Daytime Telly &“I lost my job!”

Mark HillAntiques & Collectables Expert ~ Author & Publisher Mark Hill

I lost my job.” is sadly something I hear with increasing frequency when I visit an antiques fair where anyone can turn up and sell. Of course, as one immediately feels bad about their self-esteem, children, loans, bills and the mortgage. But I also worry a little. I worry that all their newly ‘chosen’ profession will do is create false hope, drain precious savings – and make the situation worse. I’m not being critical, I’m being cautious and careful, which is especially important in these poor economic times. When a professional schooled on daytime antiques shows, the beloved Antiques Roadshow and a shelf of books, begins to rely on dealing to replace their monthly salary, things can get scary.

Lots of full-time dealers I know also have a small regular income they can rely on, such as a pension or a regular part-time job. Or a partner or spouse with one, or both of those. That’s important when the sixth rain-sodden early morning trawl of a car boot sale or ‘feeder fair’ yields little new stock to make a profit on. Especially a profit that, after tax and the cost of the item, even approaches their previous monthly salary. And that’s before you’ve considered the costs of entry, a bacon sandwich and a couple of cups of coffee, and the fuel to drive there and back. Such questions usually raise a smile from the TV viewer, but now the tables will be turned and they’ll be the targets of gems like “I know you’ve got £80 on it, but can it be a tenner?”. And, if the price doesn’t drop, then the almost shocked response is “Well, it happens on TV…”. Stating the obvious, those shows aren’t real life and it’s difficult to say no if you have invited the film crew into your shop for marketing and promotional reasons, and a camera is pointing directly at you. Then just add a well known antiques personality with pleading eyes…

Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors Fair

Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors Fair

One of the root causes of this problem is easy – it’s a lack of respect and common sense. I’ve never understood why people are happy to pay an accountant or plumber for their expertise and experience, but they’re only grudgingly happy to pay an antiques dealer for the same. When you think about it, all have to study and work to build up knowledge and experience. They also have to pay to promote themselves – be it in the Yellow Pages, online, or at a fair or in a shop. All also have living expenses, like mortgages, a car and gas bills. The only difference is that the dealer in antiques or collectables has to risk their own money (tens of thousands of pounds, or more) by paying for the stock they are selling. And it might not sell for the sum they hoped, if it sells at all. Auction houses don’t do this, as they act purely as agent in the transaction. And with many auction houses now taking around 35% of the ‘value’ of a piece in combined vendor’s commission, buyer’s premium and other fees, the often reviled dealer’s markup isn’t looking expensive at all. “Never begrudge a man his profit.”, the saying goes. Somehow, perhaps due to the massive drops in price shown on daytime TV, the dealer has been portrayed as a money grabbing conman using their knowledge to make, errr, a profit.

And, speaking of profit, just think of high street retailers. Have you ever wondered how much money they’re making in the sales on massively reduced sale prices? Quite a lot actually – they have rents to cover, staff to pay, and dividends to shareholders to pay. Which makes you wander quite how much they’re making at full price, if they can still make money on a discount of 50% or more. By comparison, the actual cost of a good antique or collectable is often way more than 50% of the retail price. If this sounds like a warning to anyone newly redundant and thinking of entering the trade, let me add another often unthought of facet. Such newbies are often a great boon to more established experts, collectors and dealers. I visited a large indoor fair recently and met a truly lovely couple who had a few pieces of glass, carefully amassed from car boot sales and provincial auction rooms around Britain. Nestled in amongst them was an eye-wateringly scarce piece that was incorrectly identified and completely under-valued. Of course, I bought it immediately for my collection and, if I ever sell it, I’ll make a handsome profit. I’m sure I’ve undersold things, and will continue to do so, but bear in mind that we’re all part of one long ‘food chain’. Where you are on it depends on your funding, staying power, experience, expertise – and luck.


Newark International Antiques & Collectors Fair

Of course, I realize that this sounds all very ‘doom and gloom’. The new blood entering the fray of dealing in antiques will undoubtedly yield some great dealers of the future. But the battle to get there will certainly cause casualties. The very nature of the beautiful items that make up antiques and collectables, the ingrained ‘myth’ of the ease of antiques dealing, and the great many TV series that have been broadcast since the 1970s all make what is a very difficult profession look easy. Quoting my father, “If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.” Yes, I find that highly irritating too. At a recent fair, I bumped into Karen, one of the contributors from ‘Cracking Antiques’, the series I filmed for BBC2 back in 2010. At the time, Karen had an office job she hated and she felt her life needed a change in direction. So, inspired by her new antiques-filled room, she bravely resigned to deal in shabby chic furniture and accessories from her local antiques centre. She now deals from fairs and has her own shop in Herefordshire. Always a sparky and positive character, she was full of life and had an infectious twinkle in her eye when I saw her again. She looked glowing. “I’m just so happy.”, she said. “We’ve never been poorer, but we’ve never been so rich in other ways.”

