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Dennis Buggins, former Kent-based fine furniture restorer and owner of Extreme Architecture architectural salvage, has settled his long-running dispute with semi-retired London fine antique dealer John Hobbs.

Roland Arkell of the Antiques Trade Gazette reported that Hobbs v Extreme Architecture came before the High Court in London last week but, on the strong recommendation of the judge, the two parties settled out of court. Hobbs sued in December 2007 for the return of £2m antiques plus interest and damages, although most of these claims were abandoned earlier this year. Buggins was countersuing for £400,000 for fees, materials and storage charges for which he had invoiced Hobbs shortly after the termination of their relationship in August 2007, but which remained unpaid.

Following summary submissions in the High Court, Mr Justice Field said: "This should never have come to court. I don't know what madness has seized the parties but you are now in a situation where costs are very, very high and where much depends on the credibility of the witnesses. I hope I don't trivialise the process by saying that cases like this are something like a roll of the dice. This is nuts. There must be a basis for a settlement. What's happening in front of me makes no sense at all."

Talks took place during the lunch adjournment, but failed to produce a deal. The hearing resumed, but immediately before he was to be called for cross-examination, Hobbs requested a further adjournment in the course of which a settlement was reached. The settlement was undisclosed but is understood to include payment of a substantial cash sum and the transfer of items of furniture which had been in joint ownership. The legal costs of both sides are thought to total more than £1m.

Cahal Milmo of The Independent wrote that the settlement, which left Mr Hobbs with a six-figure legal bill, follows a three-year wrangle during which Mr Buggins lifted the lid on what he said was a production line at his £2m farm, dedicated to manufacturing high-quality copies of work by great cabinet-makers such as Chippendale or the Russian craftsman Christopher Meyer. In a storyline which would doubtless have been rejected by the writers of BBC's Lovejoy for being too far-fetched, the restorer said he employed a team of up to 30 craftsmen to make or adorn antiques using a store room of salvaged materials including brass fittings, old doors and second-hand olive wood and wall panelling. Mr Buggins, who sold items to dealers around the world, claimed that his work - or "knock-ups" - had been misrepresented to potential buyers as original antiques, saying: "I would call them inventions or fakes." He made claims about a number of pieces offered for sale by Mr Hobbs, including two mirrors described as "1740 George II looking glasses" which he said had been made from wooden panels that had been taken from a church. In 2008, Sotheby's was forced to withdraw from sale two antique commodes which had been described by the auction house as "German Neoclassical, circa 1800" with an estimated price tag of £150,000 after Mr Buggins said they had been fashioned from old wardrobes. The restorer said another auction house sold a Georgian mahogany desk in 2007, attributing it to John Hobbs, when it had been made from another wardrobe. Mr Hobbs, 64, who resigned from the British Antique Dealers' Association after it announced an investigation into his business, has insisted that while he knew Mr Buggins made replicas, any such items sold in his shop were labelled as imitations.

On 15 December Dreweatts will auction the remaining stock of John Hobbs, thought to have been originally valued at £5m, with a reserve figure of around £500,000. A pair of heavy tables perched on carved griffins which the dealer paid Mr Buggins £40,000 to produce has an estimate of just £8,000 to £12,000.

The auction house, which is marking each item with a stamp "John Hobbs" to show its origins, said it was being careful to attach no date or attribution to the items unless they had already been vouchsafed by a major auctioneer. Stephan Ludwig, executive chairman at Dreweatts, said: "There is no intention whatsoever to deceive potential buyers."

Mr Hobbs is currently writing an autobiography about his career as an antiques dealer, entitled Honest John. Dennis Buggins, who is famed in the architectural salvage world for his sale of the remains of London's bomb-damaged Baltic Exchange for £800,000 to two Estonian businessmen, was not available for comment.

ID : (56756)
Date Created : 09 December 2010 04:04:27 PM
Date Modified : 09 December 2010 04:04:30 PM

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