A chancer with a fondness for small wooden things and decent threads sets out to make his fortune in the world of antique dealing.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Reckoning - January 2012

Well, with a few weeks of bothering Ebay under my belt, it's probably time to report back on how things are going.

Slowly, is the first observation. I've been putting stuff on 10-week auctions so as to maximise the amount of time available for folks to clap eyes on each item. So there haven't been a great deal of successes or failures as yet. Of what has gone, there have been more in the latter category than the former, I'm afraid.


First to shift, or not, were the three turquoise netsuke. I'll be frank: they didn't wash their faces. Grubby buggers. In fact, the mouse one, the best of the bunch, didn't even sell. It's now been sent back for a second chance but hopes aren't high. That's because its compadres, the tiger and the baleful chick, both barely scraped a tenner which, as you'll remember, is roughtly what I shelled out for them in the first place. When you factor in listing fees and the commission that Ebay whips off sales, they lost me some cash. Only a bit, mind, but cash nonetheless. This wasn't the plan.

In hindsight, given that they were HBS and not of amazing quality, I probably did overpay for them by a couple of quids. One of the rules of this venture is 'buy quality', and I defied that with almost all of my early hauls, so this is a bit of a lesson in that.

Tiger Netsuke: Bought for £10, sold for £9.99. Loss after fees: £2.43
Chick Netsuke: Bought for £10, sold for £11.50. Loss after fees: 97p

Beaded Bag

Now, I was excited about this, but at least my mum had the good grace to look a little big sheepish when I told her how much it sold for. I'm putting it down to bad luck overall. It was a cool little handbag from a good label and, while it didn't make much, it did at least break even.

It at least outperformed its beaded cousin, the lipstick case, which didn't sell! Are people not into beads all of a sudden? I must have missed the email. It probably went straight into my junk folder rather than my 'beads - issues' folder, so I'll have to have a look at that.

Maybe the lesson is that while quality is good, the bag probably wasn't that rare an item and... well beads are obviously out. I can't see past those beads.

LK Bennet Handbag: Bought for £5, sold for £6.49. Profit after fees: 69p

Other offenders were the mother-of-pearl ring and bracelet. Neither were wanted. This was probably my fault, as I put them on fixed-price sales for maybe a bit too much (£30 the bracelet, £7.50 the ring). I've relisted them now on 10-day auctions with low starting prices so perhaps someone'll sniff.

Still, there are bids on a couple of other things at the moment, so hopefully my next update will bring gladder tidings, and some quantifiable green.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Football Cig Cards

This was the first thing that I bought at the antiques fair. Just walked in, saw it, bang! parp! Snapped it up. I'd completely forgotten that I had it until today, because I'd preserved it so safely in my bag, nestled in an old gas bill. But now here it is, dusted off and ready to get flogged for a song.

The initial results of my Ebaying have been poor (I'll post the skinny on this soon), and I'm hoping that now I've got the rest of my finds up there, things will turn around a bit. This could be the thing to turn 'em, and all. It's not only a complete set of ciggy cards, but it's in its original presentation album and the whole lot's in perfect mint condition.

Check them out, the handsome lot. That there's (L-R) Billy Wright (looking a bit of a geez), Wilf Mannion, Ted Ditchburn and Stanley Matthews, no less. How can you not love these blokes? Your man on the left captained England ninety times, goddamn you.

Here are some of my favourites:

Raich Carter - Hull City.
He looks right old in this snap, but was probably only in his mid 30s as he joined Hull at 32 I think. One of several footballers who did a bit of cricket on the side (for Derbyshire and Durham) and one of lots who lost their prime years to WWII.
Coolest thing about him is his name, of course. Raich is an amazing first name, but it gets better: It's short for Horatio. Yeah, think on that. What a swashbuckler! My new favourite ancient player.

Charles Mitten - Bogota.
I thought 'hang about...when were Bogota in the league?'. A bit of digging reveals that our man Mitten was busy tearing up the wings for Busby's Man Utd when he was approached by a couple of 'wealthy Columbian businessmen' and spirited away to play for Independiente Santa Fe for a season. Asamoah Gyan has taken lessons.
Unfortunately, Busby wasn't loving this career move, and he was in all kinds of trouble when he came back.

Jack Stamps - Derby County.
For the nominative determinism, by the looks of him.

