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So many Pies, so few fingers

Image courtesy of googleBusiness partner said once that we needed to think outside the box, push the envelope and have our fingers in more than one pie. While I wholly disapprove of the business speak (which envelope? Where do I push it to? Just across a desk? When I’ve pushed it what would have been the point – its an envelope?) and we do sell some boxes (including a rather nice writing box which needs some attention but will be glorious) and I do like pies, the point was a good one.

Sometimes this game can be a bit like digging the garden with a teaspoon – an inordinate amount of work for very little reward – so spreading the work makes sense. A little bit online, a few choice fairs and so on and so on. Ideally we’d love to convert an old country pub into an antiques centre, keeping the bar and optics in situ (but of course only I would be allowed a tipple during opening hours);  but until the market picks itself up from the slump it appears to be in, we are stuck in our shoe-box, carefully picking our way to bed through a mountain of Arts and Crafts copper, bronze lamps and art deco beads.

The trouble with spreading the load is that it still creates more to do – don’t get me wrong, this is a far better way to earn a living than any other I have tried, but sometimes the lure of a little jobette in the local bakery, where my fingers could be in a completely different, fruit based pie or two, can be quite strong.

Nevertheless we do have our fingers in many vintage style pies and recently took a cabinet in one of our local antiques centres. A charming place in a little market town with great footfall and 7 day opening. We started with a few lower end items of “yesterday’s antiques” but despite business partner’s reservations, have now decided to raid our better quality stock – well it just looks better (and it is assuredly outside any of our boxes)

SO, every so often you may visit our store and find something missing – this is due to what we call our Antique Relocation Programme (ARP): don’t worry, if it hasn’t sold in the shop, it will be back online in our Etsy store within a couple of weeks.

The point of all this waffle?

Ahhh, today is the first day of re-integration for some of our ARP objects and we have some choice pieces too. They are back online with fluffy new descriptions and ready for the scrutiny of the Interwebs. Pictures (but no links) below. Keep up to date with whats on and offline by visiting us on our Google+ page, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. And under duress from business Partner, hopefully there will be a more topic ridden blog coming soon – maybe something on pies…or pyrex!

 

 

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Weekends shouldn’t be that tough

Sometimes, just sometimes, things don’t go the way they were planned. The weekend just gone being no exception. We’re not sure what it was – maybe the last day of our Indian summer, maybe just a quiet time of year, who knows but one of the toughest antique fairs for a long time. It’s a long day, with plenty of heavy lifting and not much of a chance to sit down and seemingly, despite A LOT of talking, few customers with a full wallet.

Oh well, we did sell some beautiful things so it was worth it but boy did we appreciate a glass of wine and an episode of Poirot last night (thoroughly recommended if you love Art Deco and superb characterisations). The day was topped off when I very bravely (not) faced down the biggest and shiniest, most evil looking 8-legged monstrosity I have ever seen. Perched on the gap between the wall and my wardrobe (slash stock cupboard) bold as brass and with 8 beady eyes fixed on me, waiting for me to drop off so it could sink its ten foot fangs into my neck and drag me back to its lair!!!

OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating but it was not a pleasant end to an exhausting weekend and rather than evict the blighter I only chased it further into the cupboard; made putting the stock away this morning a little terrifying to say the least (and before you say anything, ANYONE would have raised a shiver at the sheer Mephistophelean glint from this thing)

Still we soldier on and despite swearing to have a day of R&R, a few things needed to be relisted in store so that’s what I did. No links here but they are all available to peruse from our home page, or you can view them on our Google+ business page. Just for you though – yes you – a few piccies. It’s mostly top end stuff so maybe on the pricey side but we do offer payment plans – all it takes is a little helloooo

Join us elsewhere online for more as it happens (no more spiders though)

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Happy Birthday Touchstone Vintage

It’s our 1st birthday. Well, not our actual birthday – we’ve been in business for over 20 years – and the name Touchstone Vintage is a little over a year old, BUT it’s our Etsy birthday. We opened our Etsy store one year ago today. An insignificant date really (unless its your birthday too) but we launched with no sales, fewer than 10 items and nothing more than a pocket full of dreams.

