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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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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

www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TouchstoneVintage

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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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