Peter Doherty - Doncaster.
For the unbelievable hair tekkers.

Anyway, to business. These likely lads cost a total of £3.50. Now, I don't want to get carried away, but... a complete set of football cards from 1951 has got to be worth more than that, hasn't it? Am I deluding myself? Given my current luck in the profit stakes, I don't want to make any wild claims, lest I see my hubris balloon burst into flames, but surely someone will chuck a tenner at something like this?
I don't know... we'll see. Incidentally, I'm pretty pleased with managing to date this to 1951. It took a bit of searching around, but I went on which years each player was with the club shown on the card and managed to narrow it down to the 1951-52 season. Man, that's ...hang on... sixty years old! It's probably the closest thing to an actual antique that I've found yet. But why was the lady I bought it from only asking a fiver for it? She clearly knows something that I don't. Wonder what it is...

Bought for: £3.50 down from £5
Hopes: Nnnnnnngghhhh!!
Profit: ££
Actual Cheddar: ££

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Slimmer's Plate

I mean, this is mental. It's a plate with a bunch of food on it. Not unusual, you might think. Except the food's not food! It's pictures of food, all marked up with the calories per ounce. So you're supposed to eat your dinner off it and shift the food around the plate trying to find the required reference image. Surely it's too late by then? If you've made your butter cheese thingumy and are sitting down to swallow it, you're not going to bin it when you realise it's 340 cals an ounce.

So what's in the lead then? Healthwise, you've got your usual suspects: apples are 15, some incongruous strawberries are 10 and good old lettuce is in there with 5 cals per ounce. However, it is next to the cheese, so some of that may have wiped off on it, invalidating its score.

In the gut-fuzzing stakes, it's the aforementioned butter in top spot on 225, closely followed by bacon on 155 and something kind of indeterminate next to the sausages, which is 120. If I knew what a twinkie was then I might speculate that it's a twinkie.

All this twinkie chat indicates that I'm struggling to date this piece. I'd struggle to date twinkies, too. Wikipedia is having a righteous lockout today and I'm refusing to look anything else up in a gesture of rather tentative solidarity. Hang on though, twinkie sounds as though it might be slang for something. I'm just going to look it up (sorry, wikifolks)...

...so 'twinkie' also means an 'Asian' (I think as in western, central or east Asian) person who's 'culturally white' or a young attractive gay man with no nutritional content. Can of worms here, although I can still say that I've not dated a twinkie, in any sense of the word.

Anyway, I spotted this on a glassware stall that was having a 25% off sale (it's not glassware, deal with it) so I was able to knock them down another 25% from the initial £10 and get it for £5. At £10 it would have struggled to wash its face but at £5 there's a chance for a modest return as long as there are other people out there with a taste for completely bonkers pottery. You've got to hope that there are, right? Come on, this country digs Grayson Perry so hard.

Bought for: £5
Hopes: defiant
Profit: £££
Actual Cheddar: ££

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Beaded Accessories

Tonight is beads night. If it's got beads on it, I'm into it. If not, come back tomorrow, I've got beads to look at.

These two have just gone up for auction, to keep each other company in their beaded adventure. The handbag is LK Bennett (good label, I was informed by my shadowy guru) covered in big beads and small ones, so something for everyone. The little job is a dangerously hip lipstick case. It's for putting your lipstick in when you're ashamed of how unhip your lipstick is. I'm pretty sure they were all over these in the '20s, so that gives you some idea of how vogue it is.

Both are in pretty spanky condition and ready to go. Anyone with any sense will buy both because, and here's the thing, you could put the one inside the other. Other remarkable features of this hot tag-team are the little rectangular mirror inside the lid of the lipstick case, and the surprisingly pleasing weight of the handbag. I've been swinging it around quite a bit since I discovered its pleasing weight, so I can vouch for it.

The handbag should sell for a modest profit, because I got it for not much. LK Bennet stuff goes for good cash, but it depends on whether anyone's loving beads as much as I am. They should be. Also, I bought the lipstick case under my mum's frowning gaze. It was an act of rebellion! Therefore it should be rewarded with dollars if there's a shred of justice. Come on.

