Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Gi’ em what they want

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.


Sackerson said...

If and when we move house that's where we're going to get our furniture, for the reasons you've given.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - good idea. Most of our furniture is from the inexpensive end of the antiques market.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I once helped out a girl friend at a flea market/jumble sale, she wasn't too keen on earning money, she just wanted shut of the stuff (her family had money coming out of its arse, frankly).

A punter picked up item X (I can't remember what it was) marked at DM 3 (this was pre-Euro days) which you would normally expect to pay DM 5 or even DM 10 for, and asked, slightly surprisedly "DM 3? Are you sure?"

"OK then, DM 2," she replied and sold it to them for DM 2.

I the irony of the situation to her afterwards and we had a good laugh about it. Or possibly a blazing row, I can 't remember.

Mark Wadsworth said...

missing word "explained"

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Yeah, customer are funny things.

My Mrs runs the village shop; much as we'd like to stock "nice" things, you have to stock what sells.

It's called the market, and we're in favour of it round here, generally, are we not?

Anonymous said...

I tried the market after retiring. Two things stick in my mind. A wise old trader said 'you pay for your experience in this game'. Another chap shipped good English furniture items to Poland where craftspersons did them up prior to reselling at massive profit in Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid. He had a colourful past and a good knowledge of import/export loopholes. A trade full of interesting but not entirely straight people.

Demetrius said...

Pray, what pottery is in the picture? Part of my family was in the Potteries long ago. When moving once finally sold off the vinyl records. Alas, I did not realise that one set was rare and now commands several hundred pounds. It still riles me.

A K Haart said...

Mark - we just send unwanted stuff to auction or the charity shop. Even a car boot is too much effort these days.

WY - yes, the fact that it's a market and you have to rely on your own knowledge and instincts is at least half the fun.

Roger - not entirely straight is about right. Yes, you do have to pay for your experience - and why not?

Demetrius - it's not easy to tell because factories copied each other, but the teapot probably comes from Leeds which was a major creamware centre in the eighteenth century.

However, it could have been Staffordshire or even Derbyshire. An expert could probably narrow it down, but it isn't an easy subject.