One of the first listings on Etsy.
One of the first listings on Etsy.

As with the first year of any business whether online or brick and mortar, the first year (so they say) is always a struggle. “Teething problems” is not the phrase. Learning to negotiate myriad terms and conditions, set up payment options, find stock: list, list, list. Photograph, describe, correct errors, deal with customers – some of whom are a joy to chat with, others for whom manners are a concept which only relate to someone else.

Then of course there’s Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Never an easy bunch who don’t seem to want to make being in business an easy task. But…once these little pitfalls have been circumvented for the first time, they are never quite as onerous. So for our first birthday I would rather reflect on the sheer joy of hearing my phone make the “cha-ching” noise when someone purchases our vintage treasures. The cheering feedback from someone who is “Wearing it RIGHT NOW” and the friends we have made along the way.

It may have its problems but Etsy is a community, the focus on teams and forums has helped lead us not entirely blindly through the year and come out with a wealth of sales which exceeded our expectations. And for the year ahead?

Bigger, brighter, bolder

Well we have some great plans. Some larger heavier items, more focus on art and antiquities and a bigger, brighter, bolder store. We aim to move house this year, mainly so my office/workroom is not in my bedroom, but also so we can increase our stock to give you – the antique hungry public – a wider choice of beautiful objets d’art and vintage jewellery.

There’s no call to action in this piece except to ask you to join us as we step into our second, exciting year. We are sure there will be something you just can’t live without, a great gift for a family member or friend and a little bit of history along the way. Follow our blog through WordPress or via E-mail and join us on Twitter, Facebook, G+ and Pinterest for all the latest.

I’m off to blow out a candle and sup on something cold and sparkly. Maybe next year we’ll have a party to which you, yes you, will assuredly receive an invitation.

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Got the Time or Touching Clock

Tick tock, tick tock, DONG!

Tick tock, tick tock
Tick tock, tick tock

This is the sound which pervades our existence at Touchstone Towers. You should see the place (though that’s not strictly an invitation to afternoon tea) we have piles of jewellery, silver, copper, brass, wood…well I’m sure you get the picture, but one thing we are definitely not short of is clocks.

I have an obsession and every buying trip starts with the phrase “No more clocks” but inevitably I return home laden with at least one grubby looking antique timepiece. Last week while we were out selling at a fair, I was presented with an offer not to be refused. An 1879 Japy Frere Brass clock.

Tatty, with bits falling off and a movement so gummed up it was like the Wriggly’s factory (please note other proprietary chewing sweets are available) but under the age tattered ugly duckling was a graceful swan waiting to get out.

A bit grubby

Taking this beast apart was no problem, cleaning it – no problem. Putting it back together, sadly a couple of the Victorian pins had had enough quite frankly and with a faint ping breathed their last. Now I’m quite happy to service and clean a movement but lathing and soldering very fine parts is just a bit beyond my eyesight’s (and my finger’s) capability.

But please don’t panic (if you were). After an exhaustive search (and skilfully hanging up on a quote of an extortionate nature) I have sourced some parts. Not cheap but worth it. The Japy Frere will unfurl its wings.

If this seems a longwinded story for very little point I am sorry; there is a point…two. One is the time and delicate energy which has to go into cleaning and servicing (not to mention the money, disappointment and frustration). The other is that we now have so many clocks it’s time to think about moving them on.

The clock market is a tough market, the general public have little appreciation for mechanical clocks, the time that goes into getting them working again or the reason for their value.

Beauty in engineering

There is a beauty in the engineering of a clock and this is why they can fetch what seems to be inordinate sums of money. When a customer last week saw a clock on sale for less than £100 he was slightly aghast that he was paying over £200 to have his version cleaned. Servicing costs can far out-weigh the value of the item BUT can, once completed, increase said value.

