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The biggest ever 12-month drop in the index, it reflects lukewarm bidding at auction and thin trading at retail outlets.

The AFI, which stood at 100 at its inception in 1968 and reached a historic high of 3492 points in 2003, moved downwards from 2942 to 2736, due to falls in all seven of its constituent indices.

It was last at this level in 1998.

Volume was undoubtedly down as vendors wait for better times. London salerooms, in particular, sold conspicuously fewer lots of furniture in 2009, and even previously dependable stalwarts such as oak (-5%) and country furniture (-9%) were hit hard as buyers grew increasingly picky against a gloomy economic background.

The results are disappointing after two years when, as the index remained static, some kind of recovery was anticipated.

The AFI is derived from a variety of 1400 typical, rather than exceptional, pieces of antique furniture from seven distinct periods or categories illustrated and charted in the ACC book, British Antique Furniture. The number crunching is based on both auction and retail prices recorded across the country, although, more than ever, compiler John Andrews observed the greatest number of transactions taking place at auction.

Here much 19th century furniture has been selling for drastically reduced prices – the Regency index (-8%) is one of the worst hit since the market turned in 2001 – and a long list of once desirable furniture forms have lost ground, particularly those associated with the flight from formal dining and entertaining.

The separate Victorian & Edwardian index, started in 1973 and once the recipient of spectacular gains, continues to plummet. Standard late 19th and early 20th century cabinetmaking continues to languish among the unfashionable and it dropped a further 12 per cent, mirroring double-digit falls in recent years.

As usual, there were some spectacular sales at the ‘top end’, but as the quantity of high-quality pieces brought to the market diminished, even these ‘exceptions to the rule’ were less abundant than in the previous year.

By contrast, the financial and property indices, for many years bettered by the Index, showed some recovery. There is hope the furniture market may benefit from any return of economic confidence in the longer term.

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