Antiques Roadshow expert Andy McConnell has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds from antiques but says the best money decision he ever made was investing in property.
The BBC show’s glass specialist tells Donna Ferguson that he bought his first home in 1979 for £2,750.
He says he much prefers working with host Fiona Bruce – ‘a woman with swagger’ – than her predecessor Michael Aspel.
Now 70, he lives mortgage-free in Rye, East Sussex, and enjoys giving talks to raise money for charity.
What did your parents teach you about money?
To work hard for it and to understand the link between money and ‘stuff’. My parents were part-time antique dealers. By going with them to antique shops when they were buying, I learned how you parlay the price down – and that cash talks.
I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father was the managing director of the family tobacco-blending business, which employed about 20 people in East London. He worked hard while my mother, who is an avid Daily Mail reader, was a professional cocktail drinker.
I say that because it will make her giggle – she had au pairs and went to cocktail parties for a living. We lived in leafy Epping. There was no hardship in my childhood. I was a very lucky child and I am extremely grateful for my good fortune.
What do you enjoy most about antique dealing?
The thrill of the chase. Buying is so much more fun for me than selling. Selling is boring. Buying is dynamite. I remember going into an antiques shop in Crystal Palace in the 70s and finding five post-medieval glasses, priced at £2 each. They were worth £5,000. I knocked down the price to £8.
What is the best bargain you ever discovered?
An enamelled Venetian beaker of a painted horseman riding in armour, which dated back to 1510. A man had bought it in a clearance sale. He thought it was worth £50. I placed it for him in an auction, and he got £25,000 for it.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. In 2004, I wrote a book about glassware, The Decanter: An Illustrated History 1650-1950. A year later, an American who had bought a copy of my book invited me to assemble a world-class collection of decanters for him.
It turned out he was billionaire hedge fund manager Jim Pallotta, who owned the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Over a period of five years, I assembled this collection for him and I must say it was quite lucrative.
All the particularly good decanters I owned myself that I had previously decided were too good to sell – suddenly weren’t too good to sell to a billionaire.
Overall, I made £160,000 by both buying decanters on his behalf and selling him ones I owned.
What is the worst antique purchase you’ve made?
I spent £500 on a Venetian glass bowl 20 years ago that’s only worth £150 now. It’s utterly revolting and I’ve no idea why I bought it.
Over the past 40 years, I’ve collected more glass than the V&A and the British Museum combined. The only difference between what I’ve got and what the V&A has got is that its collection is worth billions and mine is worth sixpence.
What’s the best money decision you have made?
Buying my first house in 1979 for £2,750. It was a two-bed cottage by the river outside Rye, East Sussex. It had no running water and you had to get buckets of water from the river to flush the toilet. I’ve always been handy so I did it up and turned it into a liveable place. Ten years later, I sold it for about £150,000.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
I receive the state pension because I’m a doddery old man but I didn’t make enough National Insurance contributions so it’s the equivalent of a bag of chips a month. I think I get around £80 a week. I see investing in the stock market as only slightly removed from playing roulette – and I don’t gamble.
Do you own any property?
I own my home, mortgage-free. It’s a two-bed house right on the beach outside Rye. I bought it four years ago for £230,000 and it’s definitely gone up in value. It was a total fleapit when I bought it and unmortgageable. In fact, the particulars said it was unfit for human habitation so I thought it was just right for me and got £95,000 off the asking price. All I’ve done so far is install a new bathroom and new boiler but I’m planning a complete renovation.
What is the little luxury you treat yourself to?
Disappearing for six months every winter to South East Asia. It’s a luxury but it is also a money-saving exercise because I don’t have to pay to heat my house in winter. Last year, I went to Cambodia and Thailand, the year before that I went to India. I go because of Brexit – I’m so ashamed of my country and that decision, I feel I need to get out.
If you were Chancellor what is the first thing you would do?
As a smoker of 30 cigarettes a day for 50 years, I think cigarettes should cost £500 a packet. I’ve got emphysema now. I’ve smoked 490,000 fags in my lifetime and I regret it now.
Do you donate money to charity?
I donate my time. I am prepared to give my time, absolutely free, to anybody who can raise £5,000 for charity off the back of an event I am speaking at. I have a talk that I give to rotary clubs and the like. I don’t mind which charity the money goes to – environmental or humanitarian – as long as the event is in southern England. I talk about the most interesting subject I know: myself. In fact, it’s about the roadshow, how it works and what Fiona Bruce is like to work with.
What is Fiona Bruce like to work with?
She’s great. I much prefer her to Michael Aspel, her predecessor. She is a woman with swagger and intelligence.
Does the BBC pay well?
It pays more than my state pension and it’s a great pleasure to be part of the show.
What is your number one financial priority?
Staying alive – and keeping myself in Bee Gees albums.
- To book Andy for a free talk to raise money for a charity, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.