Ever wondered how we buy our unique vintage and antique furniture? Carl reveals his top tips for buying at vintage and antique fairs, shows and flea markets around the UK and reveals his favourite shows and fairs.
Carl’s been buying and selling vintage and antique furniture for over 10 years and has visited hundreds of fairs, markets and shows. Much of what he buys comes from the many fair and events around the UK. If you have never been to a fair or market it’s worth taking a step back to consider a few things before you take the plunge.
Fairs are a fantastic place to buy and sell antique and vintage furniture and interiors and it’s hard to beat the experience of being faced with hundreds of stalls and pitches stacked high with eclectic homewares and boxes full of vintage delights when passing through the gates of a big fair. I am always surprised by what I see at the fairs I visit and I am never disappointed.
Before you go: Every fair is different and even the same fair can vary according to the time of year. There is a fair for every type of antique, collectable or vintage style. Some specialise in antique furniture, others architectural salvage, others mid century furniture, others agricultural vintage machinery, vintage lighting, china and pottery, figurines, silver, glassware, paintings, furniture, tools, gardenware, books, jewellery, militaria, toys, dolls, advertising and others will sell a bit of everything. There’s an event for every style or taste. So plan which one(s) you want to visit and when.
Arrive early: There is nothing more true than the old adage ‘the early bird gets the worm’ in the world of antique fairs. Many start at 6am and the best pieces are often gone minutes after the gates have opened. Once you do arrive plan where you want to visit first and return to those you passed earlier.
Caveat Emptor: You should inspect each item in great detail and ask about its provenance, age and previous use. Don’t hesitate to inspect the piece thoroughly to ensure it’s worth what you are going to offer. Do not rush to buy because once bought it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to return it or ask for a lower price. A lot of vintage furniture at fairs and shows has been salvaged from barns, warehouses, sheds, factories and houses and may look like it needs total restoration, but surprisingly many pieces only need a basic clean and waxing to breathe life back into them and reveal a wonderful patina. Look out for wood worm damage, that may require substantial remedial work (often suspect worm infested furniture needs little more than a simple wood worm treatment). I am always on the lookout for large runs of mid century stacking chairs. The plywood seats and backs are often split and this devalues them when buying. I’ll always inspect each chair and pay less for or reject damaged chairs.
Buy with confidence: Know what you are looking at looking for and buy with confidence. Many fairs are big events spread over many acres and could take a hole day to get around to see all the stalls and pitches. If you hesitate and think you’ll look around and then come back to something you liked earlier in the day there’s a good chance it’ll have sold. With experience I know what is a good deal and I know what we can sell it and what margin we will make on each piece when I buy at fairs. If it is a good deal and is what I am looking for then I buy it and will come back to collect it later in the day. However, generally buying at a fair is really no different to buying in an antique or vintage shop you just have to know what you are buying, but you get much more choice and are more likely to pick up a bargain. Fakes are not uncommon in the antique and vintage trade and sometimes and dealer may not know that he or she is selling something that is not real. Many well-established dealers will issue invoices and you should ask them to include any provenance for high value items.
To haggle or not: Bargaining or haggling is pretty much expected when at fairs. Generally all dealers and traders will come down on prices especially when you are buying bigger more substantial pieces or you buy bigger quantities, but others may have fixed prices. A dealer’s unwillingness to bargain does not mean it’s a not a good deal. We buy our vintage soda crates from a dealer who imports from the USA. The price is a few pounds less for buying 10 and several pounds less when we buy a pallet of 60. There are really no rules when it comes to bargaining, but building a rapport with a dealer will always help.
Stay in touch: Collect dealers’ phone numbers, Facebook pages and business cards. All dealers receive new stock every week so what might not be at the event you visit could arrive the week after.
Getting home: Think about how you will get pieces back home if you have not got a van / lorry. Dealers come from all over the UK and Europe and there is an informal network of people who are willing to take items back to your area for a small amount of money. The cost of transporting should be factored into the overall cost of buying the item(s). You may be able to buy similar pieces cheaper locally after the transportation costs have been added on. If you are looking to buy smaller items then a light-weight trolley will save you juggling your prize buys as you walk around the fair.
Cash is King: Bring enough cash! Vintage and antique dealers only accept cash and there is nothing worse than seeing a piece of vintage furniture that you can’t buy because you have run of money!
Buy before fairs and events: I have a good network of contacts and I will call some before the bigger vintage fairs to find out what they are saving to take to fairs and events. If they know I will pay the same or a little less than they would get at the fair then they will always sell the pieces to me and then they can fill their van something else to sell.
Carl’s Top 3 vintage fairs and shows:
Newark International and Collectors Fair – Held at the Newark and Nottinghamshire Showground on an enormous 84 acre site, up to 2,500 stands attract thousands of dealers and buyers from around the globe every other month. It holds the title of Europe’s biggest vintage and antique show and it’s not for the faint-hearted. I would recommend trying out smaller events before tackling this monster. I met a Japanese antique trader selling unique Japanese ship furniture when I visited in October. Next event: Thursday 2nd to Friday 3rd February 2017.
Farming Yesteryear and Vintage Rally (aka Scottish Vintage Tractor and Engine Club) this is my hidden gem of a show and it’s a real family event held at the end of the summer in the shadows of Scone Palace, Perthsire. It showcases ploughing with vintage tractors, vintage tractor rallies, agricultural and machinery displays. There is a fantastic array of vintage traders selling mainly auto parts, but also other vintage items. Next event: usually 2nd Sunday in September.