He never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would ever be a part of the show, but has enjoyed the experience immensely.
Lennox is a member of BADA. In 2004 he was appointed to the Council of the BADA, and in 2007 he spent a year as Country Vice Chairman. He is also a member of LAPADA and, more recently, NAVA (National Association of Valuers & Auctioneers). He is also a member of the Art Scholars Guild and a Freeman of the City of London.
What are some notable discoveries that have been made recently in your area of expertise?While filming for the Antiques Roadshow at Lulworth Castle back in 2012, I noticed a photograph of the interior of the castle before the great fire that happened in 1929. My producer had been asking me for some time to find something I could really crow about, and while looking at some photographs I pointed out an item of furniture and thought, “That’s the one!” I was later informed that the article in question had been saved from the fire due to a family dispute. It was taken to a major London auction room to be sold. As it happened, another member of the Weld family—the family that owns the castle—purchased it. If it remained in the castle it would have been burnt to a cinder. It was agreed that I’d make a recording with the senior Mr. Weld, as the son, who now owns the item, didn’t want to go on camera. If you managed to see this recording, some of you would have noticed that I was learning more about the item as the recording was in progress. I placed a replacement insurance value on this fine quality 18th-century kneehole desk at £200,000. This was the most highly valued piece of English antique furniture the series had ever had in over 30 years. The record was broken last year, 2013, when Christopher Payne advised on a leather-covered chest at Hampton Court Palace which was valued more highly due to its Royal provenance.
Later I saw the producer talk to the junior Mr. Weld, and he asked me what value I had put on the desk. “I put a replacement insurance value on it,” I said. “By the way, how much do you have it insured for?” Mr. Weld replied: “Its replacement insurance value is £200,000.” I was very pleased with myself for determining the same figure—and actually breathed a sigh of relief!
Amongst my own stock I have been very pleased to have purchased one of the finest burr walnut veneered cabinet on chests of the William & Mary period that I have come across. Needless to say, I did not have it very long; it was snapped up by a keen collector. It had provenance and remarkable condition. Two very important factors.
What are your top tips for an aspiring collector?
-Buy the best you can. Large collections are not necessary; five or eight fine items can be a collection.
-Buy from a dealer who is a member of a trade association like the BADA or LAPADA.
-Always trade up.
-Your eye will become more discerning the more you see and learn, so don’t be afraid to sell some of your earlier purchases to make room for better quality.
-When possible, don’t buy chipped, cracked, broken, or split unless it’s extremely rare. Why buy damaged goods when you can buy perfect?
-Buy because you love it, not because it’s cheap.
-Buy the best you can afford—but remember, there is always something better.
What should a collector ask to identify an item and avoid common pitfalls?
Trust the dealer or auctioneer, as they want you to come back. Build a good relationship, and take note of what they say.
-Ask if the item has been restored in any way. Some restoration is acceptable—to a limit.
-Ask if the item has any provenance.
-Ask: Can it authenticated?
What questions should a collector ask to determine the fair sale price of an item?
You should do your homework. The more you see, the more you learn; that goes for prices as well as quality. Buy from BADA or LAPADA dealers who you trust. And, at the end of the day you have to go by your gut instinct. There’s no rule book in this area.
What’s selling in today’s market?
Don’t buy what’s in fashion; if it’s in fashion, it will most certainly one day go out of fashion.
Instead, look for:
-Items with impeccable provenance.
-Items in good condition. Restoration is expensive and not always done well.
-Pieces that can be used in a 21st-century lifestyle.
What other questions do people ask you most frequently?
-“Will it go up in value?” This is buying for the wrong reason. Buy because you like it, not for its value.
-“What should I buy for investment?” If you buy for investment that means you will have to sell it, otherwise you will never see if it was a good or bad investment. Things go up and down in value just like the stock market.