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This Month: The US and Euro columns from the Autumn 2016 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Rod Labbe

The US Column
Rod Labbe looks at eBay and Barbie

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'nostalgia' as 'a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to some past period or irrecoverable condition'.

For me, a Baby Boomer who fondly recalls his idyllic childhood in the '50s and '60s, nostalgia is an irresistible force underscoring every aspect of my collecting habits. It's drawn me to seek out vintage toys, comic books, magazines, autographed photos, Christmas and Halloween decorations and so much more - travelling from town to city, village to borough, scouring basements, musty attics, closets and garages. Thrill of the hunt, combined with nostalgia: a recipe for excitement!

You're probably wondering, what's hot and what's not, as far as Baby Boomer collectables are concerned? Well, just about everything is HOT! The period from 1950 to 1970 was incredibly fertile, and any pop culture antique (yes, we're talking old) produced during that era is going to command a premium price on the secondary market. Those prices might discourage you, at first glance, but fear not, friends! I've the perfect solution for all your collecting needs... A shiny bauble called Ebay!

Created in 1997 by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar, eBay (www.ebay.com) is where enthusiasts and collectors buy and sell, with or without auction experience. Whatever beloved trinkets you thought irretrievably lost to time can be found on Ebay; all it takes is savvy, patience and a discerning eye. And once you've gotten the hang of participating in an auction - making bids, studying trends, reading feedbacks and waiting to see if you've won, etc. - you just might find yourself hooked.

I signed on 17 years back (an easy procedure) and am certainly glad I did! They've fulfilled wishes and fantasies, made me smile, and even supplied fodder for articles like this.

Here's an insider's tip: one Baby Boomer item you might seriously consider as a healthy Ebay investment is Barbie.

Barbie was the brainchild of Ruth Handler, who ran Mattel Toys stateside with husband Elliot. Handler noticed that their young daughter, Barb, loved paper dolls and collected several sets. Suddenly, an idea blossomed and she had an epiphany: Why not create a three-dimensional doll that could wear beautiful, breathtaking outfits, with each outfit sold separately?

Based on Germany's rather risqué Bild Lilli doll (who found her own divine inspiration in post-war 'women of the evening'!), Mattel's blonde, ponytailed and zebra swim-suited Americanised version debuted at the 1959 Toy Fair, held on March 9th (Barbie's official birthday) and caused an immediate sensation.

No toy dealer had ever seen a 'buxom' plaything, and they were afraid mums of the 1950s would not want such a toy for their little girls. Ah, but they misjudged Barbie's true appeal--

Barbie sold the clothes, and her clothes sold Barbie. She soon became an international phenomenon, thanks to advertisements cannily broadcast during Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club.

How can you distinguish a vintage Barbie, meaning pre-1975? The best clue is simple: watch for a ponytail. In the beginning, she went through many changes rapidly; six distinct ponytail Barbies existed before her 'bubblecut' (a hairstyle emulating the fashionable coif of First Lady Jackie Kennedy) period from 1961 to 1967.

Ebay is an excellent source for Barbie aficionados, from earlier issues to today's limited editions - including a startling line of Barbie porcelains called Timeless Treasures. You'll encounter vintage dolls, ensembles, carrying cases, houses, cars, games, numerous friends and family (boyfriend Ken, introduced in 1961; sister Skipper, introduced in 1964; best friend Midge, introduced in 1963). There was even a pet poodle.

Scrolling through page after page of Barbie-related paraphernalia is a heady, almost intoxicating experience. A word of caution - do your homework before buying or bidding on anything advertised as 'vintage.' It's not unheard of that dolls have had their faces repainted, or heads replaced. Not every seller is above board, so it pays to be on guard. Since we've touched on Barbie as a Baby Boomer icon, it's only fair we should give a wink and a nod to her hunky male counterpart, GI Joe. Created by Hasbro toys in 1964, Joe was a macho military man marketed strictly for boys. That he also happened to be an 11 1/2 inch doll spoke volumes. GI Joe completely revolutionised the toy industry and opened up a whole new arena. More on him next issue.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine
Judith Dunn

The Euro Column
Judith Dunn considers prospects for 2016

Forecasts for growth in GDP in 2016 in the European Union show the Irish and Eastern European countries' economies as growing fastest, with the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and even Greece and Spain somewhere in the middle. Trailing are Italy, Portugal Finland and France. Many factors such as individual expectations, employment conditions and legislation - as well as the starting point - inevitably affect the personal experience of people trying to make a living in these different countries. In January, France's finance minister proudly announced growth of 1.1% for 2015, slightly up on the forecast but still below the average. Analysts are not impressed, blaming stockpiling rather than real movement in the manufacturing sector. For retailers, including those in the art and antiques market, any encouragement is welcome.