As is evident from my experience with the Japy Frere, there is a huge investment for any clockist in sorting out these behemoths of time and this is why both clocks and repairs can be a lot of cash. Worth it though. A good clock in good order will last – after all many have lasted over 150 years now. And while simply changing a battery is a simple, convenient option it has none of the charm or fulfilment of winding an 8 day clock and setting it free to ride the waves of time.

So I am busily trying to finish servicing all the clocks I have in the queue with an aim to adding a sort of catalogue up there. Just up there in the menu bar. These clocks won’t be available through normal channels (Etsy) because I just don’t trust the post. They will be appointment clocks. A phone call and some investigation over postage or buyer collects (then and only then will you get your invitation to afternoon tea)

One of the some we have on Etsy
One of the some we have on Etsy

I hope you will watch this space for more news on our clock catalogue. In the meantime we have some smaller examples in our Etsy store which may be of interest and for now I have a clock to piece back together.

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Video killed the antiques dealer

Only one of many
Only one of many

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.

Worth a lot more at this fair than at auction

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:

www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TouchstoneVintage

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Brooching the Subject

Norwegian Enamel Butterfly
No-one wants to wear this beauty

Our antique fair tables groan under the weight of our wares. From clocks to curios, glass to gewgaws, brass to buckles and everything in between. More than half of our display is of the jewellery persuasion and there is very little we don’t stock (bearing in mind that ALL our stock is vintage or antique in some way.)

Recently we were “reliably” informed by a passing customer who gazed, glassy eyed at the table in front of her that the piece she held in her hot and grubby “Was pretty but no-one wears brooches anymore.” This in itself would have been scorn enough, save that it was accompanied by an expression of distaste, even disgust at the thought that anyone would be as common as to pin a bit of jewellery to their clothes.

I grant you that there are some horrors in existence, especially some of the kitsch from the 60s and 70s, but somebody somewhere loves them. And I cannot deny that there has been a shift away from brooch goodness but there remains a classical elegance to brooches which adds a certain je ne sais quoi to an outfit.

True love ways
True love ways

It all depends on one’s personal taste. Maybe an elegant, sentimental Victorian bar brooch is apposite: the one shown here consists of ivy leaves and a circlet of rope signifying ‘bound in love forever’, the rubies & pearls standing for pure love.

For a party or wedding, nothing beats a “bitta glitta”. Diamante and rhinestone, or even a delicate butterfly wing with iridescent hues really add a touch of class to an LBD or slinky off the shoulder number (as well as helping with tricky straps) and though not strictly brooches, tie tacks and stick pins perform a similar function for the fellas.

The history of design and costume jewellery is littered with brooches of all shapes, sizes and descriptions and fashions come and go. What “no-one is wearing” depends on a point of view. No one was wearing drainpipe jeans in the 1990s, now hipsters rule the low slung, lanky look (no matter how inappropriately shaped their legs may be.) Beards and big moustaches, flapping flares and fingerless gloves; minis, midis, baby-dolls and berets have all come, gone and come back again.

Horror or fashion?
Horror or fashion?

With this in mind (and a hashtag campaign), we predict a new dawn for the brooch. A sunlit upland where the pin is king, where being called to the bar is a yearning for dark Victorian fancy, where swags and swoops and beads and birds and flounce and flowers once again claim their rightful place on the chests of the elegantly styled.

Mrs Sneer was wrong, some people are wearing brooches: forward thinking, fabulously fashionable, funky and fun people with a complete disregard for the average. Fashion and jewellery has become dull and staid; bringing back the brooch is essential to our sartorial well-being. Join the campaign with the hashtag #broochesareback

All characters portrayed in this blog should be considered fictitious and any relation to people living or dead inside is purely coincidental.