I guess what I’m saying is choose antiques dealing, rather than be forced into it. Or, indeed, seeing it as second best as indicated by “I lost my job and I love antiques, so I thought I’d give it ago.” Neither are enough for success, or for you.
Next time you visit Ardingly, Newark or somewhere and think of making a low, uninvited offer like they do on the telly, please, just don’t. Just think what went in to getting it to you.


7 thoughts on “Daytime Telly &“I lost my job!”

  1. Very interesting article. I am a “newbie” in that I started dealing in a very small way at local vintage fairs a couple of years ago, having bought (for myself) since I was a child. I absolutely love it, but can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard (physically) – finding the stock, cleaning it, packing it away, lugging it to fairs, unpacking and displaying – very hard. And if I’m honest, I haven’t made even the tiniest bit of profit, but I am lucky enough not to have to rely on an income from it. The television programmes have made it hard in that everyone thinks you are making huge amounts of cash on everything and the often offer ridiculously small amounts of money because of course they have seen the TV programmes. But there is one other side that I’ve felt very uncomfortable with, and that is the attitude of (some) other dealers who have been in the game for years towards new sellers. At a recent fair in Bath I was treated very unfairly by dealers both buying and selling, because I wasn’t a known face – in one instance I was in the middle of buying a piece and another buyer, obviously known by the dealer, literally stepped in front of me, undercut my offer, and STILL got the item!

  2. A very refreshing article that tells it like it is. Thank you for saying it so well. I’m a relative newwbie having dealt now for 6 years. In that time I’ve grown and learnt a lot. I have kept my area of expertise quite small but dabble in other interesting items that I turn up along the way. I don’t stand fairs any more I find them too much hard work and my poor old body can’t stand the pace but I do love hunting around them. I believe our market is much smaller than we think. The vast majority of sales seem to be from one dealer to another, each of us taking a bit of profit from the pot and hoping to hit the jackpot by selling to a collector. Sadly I think the collectors are thinning out and there is more and more inter trade dealing. What frustrates me are the number of dishonest traders coming on the scene, who know nothing about what they are selling but pretend they do, who sell botched up antiques and Chinese reproductions and tell buyers they are worth x amount of pounds when they are virtually worthless. I have had more than a few arguments with stallholders who assume I know nothing and can be hoodwinked. This gives the rest of us a bad name.

  3. Mark-excellent article. The Antiques Roadshow is the only one that tells it like it is; all the others are merely entertainment around an antiques theme, and what is shown is totally unlike reality. The bogus excitement as something that cost £70 goes for £85! And that’s without taking selling costs into account. To deal successfully even at a low level requires an eye for the unusual that elevates it from the rest of the tat commonly available at car boots. This does develop, but it is something I think some are born with, and some will never achieve. Always try to buy something that little bit better in quality, and in good condition. Haggling is something that comes with difficulty to some people, but I was always surprised if someone was willing to pay the asking price. Some level of negotiation must be factored in. Whether buying or selling, be enthusiastic and helpful. Don’t ‘knock’ something you are trying to buy to get it for less. If you like it, but think it too much, just say that. Try to find people you can regularly buy from and let them know what your interests are; Form a relationship. Try to remember previous customers; they are flattered to be remembered. Be efficient and professional. If you move up financially, arrange to take credit cards, as impulse buyers won’t necessarily have the cash, and cheques can be dodgy. If mostly cash, make sure you have plenty of change. Chat to other dealers; you can learn a lot, and you will find that their problems are your problems, and they may be able to help you with them. Look, listen and learn.

  4. Good well written article
    I am 2nd generation and learnt my trade on the knee of real experts and knew Arthur Neagus a true gent ,i have been dealing for over 40 years and my Mother before me,i still get treated as as a newby or stupid woman by many,as i don’t go around spouting expertise, i don’t mind now as i know that i have forgotten more than they know, and the piece i just bought from the clever Alec selling stuff he bought with his redundancy money will turn me a pretty penny. I never haggle if i can see a profit,why have the hassle.
    I am lucky that i have always bought with my gut feeling ,so i suppose i was born with an eye,even as a child i would come home with a “find ” and it was usually a good buy with my pocket money.
    I hate these programs like Bargain Hunt as just so bad for the trade,making it look so easy.I still work 12-14 hour days 7 days a week and still love it, the hunt is the most fun,that hidden gem that will turn up if you can see it,the auction sleeper you hope nobody else has recognized, the selling is a necessary evil.

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