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Too close for comfort

ATTENTION
ATTENTION

It escaped my attention somewhat.

Now there’s a leading statement if ever there was one. “What? something vitally important escaped your attention? What was it? do tell” OR…”what? your attention escaped?” Even with some cleverly managed punctuation, actually its both. My attention certainly did escape for a while, last seen roaming the Sussex countryside, and in doing so, several things escaped my attention. A sort of online ouroboros concentration loop.

Its all to do with a particularly nasty case of sciatica. I’m not angling for sympathy here, after nearly 4 weeks I’m over the worst and have finally been able to stop dosing myself up on various combos of painkillers. But it was the aforementioned painkillers which did for my attention.

It seems that during this period (which we shall call my “high” period) we bought lots of lovely antiques, did a few fairs, sold a few lovely antiques and woah hang on…only three weeks until we hit our first stand fitted fair of the year!!! (This is what escaped my attention while my attention was otherwise distracted) but I haven’t broken any clocks yet, or slopped French Polish on the carpet (don’t tell business partner) or even stood on any valuable Victorian ceramics.

Not long now
Not long now

It also seems that over a pint or two of scotch whiskey, we agreed to do a few more stand fitted fairs this year than planned AND ramp up our smaller fairs. We need to move house for myriad and complicated reasons and we’re not going to do it on our current “salary” (for anyone who still thinks self-employment is an easy option, you could not be more wrong)

So in my usual, rather round-a-bout way I have used this entire soliloquy to tell you, the wonderful buying public that to give us some chance of respite and comfort from these too close fairs, we’re having to close our Etsy store on the 10th April.

Defintite. For good. Finito. Nada. Enchilada.

Bye-bye baby
Bye-bye baby

Its sad for us because we invested a lot financially, emotionally and physically into it but we simply do not have the time to keep it curated.

There will be more items listed on this site from time to time, which can be purchased directly so worth keeping eyes peeled and ears pinned to the internet AND in the meantime, you lucky, lucky people you can get 10% off anything still listed on Etsy with the checkout code CLOSE10

Our social media will be changing too with more fun and fewer links (I’m so distracted I nearly wrote LESS links there) so you are still welcome to join us and keep up to date with our fair diaries, information, how to’s and other snippets of antique goodness.

Clever punctuation?
Clever punctuation?

If on your travels you spot my attention span, please bring it to a fair or follow one of the links below where a generous rewar………oh look, a butterfly.

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Behind the Rickety Table…or Tips for Surviving Antiques Fairs…Part 2

Have to be paid somehow
Have to be paid somehow

Yesterday’s post (which it is recommended to read first) took a sideways look at some of the errors made from behind the counter and I’m sure regular visitors to antique fairs will recognise some of the despicable behaviour mentioned. Today though we turn the tables (sic). Regular sellers will spend many frustrated moments lamenting these traits – but maybe the aforementioned “regular visitors” are not so aware what a looooong day said traits can make.

BUYERS.

Most traders are there to make a living, even the hobbyists always have the advantage of a bit of beer money. For us and many like us however, it is how we pay the bills, eat, put fuel in the car and occasionally have pest control remove the rodents from our beards.

Its a livelihood like any other shop except we are not bound by bricks and mortar – and the average customer (no, not you madam, you’re perfect) would, and this is a constant, treat us very differently if we were. BUT, because we are often found loitering behind rickety tables in leisure centres, we are often only given the same respect as our stubble-shrews.

Taken around 6.00 a.m.
Taken around 6.00 a.m.

On fair days traders get up at 5 a.m. load cars and vans, drive hundreds of miles, unload cars and vans, display our beautiful wares, spend 8 or 9 hours on our feet talking till our throats feel like sandpaper, eat lunch on the move, pack up our beautiful (unsold) wares, load cars and vans, drive hundreds of miles, unload cars and vans, and finally flop like dehydrated flat-fish into bed. Oh and then…get up the next day and do it again.

What we encounter along the way can feel genuinely insulting – no-one would tell a plumber how to plumb but they feel perfectly comfortable telling antique traders how to antique.

Traders are knowledgeable and have spent years buying and researching to get the right stock for their field. They  get up in the middle of the night to traipse round draughty fields to find stock and sit up till the small hours, cleaning and researching. Traders know their stock, their bits of history and (for the most part) their prices.

Though you may think a trader is expensive, please, please, please NEVER ask for “The absolute death” – We’re not all “off the telly” and can’t usually afford to discount more than 10% (see paragraph 2).  And no, you can’t find it cheaper on ebay! Good quality antiques sell for good quality prices – even online. I suggest watching a few of these items and seeing where the price ends up before asserting the cheaper online catchphrase…we have missed out on some great items for last minute price wars.

