THE sun is shining and it's time to unearth the family picnic set. And for those with expensive tastes, that can mean dusting off a hamper worth £30,000.
Tim Bent, who runs Bentley's, an exclusive Kensington store specialising in antique and vintage travel and picnic accessories, says prices at the top end of the market are rising fast.
'A wicker picnic case from about 1918, which folds out into a table and has place settings for four people, starts at about £5,000. But five years ago the price was nearer £1,500 to £2,000,' he says. 'Less than £5,000 would recently have been enough for the very best Twenties picnic hamper, but today collectors have to spend about £30,000 for an absolute top-of-the-range example.'
Bent also recently sold a Twenties picnic case that unfolds into a mahogany table with place settings for four people. It was on sale for £25,000, but found a buyer immediately.
Fortunately, it is possible to picnic in style for rather less. The website www.icollector.com lists forthcoming auction catalogues and has a search engine that allows potential buyers to type in an area of interest, such as picnic sets, and bring up, from those companies on the site, all such items featuring in sales across the country.
For example, using this search brought up Phillips Auctioneers' paintings, furniture and works of art sale on 18 July at Knowle, near Birmingham. This might seem an unlikely auction in which to pick up a picnic set, but on offer was a leather set that included a fluted cup and saucer, screw-top milk flask, matches case, rectangular kettle and burner, spirit container, sugar and tea container and silver spoon. It sold for £199. Certainly, Fifties and Sixties Brexton boxed picnic sets for one or two people are not difficult to find at car boot sales for under £10.
Bent says: 'These are often sold to classic car enthusiasts who want to have all the right accessories on board. If they have Morris Minors or MGs, then the Brexton sets are ideal in terms of size and style. They certainly add a bit of originality and panache.'
If your budget is larger, then the right classic car will probably come with a bespoke picnic set as standard.
When Bonhams & Brooks held its recent sale of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Sedanca de Ville was sold for £78,500.
Not only was the model favoured by the likes of Noel Coward and Sir Malcolm Campbell, but this example had a stunning-array of summer-style fixtures and fittings. The rear cocktail cabinet, for example, contained decanters and bottles, his-and-hers vanity sets, a complete picnic hamper and hisandhers silver topped walking canes.
Buying the individual items to go inside such hampers can be difficult, however. Bent says: 'These sets were originally commissioned by people for whom money was no object. The point was to have the best and most fashionable picnic set, so everything would be made individually to fit the case, which had itself to fit the car.
'As a result, it is nearly impossible to find a replacement item if one is lost or damaged. Many people recommission one to be made to match.'
He says owners of individual picnic set items could be sitting on a seasonal goldmine for this very reason. One piece of a carbased collection could be the last item a collector needs, and one for which a top price will be paid.