SNCAO, the French antiques and brocante organisation, is looking forward to its flagship event at Chatou in March, based on healthy figures for both exhibitors and visitors in 2015. At the same time, it is campaigning against some aspects of French legislation which seem almost designed to work against the trade. At the top end, the plans to include works of art in calculating an individual's liability to wealth tax will inevitability impact negatively on the art market as far as home buyers are concerned. The knock-on effect will be an increased risk of French artistic heritage leaving the country, as overseas buyers see an opportunity and take it. Lower down the scale, the inexplicable new rule limiting cash sales to €1000 - down from €3000 - seems beyond crazy. Trade antiques events are cash based. Imagine proffering a credit card at Le Mans, Chartres or Avignon! Or even at Chatou. Cheques are history - too many fraud stories... And this move is not even in line with legislation in other EU countries, putting the French trade at an economic disadvantage it really does not need.

Other constraints on small businesses abound in France. As of 1 January, even if they have only one employee, they have to provide comprehensive health cover. I may be wrong, but in the UK it seems to be mainly the high-profile professions that do this. Then, if they stand at fairs on an occasional basis, dealers need a card to prove they are an 'itinerant dealer' - even if they also have permanent shop premises. And brocante organisers must beware of putting signs on roads outside towns or villages. The only signs allowed are for local produce, a museum or monument or a cultural event. A brocante, even if it is the town's community focus and a cultural event per se, does not qualify because it involves buying and selling.

SNCAO's Ethical Committee met in October for the first time since 2013. The aim was to bring together dealers, the press and fair organisers in order to take stock of the state of play in the trade and suggest some ways forward. All levels of the trade were represented, but whether as individuals or speaking for others was not clear. Opinions differed as to the outcome. SNCAO found the process positive and looks forward to the next meeting, planned for spring 2016. One organiser described the process as 'une catastrophe'. Emphasised - in case I hadn't understood - as 'une ca-ta-strophe!' Right. It appears that organisers feel they do not get properly focussed publicity for their events from the press, whose representatives are not sufficiently aware of the trade and the market. The press criticised organisers for their communication skills - or lack thereof. More anon. But if you are planning a visit to France in 2016, please do support trade events and brocantes. They are great fun and there are serious bargains to be had. Contact ACPP if you need any more information and Julie will put you in touch.

Controversial legislation is cause for debate in Germany and Italy as well. Concern about looting of cultural sites is behind the strengthening of legal requirements proposed in the German Cultural Property and Heritage bill, about to come up in the Bundestag. Notably, items worth more than €300,000 and more than 70 years old will need an export licence if they are bought by a foreigner. If any legal dispute arises, owners of cultural goods worth more than €2500 will have to demonstrate 20 years' provenance. For items of archaeological value, the ceiling will be €100. Unsurprisingly, goods are already reported to be leaving Germany to be sold elsewhere. Restrictive export laws already exist in Italy, dating back to 1909. Italian art dealers are lobbying for their relaxation, to give a boost to a market much in need of refreshment.

2015 in France began and ended with terrorist attacks. I was in Paris on November 13, a beautiful day. I visited an exhibition of Florentine art, then the Paris-Photo exhibition at the Grand Palais before strolling along the Champs-Elysées, among the Christmas markets, and heading to the theatre for the evening performance and dinner with friends. We all know how the evening ended. The migrant crisis is causing havoc in several countries, especially France, Germany, Italy and Greece. It is to be hoped that society and the trade can sail into calmer waters in 2016.

Australia's Most Informative & Entertaining Antiques Magazine