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Antique Dealers

What should you know about Antique Dealers?

I don’t think I have ever met a dealer who didn’t like his job.  Complain, moan and grumble?  Most definitely!

Come to think of it, I am not sure I have come across one who has completely retired either!

A dealer is always on the look-out for ‘that buy’ – an antique collectible that is going to be a once in a life-time find.  I must say I have found the odd thing that was a really good buy, but nothing has made me rich yet that’s for sure!


Antique Dealers find, detail of an oil portrait

About 30 years ago, I went with my boss on an antique hunt – which meant jumping into an old, bruised and tired Peugeot Station Wagon and driving from one antique shop to the next for the whole day.  I was given strict instructions to leave the talking to him, not to show any interest in anything and not to look at anything too long!  If you see something that interests you – don’t pick it up – pick something else up, while looking at what you are interested in.  It was hilarious to say the least and quite exciting too.

So we ended up in the outskirts of London in a shop crammed full of stuff.  We walked in with hardly a hallo to the poor guy behind the counter who was eager for the first sale of the day.  I did as I was told, making eye contact every so often with my boss when I thought I saw something interesting, only to receive a negative, hardly discernible twitch of the eyes.  This took all of 10 minutes and we were out with nothing to show for it. 

So it went on for the whole day.  Eventually we bought some large ugly early Victorian mahogany sideboard which had to be tied to the top of the car.  The ugly sideboard was still there when I left - it really was not an attractive piece.

Needless to say, after that, I can spot an antique dealer a mile away!  It would seem “the antique dealer’s walk” is the same in every country!

Antique Dealers don't have it easy

It is really not an easy life.  If you have a shop and no staff, it means going off in the evenings to look at collectibles and antiques in private houses.  To get to auctions and other shops, it means closing up for the time you are away, perhaps losing customers.  Weekends hardly exist as that is when the markets are open or business people are to be found at home etc.

Antique German Baroque CupboardAntique Baroque Cupboard in the picture has a later coat of 'bierlack' over what was left of the original painted finish. As with many German antique cupboards it was easy to dismantle for transport.

For antique dealers who sell at  markets, it often means getting up before the sun comes up and finding a space to set out your wares. 

If selling antique furniture, it means having to pay someone to help to carry everything. Often having to carry everything quite a distance to set up.  With furniture it is seldom that something doesn't get damaged in the process.

Once everything is set up, then haggling with people who don’t appreciate what wonderful antiques and collectibles you have.  Hoping like anything that you will be able to cover the days expenses and have something left over.  Then after a long tiring day packing it all away again and making the journey back home.

Don’t be surprised if a dealer comes to look at vintage or antique things you want to sell and seems annoyed when there is nothing interesting for him.  He has probably driven quite a way to get there, only to find stuff that he can’t sell.

People tend to forget that ‘we Antique Dealers’ must pay for the fuel, pay the tax, rent, insurance, car maintenance and goodness knows what other expenses. There is nothing more frustrating than visiting a house an hours drive away where the owners have insisted they have a baroque cupboard and beautiful trinkets from the great, great, grandmother, only to find it is all 1930’s mediocre that nobody wants.  Then to top it off the people are offended because you don’t buy anything!

It is understandable that the owners want the best price they can get when selling their antiques – unfortunately antique dealers carry a bad name and many feel you are out to rip them off.  Sadly, this is in some cases only too true.

There are however, some very serious antique dealers out there, who are keen to keep their good name and are prepared to listen.  These are the ones who have their own antique businesses and are buying directly for their shop.

There are the dealers, traders or ‘runners’ who buy from either private or antique shops to sell on to other businesses.  They often have no premises and the things they buy stay in their vehicle until sold.  Their main aim is to buy and sell as quickly as possible because they haven’t the space.  These people can be quite hard and unforgiving and are excellent story tellers (wink) – I used to buy quite a few pieces for my shop this way as it saved me time – but you have to be on your toes dealing with these people!

How can you tell if an antique dealer is serious or not?

Magnificent light fitting found in a house clearance

Well, a serious dealer will be prepared to help you further.  The dealer may not be interested in much of what you have, but will be happy to give you advice on where to get the best price, where to go and how to go about it.  Some will even give you a name of a colleague who would be more interested in the things you want to sell, be they vintage or antique.  Just ask.

In fact, most antique dealers will be more than happy to help you further if you ask.  They are so used to being treated like door to door salespeople that they forget sometimes to be friendly.

Be open, ask them what price they got for a similar article before – most will give you an honest reply.  If you think the price is too low, ask them why.  Don’t be antagonized – at the end of the day it is your decision if you want to sell your antique or vintage pieces or not.

Be aware though, if you intend inviting all the antique dealers in your area to come and give you prices, with the thought of selling to the highest bidder, you are in for a bad time.  Many have contact with each other and know who has been where – if they think you are playing them, they will ignore you and you won’t be able to sell anything.

~ From your own antique dealer :)

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