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Finance: TREASURE HUNTERS; TV expert JAMES BREESE'S tips on making the most of the world of antiques and collectables.

Byline: JAMES BREESE'

QWE have inherited a collection of 27 ceramic Beswick birds, with the biggest - an eagle with outstretched wings - around 8ins tall. Most were bought in the '70s and '80s. How much for insurance, if anything? - Mrs Bradshaw, Swadlincote, Derbyshire.

A BESWICK porcelain is now world famous and very collectable. The extensive sets of creatures have included horses, dogs, cats and even the valuable Beatrix Potter figures. The most exciting birds are the famous "flying" wall plaques, which can be worth hundreds for a set such as four seagulls or mallards. You've probably got quite a valuable collection worth pounds 1,500 to pounds 3,000. It may include the Blue Pigeon (discontinued in 1989) which makes pounds 130, the Magpie (discontinued in 1982) which is worth pounds 145 or even the Yellow and Green Parrot - worth pounds 125. Your eagle might be the Osprey figure worth around pounds 100.

I would get a valuation in person on these well-crafted items.

QI WON first prize in the Blue Peter Save Of The Century competition. It was an autographed football, signed by both teams from an England v Italy match in 1977. I have all the letters of authenticity. Could you value this for me please? - Adrian Brownlow, Hucknall, Notts.

A SIGNED footballs pop up frequently as many are given as gifts for charity. They are also less desirable than a good, framed photograph. This is because the signatures can fade quite easily from the ball's surface. The match referred to would have been the World Cup Group 2 qualifying match. This item is still worth pounds 100 to pounds 150. Readers can contact auctioneers Trevor-Vennet Smith (0115 983 0541) for advice. Their next football sale is in March. Your Blue Peter badge will be worth a few quid as well!

QMY sister and I both have the full collection of piggy banks from the NatWest. Can you tell me what a complete set in excellent condition is worth these days? - Caroline Dutton, Lancashire.

A THESE charming money boxes were made by Wade and released in 1983 for young customers. They created a terrific amount of interest and stimulated a growing army of early collectors. I get many piggy queries but it is unusual to have two complete sets - to be eligible for the last one (the dad, Sir Nathaniel), kids had to save pounds 500. There were five characters given away in total and a complete set is worth between pounds 300 and pounds 400 in mint condition. The first iron money boxes from the 1850s to 1860s are the hardest to find and can make huge amounts.

-JAMES Breese cannot answer questions personally but send them to: Treasure Hunters, Sunday Mirror, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP or email j.breese@sundaymirror.co.uk

Instant Expert

MODERN Christmas was a Victorian discovery and decorating a Christmas tree was not popular until the mid-19th Century. Initially sweets were used, but it was the fabulous glass ornaments produced in Lauscha, Germany, and sold in Britain from the 1880s that really made it fashionable. These original "kugels" can fetch hundreds of pounds per item.

Breese's Basics

EDWARDIAN "snow babies" used for tables or cakes are one of the most collectable decorations. They sometimes sell for pounds 120 a piece. The Fontanini family's hand-painted "heirloom" nativity sets are legendary - and still made today after 100 years.

How Much Did You Say?

IN Soviet era Russia many non-Christian decorations were produced using scraps and papier-mache. Some of these figures are very rare and valuable - a rare Grandfather Frost figure can make pounds 400-plus. The rarest Fontanini nativity figures such as the Gloria Angel can make over pounds 100.

The Real Deal

AFTER the Second World War, the German grip on the Christmas decorations market was replaced by the Americans with the best Christmas tree lights and the Japanese who prevailed with ornaments. It is still possible to unearth valuable German antique glass items, as families keep them boxed and only bring them out once a year.

CAPTION(S):

FOCUS ON Christmas decorations
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 16, 2001
Words:682
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