Bought for: £5
Hopes: High
Profit: £££
Actual Cheddar: ££

Lipstick Case
Bought for: £3 down from £5
Hopes: Sticky
Profit: £
Actual Cheddar: £

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Three Resin Netsuke

One other piece of advice that didn't quite make it in to the top ten yesterday was: Stick with what you know, to begin with. These will therefore probably not be the only nestuke that I pick up in the early days. I've been collecting netsuke, mostly cheaper modern ones, for a few years now. While I'm not in the league to buy the really amazing ones, I know roughtly what to look for and also know that one of the really cool things about them, which is that the more bizarre they are, the rarer they are.

So this is a set of three, parted from a fourth who had one of his hands off. First thing to note is that they're not all technically netsuke, only the little vexed chick-in-an-egg is bona fide. The other two are just little sculptures. I'll probably drone on about netsuke and inro at some later point, so in short: netsuke are toggles, dating back to medieval Japan, which were used to fix things to your belt. So all netsuke have two little holes in them, for the string to go through.

From left to right in the picture at the top, we've got a wee chick looking balefully out of its egg, a rat losing his mind and kind of kidnapping a tortoise, and a kindly tiger looking after some sword hilts. The Japanese were bastards for a sword hilt back in the day. Never bothered to look after their own though, always left them in the care of a tiger or a rat.

Anyway, these guys are made from resin and are probably pretty recent. The original ones were carved from ivory or boxwood or similar exotic materials but nowadays the modern ones are just cast for the export market. They don't have any signatures or anything like that, but, they're a pretty rad colour.

These were the biggest purchase cashwise of the day, accounting for almost a third of my overall budget. I managed to get them down from £38 to £28 although there was a tense moment when the bloke was overruled by his wife, having mounted a last stand at £30. I'll sell them individually, so if they each clear ten quid then I'm in pocket. Even so, the profit margin probably won't be amazing for them.

Bought for: £28, down from £38

Hopes: muted

Profit: £

Actual cheddar: ££

Mother of Pearl Bracelet and Ring

So this morning was spent in a state of fevered angst at the Antiques and Flea Market at Malvern. I learned a lot in my first outing as a dealer, despite having been there countless times as a punter. Don't buy tea services. That's one. Also, if you find something really nice and the price is reasonable, then it's definitely had something glued back on. I found so many mended feet today it was like hanging around outside a chiropody clinic.

Anyway, I was also reminded that 99% of people selling stuff at places like this know their shit. Therefore, you're very unlikely to find anything of quality at a price that will allow you to make a profit on it.
Out of the 11 things that I snapped up today, this is probably the only exception.

These two came as a pair and I took them mainly because of that. Also because look at them, they're quality. The ring is large and chunky and while it obviously goes perfectly with the bracelet I'll probably sell them separately but within easy view of one another so as to avoid knocking the price down or narrowing the potential buyers.

When I got home, I found out that they are mother of pearl. That's the stuff that lines the shells of things like oysters and mussels and it's what eventually forms into pearls in the former. That's pretty good news because it's the kind of thing that's always popular and gives the whole thing a ring of authenticity.

I think that these have the highest chance so far of turning a healthy profit, partly because of how little I paid for them and partly because they're lovely thing in their own right. Hell, I'd wear them. I don't think many people would be alarmed to see a tag upwards of £25 for the pair.

Bought for: £5, down from £6

Hopes: Bullish

Profit: £££

Actual Cheddar: ££

Saturday, 7 January 2012

My Mum's Top Ten Tips

Tomorrow it's up at the crack to head out to the Three Counties Show ground to see if I can pick up some real genuine antiques, or old things at least*. With that in mind, I've asked my mum for her advice on dos and don'ts when frittering one's savings on tat and trying to flog it on:

  1. It's got to wash its face - Don't be tempted to let something go for less than you paid for it, even if it's been hanging around for a while. Unless you've got a load of cash tied up in it then just wait it out and eventually you'll shift it.
  2. Know what you paid - Geek up and keep a note of what you paid for each piece and how much you think it's worth. Note down what you sell it for as well, y'know, cos it's fun.
  3. Never buy anything damaged - No matter how cheap it is. If you're haggling based on a chip or a stain, you shouldn't be buying at all. Damage, even a little nibble, will massively reduce the price that something goes for, even on really nice, really old items.
  4. Go for collectibles - People like to get lots of the same thing, especially when that thing's got no obvious use or purpose. Toys, egg cups, spoons...all that lot. If it's small and cute and numerous, someone wants it. I've spent too long arguing about the word 'Spidermans' to doubt this.
  5. Animals sell - Following on from the last point, animals are collectible as hell. Dogs, cats, frogs, pigs...god, pigs are the bosses when it comes to this kind of thing. You can't go wrong. I'm going to list some more: ducks, elephants, sheep, fish, hellbenders. Actually no, that's a bit optimistic; I've never known anyone who collects ducks.
  6. Go for things you like the look of - Easy one this, but easy to overlook too. Trust your gut, basically. You have to trawl through so much tat that when something stands out, it's worth having a fondle of. If you've got good taste, you can sell to people with good taste.
  7. Don't buy brass or silver - Counterintuitive! But there's a reason for both. Apparently people can't be bothered to polish brass these days. Shire horses are screwed! But yes, folks are lazy. As for silver, it's always popular but supply and demand means it's pricier than ever. My great uncle was a silversmith and I regret not pestering him for cast-offs when I was a toddler. Poor planning on my part.
  8. 50s and 60s are in. Victoriana is out - The 50s were basically a decade when design, especially in the UK just went awesome. 90% of all good plastic things were made in the 50s, and next to it the 60s were a bit gaudy but who am I to argue? Poor old Victorians though. Who'd have thought that black lacy mourning dress would ever lose popularity. That's what they all wore, yeah? Oh and top hats. Hang on, this can't be right...
  9. Don't be afraid to haggle a motherfucker up - In fact, it's compulsory if you want to make any money ever. Don't be too polite and don't pay what's on the label. They've only put it on there for a joke anyway. Punters will hand the cash over but if you want to be serious then it's a kind of badge of honour to chop quids off what you pay. Every pound you knock off the price is a pound profit, in theory.
  10. If you think it's shit, it is probably shit - In other words, don't worry too much about the label or the make or how old something is. If it looks ghastly, put it back. Otherwise you're narrowing your market down to people with no taste and vast pockets, who are few and far between. The only caveat is: weird stuff is rare stuff and rare stuff sells. So weird and shit aren't the same thing. Thank god.
Thanks mum! Armed with that knowledge, I'm going to venture forth for my first ever experience of buying to sell in the misty Sunday morning sanctum of the big barns of Malvern.

* stuff has to be 100 years old to be an antique, so 1912 or older. That reminds me, apparently one in five babies born today will live to be an antique. Buy them now while they're cheap.

Clifton Wool Cardigan

I don't recognise the brand Clifton, but the label is one of those slightly shrunken, slightly manky ones that you get on really good items in a vintage shop. That gives it cred in my book. It's just the right side of chunky to have a wide-ish appeal.

The buttons are plastic but nice enough, with a mock leather-knot look. It's also got two small pockets and tight, clean cuffs. No marks or dodgy bits, so overall it's in good nick. As with a lot of the first batch of stuff that I've come up with, it's not going to set the world alight but there's nowt wrong with it and it should wash its face (I'm getting the hang of this shit).

The one thing that made me go for this was that I thought 'yeah, I'd wear it'. That seemed like a good point in its favour at the time, but on reflection I'm not sure whether or not I should be using that quality as a benchmark. Time will tell, right? I've worn some really bad clothes.

Bought for: £4
Hopes: Low
Profit: £
Actual Cheddar: ££

Wooden Thimble

This dinky lot is obviously HBS, but still reasonably cute. It was made by turning, which means spinning a bit of wood round really fast and skimming bits off it so that it's the same all the way round. You do it on a lathe, but I'll stop with the nuggets of info at this point otherwise I'll have given you a whole Design Technology A-Level for free.

What's more, it comes with a little box for it to go in. The box tells me - via a sticker on the bottom - that it was turned in Rugeley, Staffordshire. That's called 'documentation'. It's like when you have an Elizabethan tobacco box that comes with a letter from Walter Raleigh to Francis Drake saying 'Franny, many happy returns. Keep your snuff in this old boy', which quadruples its value and proves it's dead old. It's just like that. In this case it proves that it was made sometime after the invention of transparent sticky labels.

The thing about this little bugger of course, is that it cost barely anything. Therefore, while I'm not going to retire on it, the profits margin will be obscene even if it only sells for a quid. Probably should be a bit more ambitious but I wanted to get a good mix of stuff on my first outing and this was irresistibly dinky.

