So there I was quietly minding my own business (literally, the shop was empty) and an email pings in: can we use a pic of one of your items in our mag. Hell yes. And can we 'interview' you for our mag. Hell no. But she sent the questions anyway. And of course old nosey here couldn't help but read them.
Now, if you want opinions I've got hundreds and they're all freely given so, of course, I answered her questions, and I guess sometime soon I will be getting laughed at by my peers for regurgitating the same old rubbish.
For what its worth, here's the interview and my turgid replies:
1) What is the first thing you look for when evaluating a piece?
Assuming it is what I am looking for, of course, then the first three things I always look at are condition, condition and condition. It is everything in this business.
Assuming that is OK, you then look for signs of repair/restoration, which is really encompassed in the 'condition' for a dealer, but perhaps non-dealers might consider it as a separate issue.
Patina, too is an important part of assessing an item, and a great guide to age and authenticity.
Then its to more specific matters, like marks, signatures and so on, all of which can be vital clues as to authenticity, age.
But in this age of re-purposed, re-claimed and re-made objects, the authenticity of something might matter less than its practicality and its style. As an old fogey I am wont to remind people that re-purposed items are unlikely to hold their value, unless the creator goes on to become starry and collectable
2) Do you prefer to have documentation to support its origin?
Its lovely if you can get it, and with an important object will enhance its value, but it won't stop me from buying something unless its value comes from its association.
For example, if somebody tried to sell me a piece associated with say a famous celebrity, then I would require documentary evidence of that link, and preferably a picture of the celebrity wearing/using/driving whatever. Think of, say, a fairly standard 1950's silk scarf. It has a value, albeit modest. Now if you can prove that it belonged to Marilyn Monroe and back that up with documentation and a photo showing her wearing it, then you are propelling the value into the stratosphere, relatively.
3) What are the tell-tale signs of a replica?
Again it depends on the item. A replica sold as an original is a fake. A reproduction of something is not a fake, provided it is identified as repro.
The best way to avoid buying fakes and reproductions is to familiarise yourself with original examples as far as you can: see examples, handle them if you can, research the materials used, look for makers marks and always question the authenticity. Buy from a reputable dealer, and ask them about the item.
If authenticity is vital to you, you need to check for signs of restoration too. A skilled restorer is aiming to make a piece look good while also looking unrestored, and it can take a trained eye to spot the best. That's why one of my tips is to look around at as many examples of your chosen antique that you can find.
4) What’s the most rare piece that you’ve discovered?
Rare or unusual pieces crop up all the time in this business. For example yesterday an Ethiopian Bridal bangle turned up in my sleepy little N. Devon village. Not a rare item as such, but unusual round here I would have thought.
For a dealer the best finds are the ones that no one else has spotted. I was very pleased to find a Saturnalia mirror by Herve van der Straeten recently at auction, mis-catalogued.
5) What are your three top tips for an amateur to look for when buying an antique piece?
- Never, in my view, buy for monetary reasons, always buy for love
- Aim for the best example that you can find/afford which means doing research and probably biding your time
- Get to know and talk with your local antiques dealer, he or she will be an invaluable resource and help you find what you want
- Read my blog!
One of the best tips remains; find the things others pass over. For example, say you want some chairs for the kitchen. Sets of chairs sell, singles are difficult and that's usually reflected in the price. If you settle on a style, you can pick up ones and twos as you see them and hey-presto, a nice set.
I think Silver is a great place for people to start too. Because of the laws governing hallmarks Silver tells someone with even fairly basic knowledge quite a lot. There are a lot of resources on the net and in print to help the amateur learn to read hallmarks and then be able to tell whether something really is silver, who made it, when and where they made it. That covers much of the 'need to know' of any collector, from there its just condition x 3 and whether it makes you want to love it.
But you know all that because you've read my blog about silver hallmarks. It's here if you haven't been keeping up. Tsk!
You can bet (if I like it) that I'll pop the link up (everywhere) for the mag (Reclaim), the pic, and the interview when I get it. Be interested to see how much of the waffle above makes it to print.
Anyway, what do you think? And how would you reply to those same questions? Do let me know (comments box below)