What is an antique? That was just one of the questions I asked Mark Lock, founder of Marchand Antiques and a man with over 25 years’ experience in the antiques business.
His answer, ‘There are things that are old and they are just old. I think it comes down to the quality of an item. Is it beautiful? Is it something that is going to enhance your environment? When you look at it, does it make you feel good? Then I think maybe it is.’
Looking around Marks’ antiques showroom in Sevenoaks it’s easy to see that he has an eye for ‘strong decorative pieces and statement furniture.’ Items that ‘don’t need to be dressed up with anything else’ but can be ‘the focal point of a room.’
It all sounds so easy when you listen to Mark . Who’s been followed around French flea markets by CNN and featured on TV shows such ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ and ‘French Collection’. He’ll also be appearing in this autumn’s new series of ‘Salvage Hunters’ with Drew Pritchard.
So, I asked him, if someone wants to buy an antique, what should they look for?
You need to buy things that are from their period. So, if it’s a regency piece its got to be from that time period. It’s no good buying a piece made in the 1920’s because even in 100 years’ time it’s still only going to be a reproduction of a regency piece.
Secondly, it needs to be as original as possible. The thing is to ask the dealer because most of them are going to tell you straight. If someone comes in here and says I like that chair, is it original? I’m going to say well, the casters are brand new because two were missing and I couldn’t find two to match it or whatever it is.
Ask the dealer, they will tell you. Things that are 100 or 200 years old, they’ve all had stuff done to them. It’s so rare to find anything that has never had anything done to it. If it was a car, it would have had this or that changed and it’s the same with furniture.
People talk about provenance. What is it?
Provenance is an auction house term and it’s sometimes used to inflate prices. Saying something has come from Lady So and So’s collection can give an item value, but I take it with a pinch of salt.
At the end of the day it’s the item you’re buying. You can’t sit on provenance, you can’t look at provenance. It’s not tangible. So, it’s up to you whether you want to buy the story.
Mark grins as he goes on to give an example of how choosing where to buy an item from can also greatly affect the price. Mark frequently travels abroad to track down unique pieces and he once bought four French leather chairs. He brought them back to the UK and had them restored. He sold two of them to Nicole Fahri to put in her Knightsbridge shop and put the other two on sale in his own showroom.
A young couple came into his shop and fell in love with the chairs. He said he would sell them for £2,400 including delivery. The couple went away to have some lunch and didn’t come back.
A little while later Mark received a phone call from Nicole Fahri saying she’d sold the chairs for £6,000 and could he give them a quick once over before delivering them for her. Mark agreed and when he turned up at the delivery location he was greeted by the young lady who had loved his totally identical, but much cheaper chairs, so much.
If someone hasn’t bought an antique before, where is the best place to start looking?
I would say go to the shops because if you go to the trady antiques fairs there is so much stuff. It’s hard to concentrate. There’s also loads of repro and it’s too much of a minefield. So, go to a shop or an antique centre first.
It gives you the confidence to think if somethings not right at least you know where they are. If you buy something at a fair you may not see that person ever again.
Do antiques need to be insured?
I think that unless you are buying a big purchase, you are generally ok to put it under your general household insurance. If you are buying something for say £5,000 you may want to insure that as a named item.
The nameable value can vary for each insurance provider and they may want a letter from the antiques dealer you bought it from to say that’s what the value is.
Think about the things that are most likely to get stolen. You might have a £10,000 dining table but that’s not as likely to get stolen as a £10,000 bronze statue. That would be quite a pinchable thing if someone broke into your house so think of things that have a carry out value.
What type of antique tends to hold its value best?
Things that can be attributed to a designer. So, for example, if you can say that’s a Chippendale, Sheraton or a Hope. Even right up to 50’s and 60’s, anything you can put a particular name to.
Although the market has softened a little, the good stuff is still making big numbers because it was made in small quantities. But like anything, it has to be quality.
