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The Antique Furniture Index, launched in 1968, is based on a blend of retail and auction prices for 1000 typical pieces of furniture from seven different periods pictured in John Andrews’ book, British Antique Furniture. Mr Andrews started the separate Victorian and Edwardian Furniture Price Index in 1973.

Historically, the AFI has tended to track, and even better, the fortunes of house prices in the South of England, but since 2002 the two lines on the graph have begun to diverge – with the furniture index now declining for four successive years.

The Index also allows comparison with inflation (the Mars Bar Index) and the stock market. Shares tracked by the FT250 Index, that were judged to have fallen by as much as a third in 2002, continued their recovery and, theoretically, are now close to equalling antique furniture are as long-term investment.

This year’s slide in the AFI compares with falls of six per cent in 2004, three per cent in 2003 and two per cent in 2002.

The summary table of results shows that – although they still hold first and second place in relative growth over the period covered by the Index – even the usually dependable Country and Oak sectors fell by six per cent and five per cent respectively. Exceptional pieces will always buck the trend but Regency and Early Victorian furniture sectors went down by eight per cent and 8.5 per cent and walnut by seven per cent.

The basket of pieces of Early Victorian furniture is now deemed to have lost over 35 per cent in value since late 2001, when the watershed took place.

Providing statistical support to the observation that late 19th century furniture is unfashionable, the separate Victorian and Edwardian Price Index has lost 40 per cent since 2001 and, falling another 11 per cent in 2005, is now back to its mid-1990s level. Had the Index been based on auctions only (where prices can be discounted heavily), the declines here would have been more substantially marked.

With bargains aplenty – some forms such as dining chairs and bureaux are particularly well-priced – AFI compiler John Andrews believes “there has not been a better time for collectors to buy since the late 1970s and the mid-1990s when similar falls took place. Some prosperous people are realising this and that may affect prices over the next 12 months.”

He also anticipates that the market will soon bottom out.

“The last decline, in the mid-1990s, lasted some four to five years before recovery took place. This one started after September 2001 and in late 2006 will have endured for five years.”