The Dealer: How to make money from antiques

It’s never too late to be a connoisseur, says antique dealer Ian Butchoff…

Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street. He is regarded as a leading authority on 19th century furniture.

I’m a furniture man to my core. I eat mahogany for breakfast, rosewood for lunch and walnut for dinner – little wonder I have stomach complaints!

When the call came in from LondonlovesBusiness.com last week asking if I’d like to contribute to this latest online news hub and write a regular column, for a brief moment I was flattered.

This was soon replaced by some disquiet – what would I write about? Would I have to become a “personality” with plaid jacket, bow tie, moustache and glasses positioned at a rakish angle at the end of my nose?

Would readers really want to hear me prevaricate for hours as to the merit of a Banksy, a Neolithic hatpin or the virtues of Chippendale?

They assured me not as the suggestion is that after many years in the antiques trade – quite how many I’m not sure if I am prepared to reveal - I write about life as an antiques dealer, the state of the market, how to spot the next trends, general tips on what and what not to buy. 

As well as the pearls I intend to use examples of some of my best buys and then again some of my worst that have proved invaluable learning tools.

“How does one develop this “eye”? There is only one simple answer – do your homework: study, read, go to museums, visit auctions, country houses, antique fairs and dealer’s shops”

To be a dealer, or a collector of antiques you really need to have an initial interest which quickly flourishes into a passion, and if you are not careful can then turn into an unhealthy obsession.

But, most importantly of all, what you need is an “eye”.

An “eye” is something that takes years to obtain – it is an innate understanding of the aesthetics of what is before you, the quality and style of a piece, its inherent beauty and integrity.

How does one develop this “eye”?

There is only one simple answer – do your homework: study, read, go to museums, visit auctions, country houses, antique fairs and dealer’s shops. Ask questions and handle things and in five to ten years it should start to come – simple as that (or develop a good relationship with a dealer who already has)!

Unfortunately, like most things in life, there are no short cuts so pick a period or a style, a discipline that will interest you – whether it be furniture, silver, clocks, porcelain, whatever it may be open both your eyes and your mind. Don’t be afraid to handle objects.

“Over the coming months I will go over these points with the hope of stirring an interest and instilling you with the collecting bug”

Question what you see – does it look good? Is it quality? And most importantly do you like it and can you live with it? Apart from the joy you gain from living with a beautiful object it might also turn out to be a good investment, much better than those investment policies that never quite fulfil their promises or clever investors that charge you an exorbitant fee to mismanage your money.

Over the coming months I will go over these points with the hope of stirring an interest and instilling you with the collecting bug. Antiques can be fun, that are “green”, very decorative and play your cards right and they can be a profitable investment. Which reminds me of a joke:

An Antiques Dealer is stopped at the traffic lights in his Bentley Continental when there’s a tap on the window. Standing there he recognises his old school friend Bill, who he hasn’t seen for 30 years. Bill, says the dealer, you look terrible – what’s happened to you?  Divorce, says Bill, the wife took the lot. I’m having to live on the streets. 

But look at you in your flash car, how have you done so well? 

Well, says the dealer, when I left school I bought a chair for a pound and sold it for 2 pounds. With the money I bought another chair and sold it for 4 pounds, etc and so on. 

The friend looks at him in amazement, and says you must have sold a lot. Nah, says the dealer, five years ago I won £40 million on the lottery and thought sod the chairs!

Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street. He entered the trade aged 11 and is today recognised as a leading authority on 19th century furniture. He is a co-founder and board member of the dealers’ association LAPADA, and will be writing a regular column for LondonlovesBusiness.com.

 

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