Local antique dealer Debbie Serpell offers some advice on collecting…

Many of the good antique dealers began their trade as collectors first. Their love of their specialist field of antiques has invariably sprung from their passion for collecting. My own personal love of collecting antiques and subsequent career in dealing in antiques was inspired by my paternal grandparents.

My grandmother trained as a potter at The Royal College of Art in London where she met my grandfather who was a watercolour painter. Their home was full of well chosen, interesting antiques and furniture and in particular they amassed rare pieces of early English pottery and well executed paintings. My grandmother’s love of pottery focused on 19th century Staffordshire pottery and it was this that I was drawn to as a child. She taught me what was good and what was not; what to collect and what to avoid. I came to understand the difference between a well moulded Staffordshire figure and a figure whose mould definition was poor and over used. I learnt what was common and what was rare; what was worth investing in and what to disregard.

When my grandmother died, her collection of Staffordshire figures was naturally divided equally between my father and his sister in New Zealand. This then became the incentive to try to collect the figures that my father had in effect lost to his sister. It was not long after this that I became salaried and could afford to buy my own pieces and felt the serious collecting bug for the first time. Once the bug has bitten it is impossible to look back and my collecting began in earnest, as did my learning pathway. To this day I cannot pass an antique shop without at least looking in and the draw of an antique fair or car boot sale is ever present.

I work alongside my husband, Bob Moores, in the antiques business. He shares my passion for pottery and in this regard, he specialises in collecting and dealing in early English Toby Jugs. We have a website for our stock (Nest Egg Antiques) and I have been a dealer at Petworth Antiques Market for some 12 years now. We stall out at the good trade fairs in the south of England and I also now enjoy the challenges of being a dealer on the ITV’s daytime antique show, Dickinson’s Real Deal.

My Top 10 tips for collecting:

1. Buy from reputable dealers
Whatever the area of antiques interests you, it is always best to buy from reputable dealers. It is they that will be able to guide you towards sound investments and to steer you with their knowledge. Great relationships can develop between the collector and the dealer. Both share a common interest and understanding and dealers are always prepared to buy from a collector they value. It is not just a ‘one way street’!

2. Learn to buy at auctions
Experience of buying at auctions is invaluable but always preview the auction beforehand. The preview gives the buyer the opportunity to handle the items in which he or she is interested in. Damage, for example, will be apparent if you give yourself time to view the items and although I do buy damaged items, it is always unwise to pay the full price for them since restoration costs can be considerable.

3. Buy what you love
There is no better piece of advice. The enjoyment of collecting is in the ‘chase’. You cannot go wrong if you find enjoyment in collecting in a particular area of antiques.

4. Speak to other collectors and share their opinions
There are many specialist trade fairs (eg militaria, toys, jewellery) where a wealth of information is available to the collector. My finding is that people are generally more ‘savvy’ today than ever before. There are a large number of programmes on the television which now educate the masses with regard to antiques and collecting. The internet provides a wealth of information about current prices and values.

5. Do your homework first before selling
Be mindful about trends in your chosen field. There are prime times to sell and good times to hold back on selling. Fashions and interests in areas of antiques fluctuate as do the gold and silver prices. These will influence the market and the prices that can be achieved. If you choose to sell at auction, investigate the seller’s premium that the auction house will charge and deduct from your selling price. The seller’s premium varies from one auction room to another.

6. Invest in antiques
We are all painfully aware that money in the bank is not growing in interest. Money invested in good antiques is a far better way to use your money. Not only do you invest in a beautiful object, you are rewarded by the enjoyment that comes from owning and living with the item.

7. Learn from your mistakes
Anyone who collects or deals in antiques will have made errors of judgement in buying at one time or another. The key is to learn from these mistakes. They are inevitable but can provide valuable insights into the pitfalls of collecting.

8. Condition
A general rule of thumb is that damaged items are never worth the same price as items in mint condition. I am not advising that you should never buy items that are damaged but you should be both aware of the damage and mindful of the repair costs if you do. There are many collectors who will buy damaged items as examples of pieces that they perhaps do not already possess in their collections.

9. Avoid the fakes
Unfortunately the market is flooded with bogus or fake items. There are minefields in some areas of collecting. A good example of this is in the Chinese market, where fakes are almost as good as the original pieces and they can fool even the best of dealers and collectors. The skills of the Chinese craftsmen is as good today as it was centuries ago and the raw materials such as clay for making the items is still available.

10. Don’t over clean!
Time and again I see items that have been over cleaned, particularly in the areas of silver ware, other metals and furniture. Nothing beats the appearance of the patina of age. Removing this by overzealous cleaning removes the character and value of the item. Furniture develops a pleasing ‘look’ with age and use. Removing this by brutal sanding or over polishing reduces the charm and appeal of the piece. I always say that we can return an item to its original brand new appearance but you cannot put back the look of age once it has been removed. Silver hallmarks are often found to have been rubbed away by such cleaning practices and this will drastically reduce the value of such pieces.