My best auction buy: Mark Hill

Mark Hill, author, publisher and TV presenter

Antiques expert Mark Hill

Mark Hill

Mark Hill is a familiar face on television, regularly featuring as an expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. An esteemed antiques, collectables and 20th century design expert and author, as well as a leading dealer in post war Czech glass, we caught up with Mark to find out all about his favourite auction find.

Tell us about your favourite auction buy.

I’ve bought many pieces via, but one of my favourites is a free-blown glass sculpture made in 1972 at the Royal College of Art by influential studio glass pioneer, sculptor and artist Sam Herman (1936-2020).

Sam Herman glass sculpture

The 1972 free-blown glass sculpture by Sam Herman (1936-2020).

Why do you love it so much?

I’ve long been a fan of Sam’s work in glass and have built up a small collection over the years. In my opinion, his work has been enormously under-rated – but things are definitely changing and prices are rising due to his importance to 20th century art and decorative arts. He introduced the new studio glass techniques to the UK in 1966, became an influential teacher at the RCA and internationally, had a retrospective at the V&A in 1971, and his work was often shown and sold alongside that of his contemporary Hans Coper. He was a globally successful artist.

Sculptures are so much rarer than vessels and this piece also demonstrates one of the core themes behind Sam's work, the different postures taken by humans. Sam said: “The human torso is a very beautiful thing. The way a person postures themselves reveals their personality…Once you start playing with that, it becomes interesting.”

Where did you find it?

It popped up in a Mallams auction in 2017, perfectly catalogued. Which is great, of course, but it worried me – how much competition would there be? Sweaty palms aren’t just for being in the saleroom itself, but also happen when you’re bidding online! Thankfully, I was able to grasp my mouse firmly enough to buy it just within my budget.

Was there a particular reason you bought it?

Once I saw it, I had to have it. There’s movement and energy. There’s colour. There’s rarity. There’s a feeling for understanding the magical mercurial material of glass itself, another core theme in Sam’s work. “Glass is a dance of immediacy,” he said. And it fits in with the genesis of using glass as an artistic medium, something that was allowed by the new studio glass techniques developed in the US during the early 1960s.

Do you have any stories about it?

I had been lucky enough to get to know Sam a little over the years, and I was delighted when I was asked in 2018 to interview him to write a couple of chapters of a landmark monograph book on his life and work. I’d usually visit Sam and his wife at their home but, one time, they visited me. The sculpture lives in an alcove in our kitchen and dining room and, as soon as Sam saw it, he smiled, asked me where I got it. He said with a wry smile: “I won’t give you the satisfaction of telling you that that is one of the pieces I was most happy with.” His comment really made me smile and it’s featured in a full page in the book on him published by Lund Humphries.

Where does it live now?

It’s still on display in the alcove, where I pass and can see it many times a day. Although I deal in 20th century glass, that’s where it’s staying. This one is definitely a keeper.

Whether you are a regular collector of glass, or just starting out, there is always a good selection of glassware from different periods and styles on Find out more about collecting glass in our Buying Guide.


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