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The recovery was again marked for walnut, although Victorian and dining furniture continue to fall victim to fashion.

The Antique Furniture Index (AFI), which began in 1968, is based on a blend of retail and auction prices – many of them now available via comprehensive internet coverage – for 1400 typical (rather than exceptional) pieces of furniture from seven different periods pictured in John Andrews’ book, British Antique Furniture.

The Index does not reflect the volume of items traded, which, to the detriment of many furniture dealers, remains low in a cautious market.

Historically, the AFI has tended to track, and even better, the fortunes of house prices in the South of England, but since 2002 when the AFI registered the first of four consecutive years of decline, the two lines on the graph have begun to diverge.

This year’s index figure, which sees no significant change on that recorded in 2007 (the overall rise is around half of one per cent), accentuates the trend.

In very selective and discriminating conditions, collectors and furnishers have led a mild recovery in traditional purchasing.

Closer analysis of the figures suggests that by the end of 2006 there was an improvement in good walnut (+5%) while regional demand for country (+2%) and oak (+1%) remains sturdy.

However, signs of a modest recovery were offset by the fall from grace of some types of furniture (as formal dining fades into history, so demand for dining chairs has dropped) and another further fall of seven per cent in the Early Victorian index, something that reflects the give-away pricing of much routine 19th century furniture at auction. Last year this category nosedived 13 per cent.

The separate Victorian and Edwardian Price Index, started by Mr Andrews in 1973, also continues to fall. This was the area that showed spectacular gains in the 1980s but fell by a further two per cent in 2007, following a fall of seven per cent in 2006.

Had the index been based on auctions only (where there is still little enthusiasm for the late 19th and early 20th century reproductions that so often fill the ‘brown’ category), the declines here would have been more substantially marked.

As always, a fuller analysis by AFI compiler John Andrews is published in the February edition of Antique Collectors’ Club magazine Antique Collecting.

By Roland Arkell