8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 58

Gathering nuts

Harry Mount

arely had it landed on its final flight than 1./Concorde was being stripped for collectors, And it's only a couple of weeks before the first auction related to the aircraft, Christie's Souvenirs du Concorde, takes place in Paris on 15 November. Want a nose cone? It'll need some explaining before your dinner-party guests can work out what it is: detached from the fuselage, it looks more like a 9 ft Ku Klux Klan hat than the most famous bit of the most famous plane ever. And it'll cost you £10,000.

If that's outside your budget, you can go for a cabin window panel, signed — with handprints — by members of the Concorde maintenance team: yours for £100.

That's the thing about collections. If you want to charge the earth for anything, all you need is another obsessive who wants your Concorde nose cone more than you do. Choose the right thing, and you're away. John Rezinkoff. of Connecticut, plumped for celebrity hair as his speciality and now has a collection of more than 115 locks. His brief is a tight one: he sticks to real A-List samples. His prize piece, for which he was offered $50,000, belonged to Abraham Lincoln. He is eagerly on the lookout for hair belonging to other presidents and his real dream is to get hold of the long, dank strands that dropped down around the edge of Shakespeare's bald patch.

The great spiritual home of the collector of odd things is the Internet site eBay (www.ebay.co.uk). It might be Garfield dolls; it might be weight-loss pills; it might be ouija boards: they're all there. You log on, place a bid and, if it's not topped by another bid in the time allotted, the thing is yours. At the moment, there's a Roy of the Rovers 1981 annual (condition: 'Nice') going for £4.25, a Giles cartoons Christmas book for £4.99, and a Stormtrooper Action Man for £82. And it's not just trivia; first editions can be picked up on the cheap. At the last time of looking, there was a Lucky Jim going for £100, an Edward Ardizzone 1937 first edition, Lucy Brown and Mr Grimes, for £87, and a Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife, for £500.

But if you're not interested in selling, you don't even need the existence of other collectors to justify your own. You could get up tomorrow and, like Graham Parker, from Perth, Australia, decide to start collecting your own navel fluff. He began in 1984 and now has up to half an ounce of the stuff, which he keeps in his bathroom.

If you are serious about collecting for money as well as, like Mr Parker, indulging your taste for things beautiful, certain fields are booming. Cinema posters are in vogue, particularly anything to do with Humphrey Bogart. A mint poster for Key Largo, which he starred in with Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson, goes for £5,000. And, if you can get your hands on an original Casablanca poster, you may equal the European auction records, held by a Casablanca poster in French, mind — which went for £54.300 in 2000.

James Bond, too, is an excellent brand, constantly improving and still affordable, A mint Dr No poster goes for £900. Oddjob's steel-rimmed bowler from Goldfinger went for £62,000 in 1998. In fact, anything Ian Flemingrelated is quickly snapped up. His goldplated typewriter went for £55,750 in 1995 — still the auction record for a typewriter.

Celebrity generally is on the up. Antiquity matters less than fame: Fred Perry's Slazenger racket, which he used at Wimbledon in the 1930s, fetched £23,000 recently. The red England shirt worn by Geoff Hurst when he scored his hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup Final went for £91,750.

And it doesn't have to be 'good' celebri ty. The nasty stuff is just as popular. An American Waltham gilt-metal pocket watch — the one that Dr Crippen wore when he killed his wife and dismembered her body, that he then wore on his escape to America, where he was apprehended (the first murderer to be caught by the aid of telegraphy) — went to a rich ghoul for £10,350 in 1997, Quirkiness is all very well. But what about the things that just plain look nice while quietly gathering value in the corner of the sitting-room? Furniture and pictures still dominate the auction rooms, and there are still bargains to be picked up. You can buy a picture of the Holy Family, after Rubens, a variation of the picture in the Prado; or a Madonna, after Raphael, for a grand.

If you've been taken by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Pre-Raphaelite collection at the Royal Academy and want to follow in the melodic peer's footsteps, it's not difficult, Lord Lloyd-Webber is still kicking himself about the time he missed out on Lord Leighton's Flaming June, going for £50 in a Fulham Road junk shop in the early Sixties. A few years later, it failed to meet its reserve price of £100. It was then promptly snapped up by the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico where it has remained ever since. In 1990, Leighton's Dante in Exile, a far less significant work, fetched £1 million at auction, Flaming Tune would be expected to reach at least £10 million, a cool 20,000,000 per cent return on the Fulham Road price tag.

That sort of bargain may not be floating round any more, but that sort of thing is. Last month at Christie's South Kensington, you could get hold of An Amorous Advance, in the manner of Dante Gabriel Rossetti — Renaissance poet-type in red cloak and biretta moves in for snog with Cruella De Vil figure, all wizard's sleeves and thigh-length ponytails — for £600. If that's outside your price range, perfectly decent landscapes of the 19thcentury English school were being knocked down at three or four hundred quid a go.

The market in furniture, too, is good value at the moment, and is often not much more expensive than the reproduction equivalent: a modern version of a George III mahogany kneehole desk goes for £700. The real thing can be picked up for £2,000. Brown furniture is all over the place and is correspondingly cheap: a set of six Regency mahogany dining chairs can be yours for £800. A pair of Gothic French oak dwarf bookcases goes for about £1,000.

If these figures seem stratospheric, just lower your targets and drop into the price range and product that best fit your wallet — as Graham Parker from Perth, Australia, could tell you, even navel-gazing brings its own rewards.