B l o w   t h e   G a f f !

by Maggie Snell

I once belonged to the English chapter of an international collecting society that, for a time, banned antiques dealers and journalists as members. Or, if they were allowed in by special permission, they could not buy anything until the rest of the members had made their choices.

Theory was that a dealer wants to buy cheap and sell dear or, worse still, cream off the rare pieces out of collectors' mouths and, horror upon horror, sell overseas where demand and, therefore, prices are higher. This way, club members believed, they could keep prices down. I never got to the bottom of that paranoia over the fourth estate. It doesn't quite work out that way.

As an antiques dealer myself, but not in the jewellery field, I'm in an ideal position to blow the gaff on this rather naive theory. Most of the items I buy, whether for re-sale or for my own collection, come from other dealers. By the very nature of our job we are constantly on the road visiting shops, antiques markets, flea markets, auctions or on the phone - and in more recent times the Internet, but more about that in a future article - and making contact with our colleagues who are doing the same.

Many general dealers prefer to deal among themselves with uncomplicated, immediate (usually cash) turnaround, preferring to let the specialist field the complicated questions and hand-holding that the public and collectors demand. Often payment is sent and goods received in the post without photographs or letters changing hands between individuals who won't return the goods even if, as occasionally happens, things don't turn out as well as expected.

A good, specialist, dealer, if he (or she) knows his job, spends time ferreting out the un-findable and passing it on to collectors who haven't the time, energy, knowledge or contacts to do it themselves. He is on the spot and knows what is in demand at a particular time and what to leave behind. He also tries to find out what individual collectors are looking for so that, when that specific item turns up, it can be immediately passed on to the right person.

Whatever the field, over the years I've tried to encourage new, and even established collectors, to think about the way they want their collections to develop. Do they want lots of cheap and cheerful stuff, regardless of condition? Only good-condition items? Or a few, but unfortunately also expensive, rarities?

I don't think people outside our collecting interest know just how much variety there is in our hobby, and how so many different people collect different things for different reasons. And a specialist dealer is in the middle of it all directing traffic. But, the way things are going, there's too little stuff around for there to be many traffic jams.

OK, some stuff will be expensive - more than you would have to pay if you were in the fortunate position of finding it at source yourself. But then, the specialist dealer often has to pay top prices to maintain stock and credibility. Isn't it better to have him on your side, knowing your special needs, and helping you build up your collection?

Make friends with your favorite dealers! Let them know the makers, or at least the style, of the jewellery you're looking for. And, most important, let them know what you can afford. There's nothing more embarrassing, for either of you, than to have items constantly turned down for no apparent reason, but really on price, and have the dealer stop calling you because he considers you a time-waster.

But if you tell him you have a budget and are prepared to spend about $x in a year, and if z turns up you'd consider mortgaging the house, you'd be amazed at how amenable a dealer can be.

One of the pleasures of my job is that I've been able to develop, over the years, other people's collections with exciting items. What starts simply and gently often grows into something special as the novice collector gains confidence, giving so much pleasure to their caretakers.

I don't think we can ever really own antiques. We look after and enjoy them for a while and later, maybe sooner, pass on to someone else who will do the same. For whatever reason, there eventually comes a time to liquidate. A specialist dealer is in a better position to take all - good, bad, rare, common. He has the contacts at home and abroad to whom to aim his stock - often to those collectors who, to quote one American collector I know, only want to cherry pick and haven't the capital or inclination to duplicate or stockpile the ordinary.

____________________________

Maggie Snell
is a London- based antiques dealer who has specialised in Victorian technology for more than 20 years. She has a world-class collection of antique and toy sewing machines, and edits an international journal on the subject with subscribers in 16 countries, the largest group being American. She has collected '60s and '70s jewellery for 10 years and has a special fondness for Scandinavian abstract, particularly Bjorn Weckstrom's Space Series Jewellery.

E-mail: maggie@ismacs.u-net.com

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