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The recovery was particularly marked for the better 18th century mahogany and walnut, although Victorian furniture continues to be the victim of fashion.

The Antique Furniture Index (AFI), which began in 1968, is based on a blend of retail and auction prices for 1000 typical (rather than exceptional) 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. This year’s index figure, which sees no significant change on that recorded in 2006, accentuates the trend. The Mars Bar Index – an indicator of retail price movement not subject to statistical gerrymandering – remained stable, but in late 2006 the FT250 share index also went on upwards very strongly, also crossing the ACC Index for the first time. In short, the statistics suggest a share portfolio is now surpassing standard antique furniture as a long-term investment.

This year’s inertia in the AFI compares with falls of seven per cent in 2005, six in 2004, three in 2003 and two in 2002.

Closer analysis of the figures suggests that by the end of 2006 there was an improvement in good walnut (+4%) and early mahogany furniture (+7%), and even late mahogany furniture recorded a fractional rise (+1%). However, signs of a modest recovery were offset by another further heavy fall of 13 per cent in the Early Victorian index, something that reflects the give-away pricing of much routine 19th century furniture at auction.

While exceptional pieces can buck the trend, Early Victorian furniture is now deemed to have lost close to half its value since late 2001, when the watershed took place. The separate Victorian and Edwardian Price Index also continues to nosedive and has also lost a crashing 46 per cent since 2003. This was the area that showed spectacular gains in the 1980s but, falling by seven per cent in 2006, it is now back to the level it had achieved in 1993. Had the Index been based on auctions only (where prices are now discounted heavily), the declines here would have been more substantially marked.

A full analysis by AFI compiler John Andrews is published in the February edition of Antique Collectors’ Club magazine Antique Collecting.

By Roland Arkell