|Eighteenth century creamware teapot|
A few decades ago we tried our hand at antiques dealing. Those were the days when every leisure centre and church hall held an antiques fair at least once a month and they were usually full because people had seen lots of antiques on the telly.
We were nervous about our first fair because we weren’t sure what to expect on the dealer’s side of the stall. Would the other dealers turn out to be supercilious experts? Well we already knew that was unlikely because we’d been to so many as browsers and occasional buyers.
Our stall was next to a guy who just sold bric-a-brac, anything from vinyl records to toys to bits and pieces of tat nobody could possibly want. Except they did want it and he was busy all day.
“I just gi’ em what they want,” he said almost apologetically after running a doubtful eye over our stall.
It was our first hard knock and a timely one too. It isn’t just a case of buying well, but of buying what people want at a price well below what they might be prepared to pay. It’s no good following your own tastes either – you have to buy what the market likes.
All this is obvious stuff and nothing we didn’t know at the time, but somehow it isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. I found it very difficult to put my interests and preferences to one side. It’s no good finding a piece of china with a rare mark if it just looks like a cruddy old teapot. To the market that’s what it is.
Cruddy old bits of china don’t sell unless there is something seriously special about them such as turning out to be early Ming. Even then it might be a fake and who can tell these days without expensive scientific tests?
It’s a strange and fickle market. For example, today you can buy good solid antique furniture for peanuts. Furniture which will easily last a hundred years.
But it isn’t as fashionable as junk from IKEA made from chipboard or lumpy furniture which looks as it was made by taking a chainsaw to some old railway sleepers. Or faux antique shabby chic which costs as much and is less well made than the real thing.
Gi’ em what they want – it's almost a philosophy.