Talking of catchphrases: We know its like Aladdin’s cave, a trip down memory lane, that you are just browsing, that you want to know what yours is worth, that its old fashioned, that no-one wears brooches any more or that your gran used to have one and that if you’d known it was worth that you wouldn’t have thrown yours away. We believe you when you say that you wouldn’t know where to put it or that you have so much you could set up a stall yourself, that you have one just like it (except yours is blue, bigger, and is a completely different shape with handles…oh and its made of glass not ceramic).

The same is true of 90% of customers – and not one of that 90% is afraid to tell us. All day, every day. Antique dealers have 2 loops: an eye loupe to examine their goods and a feedback loop of repeated platitudes.

Platitudes often offered to make conversation (or avoid releasing the wallet-bats) but egg stains and beard dwelling

Someone opened their wallet
Someone opened their wallet

rodents excepted, we don’t bite. By talking to us like people, you may find some hidden gem or new interest BUT remember… after twenty minutes of talking to a customer, for them to walk away is disheartening to say the least. We can’t make you spend your hard earned cash but we are not there for a “nice day out” or for the good of our health.

I hope I have kept to the lighthearted side of this subject but at times it has been hard so apologies if it has sounded a bit ranty. It all boils down to a few salient points: It IS a real job for most  traders, we work hard to price fairly, and we’ve heard it all before. But if you don’t believe me, ask the next time you go to a fair.

Talking of boiling down, I’m off to boil some eggs to get my jumper the right shade of “oueff-de-nil”. Find out where we are selling in 2016 on our Fairs and Markets page or follow us for up to the minute treats

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Fair Trade…or Tips for Surviving Antiques Fairs…Part 1

IMG_20160214_102218913Its a rough and tumble, rag-tag bag of miscellany and confusion this world of antiques and whether at the lower end of the market or the fine arts end there are many pitfalls and mistakes made from both sides of the counter. So I thought a few tips might be in order. I do want to make it clear that I have been guilty of many of these mistakes myself, so I hope I am speaking from experience.

This is part one and aimed at sellers. Part two for buyers will come tomorrow. So for now, pull up a chair, pour yourself a cuppa and if you’re sitting comfortably…I’ll begin.

SELLERS:

Whether you are a hobbyist or a full time seller, you are still “in retail” therefore standards and customer service shouldn’t be too far removed from the high street. A smart, fresh smelling you is much more appealing than a you with beer gut hanging out of holey trews, rodents in your beard and this morning’s egg stains on your jumper. (I do have a couple of people in mind here)

Fresh from an antique dealer's beard
Fresh from an antique dealer’s beard

A gentle approach and smile works better than a scowl – and yes, customers can be frustrating (buyers please read on) but they are more likely to be persuaded by a friendly face: you can’t force anyone to let the bats out of their wallets but you can suggest how they might!

Presentation and knowledge is key. Junk hunters may not be put off by trays of rusty stuff tipped onto a table but most customers will be. Where appropriate, cleaning stock also helps – no-one wants to go home after a fair to have to soak their hands in bleach; cleaning also helps identify damage and/or provenance.

If you don’t know your stock how do you expect to sell it?

The words “erm, don’t know really” are a massive turn off. Clear pricing and general information will help to draw a customer in. You don’t have to wow them with your knowledge of what colour undercrackers Josiah Wedgwood was wearing when he threw that pot but a general date, range and background will always help (especially if, as we frequently do) you find yourself having to justify your pricing.

Pricing is another game to be sure. Sadly, there is an expected level of discount but know what your policy is and stick to it. If someone wants something enough, they’ll pay without you having to sacrifice your profits for a quick sale. If not, they are probably in the wrong place. Oh and don’t tell a potential customer what you paid for an item. Therein lies madness and unsustainable discounts. Sellers who under (or over) price are damaging to the rest of us.

I could be yours
I could be yours

Get to know your customers, someone who feels they are appreciated will come back and buy again. Talk about other things – the weather, cats, TV. Whatever! but build relationships with them and soon you will have a relationship with their portraits of the Queen (or President Lincoln etc etc)

Of course nothing is guaranteed but we can all help ourselves a little. We all have bad days when it seems no matter what we do, we can’t sell but we always have to keep striving.

 

To find out where we will be selling this year (after I have rehomed the shrews in my beard) check out our fairs and markets page or follow us on:

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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.

www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TouchstoneVintage

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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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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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