Antiques Roadshow’s Andy McConnell: ‘I made £1m over 10 years flipping houses’

Do you use cash, debit or credit cards?

It depends who’s asking. I’m an antique dealer: I like cash. Anything tax-deductible is cards.

Have you invested in property?

Most of the money I’ve made has been in property. After four years in LA, in 1976-77 I rented a house/cabin/fleapit near Rye for £4 a week. I wrote to the landlady after I fell through the floor, and she said, “Would you like to buy it for 10 years’ rent?” When I said I hadn’t got £2,750, she said she’d lend it to me.

By then I’d hooked up with my missus, who had a boy, a girl, a dog and a cat. I had £15-20,000 in the bank, which was enough to do the house up. So we got a £15,000 home improvement grant and I learnt how to be a builder.

I made a mint during the storm of 1987. That first morning I called the scrap yard: “How many peg tiles have you got left?” He said, “6,000.” I said, “Dave, I’ll have the lot”, which I bought at 20p each and sold at £1.25.

It was like buying work with all the roofs that had been ripped off. Insurance companies wouldn’t send assessors to jobs under £1,000 so we did jobs for £999.

With that money we bought a manoir in the Dordogne in 1988 for £17,000, lived there six years while renting out the other two houses. Returning in 1994, we sold the cabin for £140,000 and started buying wrecks, moving in, doing them up and flogging them.

The profit was £1m over 10 years, which we reinvested. Being our principal residence, the strong financial advantage was that there was no tax on the profit.

How did you stumble on to glass?

In 1978, I got a call to go on the road with Jefferson Airplane. I had a little junk shop in Rye and took a bag of “attempted antiques” to Hamburg.

One shop I entered to find somebody to buy them was Günter Kramm’s. He asked me to buy glass for him in England and France. I said, “I know nothing about glass.” He said, “Nor do I. Together we’ll learn!” I got the bug.

Do you invest in the stock market?

I inherited some money and through a good investment manager did well on Blackstone unit trusts. When the money was needed we bought the building for £500,000 that became our Glass Etc. shop in Rye in 2005, which we sold in 2020 for £725,000. I now have 30,000 pieces of glass!

It did very well. The customer was always right. If you didn’t like it, you could bring it back. Great music, free cup of tea, and we were voted England’s Best Antique Shop by Homes & Antiques magazine.

What have you learnt about business?

The nicer you are to people, the more money you make.

Your best financial decision?

When my first book came out in 2004 I was approached by a private curator from New York who had a client, billionaire businessman James Pallotta, who wanted me to build him a world-class collection.

Simultaneously, I got offered a glass collection by Britain’s greatest 20th century glass engraver, Peter Dreiser. I bought it off his widow for £11,000. It was 27 car loads and I sold Pallotta 40 pieces for what I paid for the lot.

What’s the most valuable glass you’ve advised on?

Somebody showed me a picture of this enamelled Venetian glass (like a beaker with flared foot). I said, “My advice to you is free. But if you follow it, I want 10pc of the net you make off it.” He agreed.

I said, “Next time you go to London, see this guy who’s the expert in it,” which he did. They took a tiny flake of its blue enamel (cobalt) which you can date very accurately as it’s radioactive.

They dated it to 1510 and he sold it for £35,000. He arrived with a cheque for £2,500 (he’d got £25,000 after a huge auctioneer’s commission), saying, “Andy, without you it wouldn’t have happened; and it paid off my daughter’s student debt, finished the extension and we went on holiday.” He could’ve sold it for a tenner at a boot fair.

Have your Antiques Roadshow valuations ranged widely?

I hold the record for the highest and lowest valuations the Roadshow ever broadcast: seven chandeliers at Bath Assembly Rooms at £1m each (I knew London dealer Mallett had a smaller one by the same maker for sale for £750,000); and 30p for a Shippam’s fish paste jar found by a 12-year-old mudlarking on the Thames.

Has money had a funny side?

After Günter retired we were in France, skint. From a Jefferson Airplane book in my bookshelf fell seven crisp 500 Deutsche Mark notes, worth about £1,750, which I’d put there years before and forgotten about. Talk about silver lining.

Are you a saver or a spender?

A saver and stingy as sin. I’m an antique dealer: everything I’ve bought has cost too much, and everything I’ve sold I sold too cheap – I’m really hard done by!