Collectables Showcase Tom Thompson

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Tom Thompson knows collectables, specifically Australiana collectables, and as such has forged a name for himself as a Senior Specialist in Australiana and Memorabilia.

Tom will be visiting Port Macquarie on Australia Day as part of a Collectables Showcase, brought to town by the Tacking Point Lions Club. Tom told us more about his background in publishing and valuations in the lead up to his visit.

For those who don’t know of you, can you tell us about your profession and how long you have been in your industry.

I have been involved for over 30 years. I started out in publishing as the publisher of Australian Classic Authors; and because of that I worked with auction houses who were dealing with artworks, and I was associating with artists such as Brett Whiteley.

It became an accumulation; that as I had knowledge, I was being asked by the institutions and auction houses to describe the history of an image or text. Twenty years ago I went back to the ABC (in my youth I had been part of triple j) to do what they called “Valuing Australiana” on a show called Hidden Treasures over radio with Tony Delroy’s program, Nightlife. This program was a way for people all over Australia to ask me (for free) about say, sporting memorabilia, but it very quickly expanded due to the nature of the audience to an endless discussion about Australiana pop, paintings etc. 

That then further expanded, and I was working more formally with specific auctioneers – namely with Lawsons – Australia’s oldest auctioneer, to develop their Australiana division, and I did that because people were coming to me all the time, or I was sending them to a reputable auction house.

But at the base, I am a publisher. I resolve a mystery – whether it is resolving “who is that in the photo from 1877” or similar. Or, a text that has come out of the blue – is it valuable, who wrote it. It is like a detective game, and for that reason, I enjoy it.

In terms of memorabilia and art – what are the valuable items these days?

I’ll preface this by saying that the days of “limited edition”sporting memorabilia are over. Real collectors are chasing personal objects by famous people, whether they are sportsmen or the like – not just a signature, like they used to.

The reality is also that these days most people don’t have a “man cave” to hold oversized framed goods – they often choose to live in apartments. They go for perfectly crafted examples of Australiana, and that can be something as small as a kookaburra brooch, or perhaps something made from the diggings from gold in the goldfields from the 1860s.

In terms of paintings, at the top level of over $40,000 – $50,000 in value, you can see them holding their value. There is still great value in Brett Whiteley, John Brack, Margaret Preston for example, and interestingly a couple of the recent Archibald winners like Del Kathryn  Barton are actually highly prized – which is unusual for a contemporary artists who are not that old.

There is money out there, but money is being specifically spent on one offs, rather than a “series”, per se.

The same thing has happened with books – tiny handcrafted artists’ books are selling, but a small run of something like Tim Winton is not really jumping.

Paintings are as popular as ever, as is silver and gold and Melbourne Cups.

Fast forward 100 years, having lived in this current world of mass produced items, what are your thoughts and opinions on the definition of “antiques and collectables”? What do you see as having value then?

An example of this would be Barbie. Barbie has already been around for 50 years and will likely be around for another 50 or 100! The most collectable ones are the ones that have their boxes and even their blister packs. The drama though, is in the valuing, as it is a really a personal thing. If you really love something and think it is collectable because of your interest in it, then you need to start the process, and collect and maintain it.

And another example of current day collectables are, of course, the Coles minis (on a very small scale) – they are tradeable, so have a value that can be imparted with them. The Coles minis will have some value, because it is the first time that something of that scale has been available in Australia. In a way they’re like “souvenirs” that were in the show bags in the ‘50s or ‘60s – you would have things like tiny vegemite jars. But none of them are really around anymore, as no one collected them – even though it was the form of the “mini’.

I guess the reality is that with the digital age, a new book or digital image etc. will have no collector value, as so many copies exist. The future will be handcrafted, hand painted or hand written objects.

You are coming to Port Macquarie for the showcase on 26th Jan. What are you excited about seeing brought to you, or do you think you might uncover?

Well, you know – everything has a value, but not everything is valuable. So for example, someone younger might bring us a collection of old vinyl to see if it has value, or someone older might bring us pieces that they have had in the family for generations and might like to find out if it has a story. And we are very happy to look at those items; it is all about discovery! Sometimes it could be something as simple as a small glass vase that has been in the family for years, and people would like to know its origins.

So I say, bring along what you have, and let’s start a conversation!

Thanks Tom.


Locals can bring their items to the collectables tent on Town Green. 26th January, from 11am to 12pm and 1pm to 3pm.

Jewellery, silver, pottery, porcelain, scrimshaw, prison, convict, bushranger, sporting memorabilia and publications welcome.

Gold coin donation to Tacking Point Lions Club.

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