Check out some of our vintage and antique brooches in our Etsy store: http://etsy.me/1ufn5At

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Minimalism or The Bare Essentials?

I read an “interesting” article this morning. It seems that some lifestyle experts have concluded that what is wrong with people’s lives is the lack of intervention by lifestyle experts. The encouragement is that to clear the mind and centre the body we should all live without “stuff”
It serves no purpose but as a talking point
or a thing to brighten up a shelf.
It won’t however affect your state of mind
Basically, stuff is bad: it can really put a crimp on your lifestyle. I mean, all that dusting, maneuvering around pesky chairs and tables, putting holes in the plain white of your walls for the hanging of devilish shelves and of course the ever-present risk of a stubbed toe. The best thing, so we are advised, is to paint everything white, remove all traces of existence from our living spaces and sit on spikes in cold, un-characterful rooms.
The problems associated with everyday life, so the article suggested, are not really as some of us stupidly think, to do with jobs, money or even wider socio-economic problems…nope, it’s just that we all have too much stuff. We fill the void of work, money and environment by having stuff we don’t need. And in having too much stuff we invariably hate our jobs a little bit more, struggle to make ends meet a little bit more and of course all the world’s social and economic problems can be blamed on one too many paperweights.
One too many of these and the whole
fabric of society will collapse
If this is the case however, clearing stuff from one’s life seems merely a case of closing one void and creating another which will still need to be filled. The aforementioned article showed the writer’s before and after home. The minimalizing process had cleared all the books from sight. Nothing on the coffee table, nothing on the shelves. I fail to see how removing literature can be in any way beneficial to one’s state of mind. And the same goes for everything else.
Of course in some ways there is truth to the tale. The accumulation of consumer products does, for many, fill gaps left by unsatisfactory living conditions and there is a lot of stuff out there of poor aesthetic and production quality (a particular bug-bear of ours is random verbs and nouns in italic script to remind you where you are or why you are there: Home, Love, Sleep, S**t). Still it is in essence a human trait to decorate, collect, read, admire and covet.
In case you forget where you are
Minimalism threatens to do away with these traits. Over the last few years we have seen the antiques trade decline as lifestyle magazines and TV programmes decreed that ornaments were clutter, paintings should be replaced with soundbites, carpets and rugs with laminate flooring; the list goes on.
I’d much rather read a book than have nothing on my shelves. I’d much rather look at a good painting than a plaster verb. I’d much rather have talking points than white walls and bare floors. Clutter, décor and collections say a lot about a person. They may say here is a mad cat lady, or someone with a slightly overbearing Smurf obsession BUT a home is a representation of the taste and personality of the person who lives there.
Minimalism creates a uniformity from which there is only a white box to say “here I am”, it represents a blandness of character and lack of imagination under the guise of creating a simpler lifestyle. It creates an ideal that constraint and restriction is somehow better for you – even then Victorians didn’t buy that one.
A home with stuff in it is comfortable, the public face of the inner soul. Scatter a few baubles and vases around the place, find a shelf for that statuette you love. Fill your life with stuff you didn’t know you wanted – and we will be there to find it for you. I guess that’s why we are in the antiques and vintage business. It is previous generation’s accumulation of stuff which provides our bread and butter. And we need people who like clutter.
I’m not a lifestyle guru and it’s not up to me to tell people how to decorate their homes but if anyone out there is not sure, I can do no better than to paraphrase this:
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a home, choose paintings, books, objets d’art and bakelite tin openers. Choose good chairs, low footstools, and Marcel Boucher jewellery. Choose fixed bayonet rifles. Choose a candlestick. Choose art deco. Choose Victorian matching teaspoons. Choose a necklace on the spur of the moment. Choose craft and handmade online on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch flicking through photos in old family albums, stuffing postcards into neatly ordered boxes. Choose carpets and rugs at the end of the hall, fishing your pennies to brighten your home. Choose nothing more than a living room true to yourself, and ignoring the brats who spawn lifestyle advice.
Choose your own life.
Choose stuff.
Original reference: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh found at http://bit.ly/1OOG13h
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Cheapro: a vintage disease or Resell it again Sam

