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While contemporary art, silver, jewellery and militaria were strong performing sub-sectors, the 70 respondents showed little confidence in the markets for all but the very best furniture, clocks, ceramics and pictures.

For the three months to June, 20 per cent more ‘surveyors’ (most but not all the contributors were auctioneers) reported a fall rather than a rise in furniture lot values.

While 12 per cent more surveyors reported a rise rather than a fall at the upper end of the market (over £5000), they were far more downbeat about the performance of the mid and lower tiers of this area of the market. Here the net balances were -21 (for prices between £1000-5000) and -51 respectively (for prices up to £1000).

To a lesser extent this picture, emphasising the polarisation that exists between the best and the rest, was repeated for clocks, for ceramics and for oils and watercolours.

As metal prices remain high, 32 per cent more surveyors reported a rise rather than a fall in silver lot prices and 24 per cent a rise in jewellery prices. Here market strength was more or less evenly distributed across all price tiers.

Militaria was also seen as a growth area and one where neither of the three price brackets materially outperformed any of the other ones.

This is one of several new categories introduced for the second survey, namely: books, jewellery, toys, militaria, oils and watercolours, and contemporary art. The latter two categories have replaced ‘paintings’ in the first survey to help respondents differentiate between the fortunes of traditional and post-War pictures.

For the three months to June, 48 per cent more surveyors reported a rise in contemporary art prices.

Asked how they see outlook over the next quarter, 11 per cent more surveyors expect the number of lots they will offer to decline rather than rise – a result, thought many, of a slowing down in property transactions – while 25 per cent more surveyors expect the number of buyers at auction to fall.

The ‘credit crunch’, the weak dollar and the decline in number of antique dealers were all listed as mitigating factors.

Surrey auctioneer Chris Ewbank commented: “Compared to the situation three months ago I feel that the market is becoming nervous owing to general economic conditions. There are signs of dropping levels of confidence in the trade.”

The quarterly survey of ‘sentiment’ among its 140 art and antiques surveyors was launched in April by the RICS whose statistics department publish a popular monthly appraisal of the housing market survey. The RICS Art & Antiques Market Survey works on much the same model: asking professionals their opinions about different aspects of the market – whether it is ‘falling’, ‘the same’ or ‘rising’.

Results had been surprisingly positive for the first quarter of 2008. Some 36 per cent of those questioned felt prices had generally risen between the beginning of January and the end of March with only 16 per cent opining they had fallen.