Louis Vuitton antique trunks are just crazy money, but it also comes down to fashion. People like Elton John and Barbra Streisand were buying things back in the 1970’s like Tiffany lamps for huge sums.
If they put them on the market now though they would be taking hits because they’re not fashionable. Even though they are attributable to someone you also have to be guided by fashion.
So, what is fashionable in the antiques world right now?
It’s like clothes, going back a few years you could say that one thing was ‘the’ fashion but now it’s a few themes running at once. You’ve got your Swedish painted furniture look that’s still going strong. You’ve got your English country house and you’ve still got your industrial sort of look.
I think industrial is taking a kick back now. The minimal thing is definitely going. I think people are realising its nice to have and look at nice things.
The look I really think is happening at the moment, and most people can use it, is the English country house, sort of slightly down at heel look. Not shabby chic but a look that’s evolved over time.
When I go out buying now, in my mind, are good strong country house pieces. Big Howard sofas, armchairs, nice dressers, big log baskets and fenders. A nice bust, that sort of thing. Its quite a masculine look now as well. Even for women its quite strong and less flouncy.
Where should someone new to buying antiques look for further information?
You can’t beat the Millers Guides. You can grab them for a couple of pounds in charity shops, or find them in your library, and they’re a great reference point. All the prices have been added by dealers so they’re probably the maximum you would see. But the guides are good for seeing a lot of stuff in one go.
If your looking for higher quality items, then also have a look online at www.1stdibs.com where you can see a bit of information, get the dimensions and four or five different photographs that you can expand on your screen.
We sell through The Decorative Collective, a vetted, online antiques dealer marketplace, and you can see lots of pictures and info on there. There’s also an email address that you can use to pop an email over to whoever has got the item to get some more information.
Just this week, Mark has bought ‘a couple of really good Swedish benches, a big log basket, some nice French Napoleon III chairs, a convex mirror and, my wife thought I was crazy, especially when she had to help me carry it, this huge, piece of 18th century iron grill. Its 5ft x 5ft and when I put it up on the wall its going to look like an amazing bit of sculpture. As a patina I do like a bit of rust!’
Do you have a favourite item in the shop at the moment?
It’s a little 18th century mirror and its purely because of the way the mercury mirror plate is. You can see yourself in it, but you wouldn’t want to be touching up your make-up of having a shave. But it’s not about that, it’s about the atmosphere. That’s what I love, and I just think it’s a proper antique. It’s not been mucked about with.
Mark’s love of antiques is evident when he talks but he says, ‘the hunt is the best bit. I get as much fun going into an antique shop and finding something for £20 that I can sell for £50 as I do from something that’s got £2,000 profit in it.
All of Mark’s favourite finds travel home with him, but not always for long. As he explains, ‘I’m happy to have bought it, happy to have owned it and happy to see it go on. Whereas Jacqueline, my wife, gets really attached to things. I’ll own things and think, I love it, I love it, I love it and then someone will come in looking for one and I’ll say I’ve got one of those at home. Jacqueline will then come home, and I’ve sold it’.
What would you love to find?
I’d love to go to a big house clearance and find a really good-sized pair of bronze warwick vases. I don’t think I would get rid of those… well, unless someone made me a good deal. The thing is you think oh there’s a really good profit in that which means I can go and buy more stuff.
Any final words…
Buy quality. Buy something that gives you pleasure, is of its period with the minimum amount of things done and you shouldn’t go wrong. But always take advice. Most dealers will be happy to give it. There’s a few grumpy ones out there but most will be happy to give advice.
And if you’ve now got the antiques bug do take a trip to see Mark and his wife Jacqueline, at Marchand Antiques, Holly Bush 4a St Johns Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent. TN13 3NP (Tel: +44 (0)7889540789),
Or you can chat to them at the October 2018 and January 2019 Decorative Arts and Textiles Fairs at Battersea Park. Further information can be found at – https://www.decorativefair.com/
Happy hunting and if you have a favourite antiques shop, centre or fair please do share it in the comments box below.