After an hour or two of research we
discovered that Penelope here
was genuine.
 There are two sides to the antiques business – one deals with the very old (or at least passably grown up) and the other deals with 21stcentury technology. But it’s not just coaxing the Paypal card-reader into action in a village hall to sell a beautiful antique; there is a second, darker side to this juxtaposition of ancient and modern.
First and foremost, and I am not saying this for sympathy, selling online is far more taxing than people give it credit for. There is never a moment when one is off-duty. The phone clicks, pings and cha-chings throughout the day and night; photographs, listings, promotion, blogging and myriad other tasks eat hours, days and weeks off the calendar with never a full day off in sight.
It can be galling therefore, to notice a decline in sales. Your quality merchandise gathers dust, footfall drops and the whole thing threatens collapse. The reason? A worrying trend with online sales sites: let’s call them Fleabay and Betsy to remain unpartisan.
My understanding of “antique” – and this is laid down by professional organisations – is of an object which has a provenance dating it at over 100 years old. Vintage (to me) is outside the realms of (my) living memory but generally applied to anything over 20 years old. But there has emerged another category, a scurrilous and devious category, a hitherto unnamed category which undermines hours of shopping, cleaning, researching and listing: Faketique or cheapro.
This, in a nutshell, was a widening of Fleabay’s goalposts to encourage more sellers, sales and therefore revenue. It allowed items to be listed in categories in which they had no business. So this became a growing scenario:
Listing title
ANTIQUE VINTAGE ART DECO ART NOUVEAU BRONZE COLOURED LAMP LAMPS RETRO LIGHTING
Listing category
ANTIQUES>HOME>DÉCOR>LIGHTING
Condition
NEW
Item description
ANTIQUE, VINTAGE STYLE LAMP IN PLASTER. MOULDED BRONZED ART DECO ART NOUVEAU etc
Choose shade colour
BLUE, PINK, GREEN, RED
Number in stock
15
The above is a paraphrased listing from Fleabay from a search (for research purposes) for Art Deco bronze lamps. It was one of many times the furniture shook as I hollered “it’s not vintage and it’s not an antique if you have 15 identical things in stock.” Note that the word “style” is not mentioned until the description. Note the blending of periods and styles in order to garner as much attention as possible. Note that nowhere does it say there will be a sticker on it saying “made in…(insert name of country using child labour here)”
There is a murmur that Betsy: once tough on dateline and always a stalwart of ethical selling has, inadvertently and with the best of intentions, by encouraging expansion of small businesses to “factory” level, given a key to unscrupulous resellers to undercut its genuine handmade and vintage sellers.
This isn’t the first age of repro: late 20th Century affordable Antique style furniture and ornaments gave people a chance to decorate their homes with classical interiors, but for the most part these things were sold on the understanding that they were reproductions. And many were incredibly faithful though often of a much poorer quality.
Ironically much repro sold in the 1970s and 80s has now become vintage, surpassing its second-cousin status to have aesthetic and market value on its own merit. But the modern repro disease is led by unscrupulous resellers who buy wholesale and sell cheap copies listed as originals and undercut genuine traders. The end result is a confusing parody of a once thriving market. It has ultimately led to a devaluing of genuine vintage and antiques.

 

Genuine silver, genuine Art Deco
Why pay for a realArt Deco brooch when for a fraction of the price you can buy a copy made somewhere in the Far East? Why? Because the genuine brooch is…well, genuine. It was made by designers contemporary to the age, often hand cut and soldered not pressed and jointed by machine. Above all, because it is a piece of history, a survivor with a lifetime of stories to tell.
There is a place for repro and affordable copies, but sellers who pass off mass-produced items as genuine antiques and worse, pass off themselves as genuine antique dealers are bad news for everyone. For buyers it means poor quality goods with a faked, conglomerated history. For genuine sellers it often means reducing prices to the point of loss or being tarred with the same brush and labelled a charlatan.

