Czech antiques exported in the 1990s finding their way back home

On Monday, the fourteenth annual Antiques Trade Fair came to a close in Prague. Some sixty dealers from all over the country offered everything from 19th and 20th century art to silverware and porcelain. Besides collectors and traditional buyers, the fair also attracted hundreds of people on the look-out for unique Christmas presents or antiques to decorate their homes. Dita Asiedu reports:

Several thousand visitors flock to Prague's Manes exhibition hall every year. Some come to buy antiques; others have dug up their old jewellery, silverware, or even tobacco tins and visit the fair to use the free consultations offered by professional art and antique valuers:

"Hello, my name is Jitka. This antique fair is for all kinds of antiques - you can find old porcelain, glass, jewellery, paintings, dolls, toys, and textiles such as national costumes. Ten years ago, the fair attracted older people, specialised dealers, and foreigners but now young people are also interested and I think it's really great for our business. They can find small things that are not too expensive and can start a collection."

The 1990s, art dealers agree, were the golden years of the Czech world of antiques. After forty years of Communist rule, precious art and antiques were returned to their original owners en masse. Unfortunately, much of it made its way abroad. But the country's valuable heritage appears to be gradually finding its way back home. I spoke to Petra Young, the Vice-President of the Czech Association of Antique Dealers about this new phenomenon and the state of the antique trade in the Czech Republic today:

"I think it's just a natural process. The country is getting richer and people are more aware of their heritage and they don't consider foreign goods so glamorous anymore. In the 1990s, after the country was virtually isolated for many years and people didn't have a chance to buy foreign goods, anything made in the west was in our eyes of a better value and quality. Now, people have become wiser, they have travelled and had a chance to see the world and other cultures and they are perhaps starting to appreciate their own culture more and are able to buy those items back."

If an antiques dealer were to call you from Germany, Austria, or some other foreign country and were to ask you whether it would pay off for him to come to a Czech trade fair, what would you say?

"It would depend on what the dealer had to offer and the prices too. I don't know the German market that well but I have been to the UK several times and I know that there are items that would sell very well in the Czech Republic. English furniture, for example, is very unusual on the Czech market and the prices - talking about generally used items and not the top market - are usually very competitive. A different story would be with English jewellery. That's because its purity is generally not high enough for the Czech market. English silver, for example, is of a lower purity than what we are used to."

What about Czech antiques abroad? What would sell very well?

"I still think that there are many painters whose works are of a very high quality but unknown abroad. The prices of oils are generally very low compared to what you pay for quality oils in the western countries. So, I think that if you did a careful selection of decorative oil paintings where it doesn't really matter who the author is, then I think you could do very well with that. I also know that on the English market Tonet furniture [from the Moravian town of Prerov] is very attractive. So, it depends on the country you travel to and you need to make a selection based on that. But we are also starting to get quite a lot of inquiries from the United States because the Americans are quite adventurous and they are happy to look at new authors and possibly invest in them."

Every year the proceeds of the sale of selected antiques at the trade fair go to charity. This year, they will be used to finance a project in Pilsen that helps families with children battling serious physical and mental disabilities.