Bought for: 50p
Hopes: Complacent
Profit: ££
Actual Cheddar: £

Jasperware Jubilee Plate

Here's the first of my hopefuls. It's a little blue plate, as you can see.

This matte, white on pale blue stoneware is known as Jasperware, because it's got jasper in it. Who's jasper? He's a mineral, like quartz, and he makes it blue. The blue in question is known as Wedgewood Blue in this case, because jasperware is one of the signature lines of Wedgewood, the dons of pottery.

Now, Jo Wedgewood himself was a bit of a don too, and all-round good man. With a name like Wedgewood you're either going to be a famous potter and abolitionist or a sex offender, so it's good that he went for the first option.

Anyway, sorry for the horrible date stamp thing on the photo, but I'm using my dad's camera. As you can see, this isn't an ancient plate. You can get some incredible stuff in jasperware, going way back to the 18th century, but this one's a Silver Jubilee one from the 70s. It's in mint condition and has the queen's mug on it, which is always great.

Because I picked this up for a couple of quid, I think I can get some coins out of it. Also, we thought it was the queen's Golden Jubilee this year, but then realised we'd miscounted and that happened back in 2002. Oh well, it should still be okay.

Bought for: £2.99
Hopes: Modest
Profit: £
Actual Cheddar: £

How did I become a millionaire you ask? Well it's a long story...

Well then. As my 30th year draws to a close, I feel that it's time to finally learn a trade. I have discounted millinery, blacksmithing and animal husbandry. After a Christmas spent watching Antiques Roadtrip and year upon year of soaking up my mother's vintage wisdom, I'm going to give it a go.

When it comes to collecting, I've dabbled very modestly, with a small crop of African masks and a burgeoning stable of Japanese netsuke to my name. These have been gathered as presents and occasional purchases, but now the plan is to buy 'nice pieces' to sell for a profit. Here's the plan:

Start off with a £100 pot, from which to pick up some small bits and bobs that I reckon I can sell on for more than I shell out. Simple stuff. I'll be gunning around the country in some convertible sports car in no time, can't wait. I can't drive, mind.

So far, I've dented my starting budget with a sweep of the charity shops in St John's, Worcester. I'll post details of these later on today. In the meantime, I've got to learn the lingo of this most crusty/louche of professions. I've got a couple of gems that should see me through:

- "It's got to wash its face."

Not a reference to the mud-caked clay doorstep in the shape of a bulldog that I will surely pay a song for at somepoint. This means that an item must pay for itself. Don't sell for a loss. More of this soon when I quiz my mum for her top 10 tips.

- "Harry Brand Spankers."

Or HBS for short. This means something is in fact NOT an antique (or even vintage) and is brand new, therefore not worth as much as you thought when you spotted it. Sample usage: 'look at the date, it's HBS'. Saying this will increase my poshness by 6%, which is crucial in this line of work.

- "A nice piece".

It goes without saying that I'd normally only say this when referring to a firearm or a woman's bottom, or when doing a jigsaw. Now I'm licensed to say it about anything from a dining chair to a Royal Doulton toilet. It's going to be a bit of a stretch to begin with. Not sure if I can get away with it yet. I'll start off small and only say it about small things, quietly.

-"It's got legs".

Normally I'd only say this when referring to a woman's bottom...etc... This means that something isn't necessarily underpriced, but does have the potential to make a bit of money. Not just wash its face, you see. It's got legs right, so it can walk to the bank or something. You can say it about chairs, tables, toy animals and stuff if you want. The joke will wear pretty thin though. I'll say it tomorrow.

- "That's all the money."

A favourite phrase for rappers who are well-spoken but still jiggy. This is the opposite of having legs, because it means that the asking price for a piece (getting the hang of this shit now) doesn't leave any room to make a profit on it. Sample usage: 'That is nice, and it's not damaged. How much is it?' 'It's twenty-five quid.' 'Oh forget it, that's all the money.'

I'm not going to deploy any of these in the same sentence or I'll be rumbled as a charlatan.

More news soon on my first crop of purchases. For now though, I'll leave you with my muse and primary inspiration. You know in Vicar of Dibley when Frenchy asks the little picture of Jesus what she should get up to? It's going to be like that except I'm not licensed to perform marriages, and it won't be a picture on the wall, obviously. It'll be a tatoo on my thigh.