 

Like any profession there is always development and learning; to use a medical analogy, a good antiques dealer is an experienced and knowledgeable Consultant. People who masquerade wholesale cheapro or faketiques as genuine are no more than quacks and I know who I’d rather have treating my various ailments.
It’s difficult online to know the difference between consultants and quacks but here are some pointers. Check if there is more than one “vintage/antique” in stock. Ask for details – a genuine seller will tell you everything they know (and probably more), they will only have the one (and no it doesn’t come in different sizes or colours) and they have worked hard to get it to where a buyer will see it.
For my part I would encourage any buyer (or seller) to pursue authenticity even if the price-tag is a little higher. A seller who sells bespoke or unique items will fix a price worthy of the item’s value plus their overheads, time and effort so yes you may pay more but you are getting the real deal. Ultimately customers buying higher keeps the market buoyant: the less cheapro people buy, the lesser impact it will have.
As sellers who appreciate intrinsic as well as financial value we work hard to find and research our stock and honestly price, list and describe it. Our hope is that buyers recognise this and take assurance that they are buying a genuine antique or vintage item.
  •  Antique: an item or object dated at over 100 years old
  •  Vintage: an item or object with age over 20 years old (a leading UK supermarket recently marketed a quartz wall clock as “Vintage”, it wasn’t, it was new but Vintage style.)
  • Retro: covers some vintage but usually an item with retrospective design style e.g. made in the 1980s but with a 1960s design
  • Repro: reproduction item often using original templates
  • Seller: online or physical trader also known as a dealer who hunts for unique items, researches value and provenance and sells to trade or general public. A good seller will tell their customers if an item is repro.
  • Reseller: online trader who buys cheap wholesale and sells in bulk, often using tags like antique, vintage, retro to describe their items. They can be cagey about telling their customers if an item is repro.
  • Faketiques: objects bought and sold by resellers, often wholesale from the far east with no intrinsic or artistic value but sold as genuine antiques or vintage, can also be known as cheapro.
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To clean or not to clean; that, is the question or Where there’s muck, there’s brass

