Cue some light orchestral, 30s style background music, a vintage car and some antiques experts; stick several pins in several maps and what do you have? A televised antiques themed Eurovision song contest – entertaining but with little substance or artistic value.
I am thinking of one particular BBC programme here, but there have been – and I’m sure will be – others with a similarly simple premise: to buy and sell antiques and along the way “educate” the audience as to historic and monetary value of said objects.
The original Antiques Roadshow achieved this goal by drifting around the upper echelons: selecting high quality pieces appraised by genuine lifelong experts and realising (often) high prices. Looks of shock and awe notwithstanding, it fairly represented the current antiques and fine art market without the hovering spectre of “resale bargains”.
The TV execs next great idea was to add a populist twist. To create celebrities of the experts rather than the antiques, to create artificial buying and reselling opportunities and to create a market of “collectors” whose instincts are guided only by the pound (Euro, dollar, yen) signs in the eyes.
I should briefly explain the show I have in mind (Possibly the most entertaining but also the most damaging). Two experts drive several hundred miles, in five legs over five days with a starting budget of £200. On each leg they purchase 5 items and sell them at auction aiming to make an overall profit at the end of the week
Wonderful but with two MAJOR problems.
Firstly – retail pricing. The show presents bartering as an extreme sport with bargainous peaks and drops of up to 90%. Believe me, items with a starting price of £200 are NEVER sold for £20. Most dealers will circle around a 10 – 20% discount and no more.
With the installation of a TV crew, many a dealer’s marbles appear to vanish, creating a public view that unrealistic 90% discounts are standard. It is more likely that the BBC pays the full asking price off camera while on screen the dealer accepts improbable offers in the name of publicity.
Secondly (and this applies to most of the populist shows) the auction.
Antique dealers rarely buy from antique centres or shops to sell at auction. This makes very little business sense. Most non-specialised auctions sell to dealers who are hoping for at least 100% retail mark-up. General auctions (Depending on the auctioneer) will, at best, generate a trade price and often struggle to achieve full market values.
In this TV format this can mean substantial losses if the item was a little over-egged to start with. Auction prices on most TV shows should be regarded as a wholesale price – but sadly more and more retail customers think that because something sold for a song on TV it is worth far less than any ticket price.
While dealers agonise over pricing – allowing a bit for profit while not overselling; today’s antique outlet has become a temple to head shaking, eye rolling disbelief and reverberates to the sound of breath sucked slowly in over the front teeth. The bargain hunting spectre with exaggerated expectations, released from its televised prison, hovers – greedy and poised to destroy.
Naturally, there are other factors to consider – internet auction sites (where prices range from the ridiculous to the sublime), economics, payday; but nothing is such an exhaustive drain on value as false expectation.
Instead of just ranting though, I have designed a more realistic TV antiques show format – it maybe less entertaining but is certainly more lifelike:
Two experts travel several hundred miles in a vintage car with a budget of £200 accompanied by some light orchestral, 30s themed music gathering five items a leg over five legs. They can buy anywhere but at the end of the week they have a pitch at an antiques fair. The one who generates the most profit is the winner. The catch? The buying public, with unrealistic expectations, will attempt to knock their £200 price tag down to £20.
I’m still waiting to hear from the bigwigs at the BBC, in the meantime I’m off to re-price everything by 90%.
Check out some of our fairly priced antiques and very reasonably valued vintage jewellery in our Etsy store:
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