Picture the scene: It’s eight am on a cold, windy, wet and very grey Sunday morning. While you are opening one eye, muttering, “Nah!” and turning over for another hour or so’s kip, we have already been up since sparrow fart and are now huddled in our car, joining the end of a long queue of slow-moving cars and vans; all, like us, with vehicles packed to the rafters with assorted antiques, waiting to be allowed into the nearby venue to set up our stands in the hope that we can pass at least some of it on to the unsuspecting public in return for a handy bit of cash.
Yes, we antiques dealers are a stoic lot. On this particular occasion, there were no outside stands but, believe me, we have visited fairs where a bit of rain and wind hasn’t put anybody off. And it’s been dark!
This wasn’t our first fair together. Several years ago, we stalled out on three separate occasions, where we did fairly well, but decided to give it a rest for a while after that. In the time since, we have managed to accumulate even more junk and came to realise that, although we look at our things every day, we no longer “see” them, so we agreed it was time for another good clear-out.
We also shared a stand with a friend at a very smart annual fair in south-west London. We did quite well on that day, too, but I’m afraid I got a bit carried away and ended up spending all our profits, and more, on other people’s stands. Oops.
We did overhear some priceless comments on that occasion, though: A lady discussing her daughter’s imminent move to north London and her friend exclaiming, in aghast tones: “My dear, I couldn’t support it!”
And another: “We had to have the walls of the orangery reinforced for the Turner.” (That’s Gary, the lesser-known younger brother and the black sheep of the family. You should see what his stuff fetches on Gumtree now.)
Anyway. It’s tiring but fun and here are my top tips (based on our own experiences only) if you fancy having a go yourself:
Bring chocolates. It never fails to break the ice and endear you to people. They might remember you for next time, at the very least and, at most, it will lure them onto the rocks of temptation of your attractively-presented stand. You hope. And, of course, the bonus is you get to take them home with you if there’s any left. I noted with some irritation that all the skinny-minnies refused but there was one (normal-sized) woman who, when I proffered my (seasonal) bowl of mini crème eggs in her direction, said: “Did you see the way my nostrils flared just then?” I said: “A girl after my own heart.” We both cackled and I gave her two.
Make your stall stand out from the rest. Cover it with a nice big cloth (useful for hiding all the packaging debris underneath as well) and, if there’s time, try to arrange things in attractive groups for more impact. Bit difficult, when the main doors have just opened and the buyers are pouring through and have formed a disorderly scrum around your stall while you are still trying to unpack, keep a watchful eye on your stock and answer questions at the same time and your partner has disappeared in search of a loo and a coffee. (You vengefully consider pricing him up and putting him out for sale, too, but then remember he will come in handy for later on, when it’s time to re-pack everything and cart it all back to the car. It’s a close call, though.)
Clearly mark all your treasures and try to clean them up a bit before putting them out. People really don’t need to have insider knowledge of your rather slapdash methods of housekeeping and the last time you wielded a duster in the objects’ vague direction.
It also helps to know exactly what it is you’re selling. Find the time to do your research beforehand and try not to be spotted quickly scanning items on your phone before surreptitiously altering the price tags!
Tips for buyers: Good manners go a long way and cost nothing. Smile, show some friendly interest, ask polite questions and don’t get the sellers’ backs up by behaving as though you’re on the telly and insisting they give you vast and unrealistic discounts on everything. Dealers have a living to make, same as everyone else. You learn a lot by asking (I have), but obviously you need to pick a quiet lull in trading to do so. It’s advisable to take your own bags with you and plenty of hard cash. Traders will often give a small discount for cash, or if you are buying more than one item from them, so it’s always worth asking the question.
Remember the old saying: “The time to buy an antique is when you see it.” If you walk away to “think about it” you can guarantee it will have gone by the time you go back (I speak from bitter experience here). This happened to a young woman who just missed out buying a vintage British flag on our stand. She came back with a friend to show her, only to see it fluttering goodbye over the shoulder of the person who had bought it not ten seconds before…
I will end with a story which perhaps neatly (and fondly) encapsulates the seasoned trader’s mindset. On the second morning of a large, two-day fair, one of the dealers hadn’t appeared by the time the other stallholders were up and about. Concerned, they entered her van, only to find she had died in the night. “It’s awful,” they all agreed, “but at least she had a good day yesterday.”