Touchstone towers has been a bit of a crash site for the last three weeks (which is why there have been no blogs for a wee while). We have been running ourselves ragged: up to our eyes in antiques fairs, and a busman’s holiday to a top end fair at the NEC in Birmingham followed by processing our finds and listing them online.
Said processing and the NEC fair, along with some online discussions, set me thinking about the issue of cleaning metals. To set the scene: some dealers (and indeed buyers) feel the quest for aesthetic purity is best left in the buyer’s hands, while others believe sanitation a side-step from deification (or at least the word of the Great Profit). It always boils down to the distinction between patina and muck.
Quite proper patina on bronze
To me patina is a rich hue, a natural intonation of the metal and an enhancement of the metal’s vibrancy: only really applying to bronze and (sometimes) pewter. Patina generally is not a layer but a chemical reaction (akin to the bleaching of wood in sunlight).
There is truth in the idea that patina accrues over an object’s lifetime and tells its story; therefore to clean is, in essence, removing its provenance. The condition in which an “antique” should be sold, it is argued, should be that which the object has become. If a buyer wishes it to be clean it is then up to them to have it cleaned or break out the Brasso themselves.
The sloth in me would be inclined to agree but it leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling. I was horrified to read one online seller suggest that buyers prefer blackened silver jewellery. Really? Imagine wearing a pair of silver earrings with someone else’s ear-wax, skin and finger grease still clinging to the hooks.
Dirt and patina should not however, be confused. For example, black silver or tarnished gold, brown brass or copper and crusty gemstones are all the result of layers of damp and dust, dead skin, oils and grime from handling which will eventually damage the metal and depreciate its intrinsic quality. If an item has been cared for over its lifetime, it will not accrue such discolouration; consequently the metal should remain bright. Furthermore dirt and grime often cover the detail and design which, after all, is what gives an item its collectability and aesthetic value.
The revelation of detail
Touchstone Vintage sell at fairs of all descriptions and having just returned from a high-end fair I have this observation to make. At lower end and mid-range fairs, many sellers (though not all) empty cases of “junk” onto tables unsorted and unloved creating a free-for-all feel antiques lucky dip.
I have so often been disappointed to find a dent or crack under the dirt which makes my purchase worthless, by the same token I have in some cases (though on much rarer occasions) been delighted to find a hallmark which adds immeasurable worth.
At the top end, sellers have no dirty brass, copper, silver or gold in their cabinets and for that certain guarantees can be made. From 17thcentury silverware to Art Nouveau copperware, none of these sellers would consider placing dirty metal on their stands whether it could be considered patina or not. Everything at the NEC sparkled: beautifully lit and in pristine condition.
For many I think the argument not to clean becomes a defensive strategy to excuse lethargy (it often goes hand in hand with a lack of research) but I will never denigrate that as it is from these sellers that I find Victorian silver masquerading as damaged plate or Newlyn copper hidden beneath a century of grime.
Sold as degraded silver-plate, but the dirt hid
a Victorian hallmark
And good luck to them if they want to miss the extra income – a beautifully cleaned, identified and preserved antique can be worth ten times its dirty counterpart. I’m no venture capitalist but I would take a 100% return over 10% every time if the difference is a few minutes elbow grease.
There is, I suppose, no right or wrong answer here and the result will depend on the market, the buyer and the object itself. We personally feel it is our duty to both the antiques and our customers to present our wares in the best possible light, to have researched and understood what we sell and to preserve the underlying aesthetic quality of our pieces.
For that reason I am off to discover a Georgian hallmark on some tongs I was assured were silver-plate. Now, where did I put my cloth?
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The Venerable Bead

A classic round necklace c1900

While we are on our travels (and we go on a fair few trips and excursions) there are a few things which always catch our attention.

As you might see from a quick peruse of our catalogue, there are is a sizable collection of brooches, earrings, accessories and more recently some fine arts and collectables have been introduced. Mostly though we always seem to come back to necklaces and beads. Beads of all descriptions yes –  gems like carnelian and malachite, plastic – including the odd bit of Bakelite and a lot of glass – but one of our particular penchants is for Millefiori.

This is a particular style of glass making which creates a plethora of designs and always with vivid, stunning results. The term Millefiori, literally translated, is Italian for million flowers and it is fairly much a prescriptive name. Early examples have been found on Roman sites and even, so I’m told, at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk so there is an obvious tradition at work here.

Single bead with intricate patchwork
Put simply (and I am not claiming to be an expert in glass making) the technique involves coloured rods of glass, stretched very thin and bound to form small intricate designs. These rods are then placed into molten glass and sliced. The glass is then reheated and dipped to seal the design and the result is moulded into its final shape.

More popularly perhaps this was used to make paperweights, and before the mid 19th century was called mosaic work (it is interesting to note that despite having existed since Roman times, the art was lost for a period).While paperweights can be stunning it is the intricacy and skill involved in bead making which always makes for an exciting find.

They weren’t always round

The best known examples are Italian, particularly the Venetian glass-men and Murano although England and the US also had a fair crack at the whip. A good set of antique or vintage Millefiori beads (and be careful of modern reproductions, they’re never quite the same) is a privilege to find. Knowing you hold a true piece of artisan jewellery which has taken years to perfect is a humbling concept.

Millefiori is where jewellery and art collide in a splash of colour; their brightness and joyous abstract design sets these beads apart and we will never tire of finding them. A humble glass bead perhaps but a venerable bead none-the-less.
Browse our shop for some beautiful Millefiori beads here
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