From rag and bone merchants Steptoe & Son to the much loved dodgy dealer Lovejoy, you might think that antique dealing has a, well, let’s say tarnished reputation (although a bit of tarnish might be just what you want – the trade loves a bit of patina, or wear and tear to you).
To help you onto the auction room floor with a bit of confidence, TNT asked its favourite man-about-the-markets (we’re calling him TC for his own sake and safety) for some special insider tips that go a bit beyond the prosaic official stuff.
The good old National Careers Service will tell you about the need to be “passionate about historical items” and “liking the idea of buying and selling”. All very true, but a bit uninspiring isn’t it?
Our lucky 7 (and it’s a business where you sometimes need to get lucky) insider tips from TC are a bit more racy.
That said, TC and the NCS do agree on a joint first priority; in fact, its TC’s first tip:
1. Specialise. The NCS says, “Dealers often specialise in one particular area.” TC says, they’re right. Pick something not too obvious, something that not too many others are dealing in. Some examples? Maybe glass or rugs. You might pick up mega bargains by finding a whole pile of rugs at a non specialist auction.
2. Scour ebay for badly described items. People often don’t really know how to describe something in an accurate way that will attract specialist buyers.TC says he turned a £40 investment in a sloppily described old motorcycle part into £200 only last week.
3. Talking of how much you should pay, there’s always lots of talk about folk being ripped off. TC’s tip is to pay fair prices, especially if you’re buying locally and want to enhance your reputation.
4. Buy out of context. What does that mean TC? For instance, go to an auto-jumble where everybody is buying and selling bits for old cars. Then look for the non-specialist stuff that’s often getting offloaded by dealers who’ve picked miscellaneous and largely unwanted non-motoring items along their way. It’s not unusual to pick up items for £2 or £3 that you can resell for £50.
5. Fakes are a minefield. Some of them are really good; good enough to fool seasoned pros. Be especially careful when buying big ticket items. For example, did you know you can buy a new old Bugatti made in Argentina? And at anything from £2m to £4m, a genuine Bugatti is a genuine big ticket item! TC says provenance – that’s authentic paperwork to back up the claim that’s being made – is the key. Another warning though, that too can be forged although vintage cars should be accompanied by log books and so on that can be officially checked. It’s likely to be impossible to prove that a guitar was once played by Jimmy Hendrix though.
6. Where to buy and sell? Forget all this silly nonsense you see on telly where so-called experts (most are auctioneers and not experts at all, says TC) buy from shops at supposedly knock-down prices and sell them at an auction. That’s just bloody daft, TC fumes, auctions are places dealers buy from, not sell to. Oh! and keep away from Antique Centres, they’re generally too expensive and hence they don’t sell much.
7. And finally, avoid brown furniture. Like the plague. Fashion comes and goes in the antique trade but brown furniture has been out of favour so long it’s becoming positively antique. Brown furniture? Things like dressers wardrobes and grandfather (the trade calls them long-case) clocks. Items that might have fetched £700 or £800 a few years ago, you would be lucky to sell for £100 today, says TC. Even our man admits to having a few barometers that he paid around £600 each for. They’ll only recoup him £150 now. The experts don’t get it right all the time. Everthing’s about shabby chic now, he mourns. What used to be good, valuable furniture getting ruined.
How much does it cost to get cracking?
London’s West End antiques dealer Grays says the cost of booking a sales space at an antiques fair can cost anything from £60 for a small table at a church hall to a country fair at up to £5000 with national events soaring to a stratospheric £20,000.
For that, you’d need to be investing the profit from selling a few Bugattis. We suggest you start small. We’re off to the car boot sale.
Oh!,and be warned that TC’s got a bit cynical in his old age. If you want to make £1 million in the antiques trade, he says, start with £2 million.