Collectable Brownie Downing wall plaques cause stir in Narrabri op shop

RARE?: The wall plaques donated to Narrabri's One of a Kind op shop. They are believed to be genuine collectable Brownie Downing works.
RARE?: The wall plaques donated to Narrabri's One of a Kind op shop. They are believed to be genuine collectable Brownie Downing works.

AN UNUSUAL donation to the Narrabri One of a Kind op shop has created a bit of a stir.

Three wall hangings brought into the store recently caught the attention of an inquisitive volunteer.

They’ve been identified as apparently genuine Brownie Downing collectors’ items, and now the question is what to do with them.

Store manager Kerry McCaw said it was a volunteer who twigged there might be something special about the three wall plaques.

“She got on Google – I think she just looked up words like ‘girl with fish’ – and found all the information on it,” Miss McCaw said.

According to her official website, the late Viola Edith ‘Brownie’ Downing was a prolific artist, author and illustrator from the 1940s until her death in 1995.

Her favourite subjects were childhood, the Australian bush and indigenous children – images that art historian Robert Holden is reported as saying “would probably not survive [today’s] more rigorous tests of political correctness”.

The plaques depict children playing a drum, catching fish and holding flowers.

They were posted on the store’s Facebook page, prompting discussion on whether they should be in the hands of a museum, private collector or simply a keen customer.

One of a Kind operations manager David Richards said the plaques had been put aside to allow another staffer in the region, and her contacts, to check them out.

He said the organisation’s people knew experts in jewellery and antiques who helped them identify and value unusual items.

“We want to make sure we don’t give them away and don’t over-ask for them,” Mr Richards said.

He said they might end up being sold directly to a private enthusiast.

Miss McCaw said collectors’ items came through the shop often.

“About once a week, generally, but [pricing] all depends on the value and what people are looking for, because people have different interests,” she said.

“At the moment we have in the store – I think it’s ugly, but – Fenton glassware … it’s quite collectable milk glass.”

Mr McCaw said donations to the region’s op shops truly ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

“Everything from dead cats, dirty nappies … to a precious ring that turned up in the Armidale shop as a donation.”

He recalled reading about a Toowoomba worker who’d opened a donated box to find “such a good replica [revolver] that they actually just put it down and waited for the police to arrive.”

Comment has been sought from Brownie Downing collectors’ groups and a national antiques valuer.


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