Antiques phrases you need to know according to Drew Pritchard

Learn to interpret the meanings behind antiques dealers' favourite phrases and sayings, with Salvage Hunter Drew Pritchard

Published: May 18th, 2022 at 10:00 am

When I first started out in the business, what antiques dealers did was shrouded in mystery. My father was a signwriter and my grandfather was a bricklayer so I had no ‘in’ to their world. There really was only Lovejoy on TV and I used to watch that even though it was pure fiction, of course! No one in the trade would tell you how the business worked, and they seemed to speak their own language.


When dealing is your only source of income, you have to learn on the job and learn fast. I remember being with some guys on a demolition site in Rhyl, North Wales, in my early twenties, trying to do a deal. When I asked about a piece, they said: ‘Oh it’s a marriage and it’s been backed.’ I had to keep the conversation going until I worked out what they meant.

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My lack of knowledge also led to moments of confusion. When I set up my first warehouse based in my parents’ garden, a lad called Patrick, also in his early twenties, turned up in his van. ‘I’ve got all of these things for sale,’ he said, showing me photographs of some stuff he had in the back of his van. ‘OK, what do you do?’ I asked. There he was, standing with a fag in his mouth, with a huge pot belly, food stains down his jumper and stinking of beer.

He looked me straight in the eye and answered simply. ‘I’m a runner,’ he said. I was thinking ‘a runner is the last thing you are, mate’ so I said ‘you’re a runner?’ He replied: ‘Yes, I run all over the country.’ ‘Do you?’ I said. ‘Yes, I run to everyone,’ he answered. ‘That must take you ages,’ I said to him. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘Well, if you run everywhere, how do you do any business?’ He looked at me blankly. ‘And how do you fit in training if you’re working?’ I continued. ‘I don’t do any training!’ he said. ‘You must train if you do all of this running!’ I protested, as I spotted the beer cans rolling around in the back of his van between the pieces he wanted to show me. I kept thinking, ‘if this guy’s a runner, he’s going to drop dead!’

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In actual fact ‘runners’ used to be the most important people in the antiques business. A runner would go to 20 or 30 antiques shops a day, buying a piece to take to someone they knew would want it for a small profit, to make their employer money. For the antiques dealer, before the internet and mobile phones, a good runner was like gold dust. Patrick and I eventually made sense of it all and still work together almost on a daily basis, 25 years on.

Of course, I’ve now unpicked the phrases that used to baffle me and have my theories on others. ‘By appointment’ can mean ‘not today, I’m hung-over’ or ‘I’m only interested in dealing to you if you’re definitely coming in to buy’ or ‘I’m not really that keen on facing the public’.

The one I really hate is POA – price on application. To me, it’s saying ‘I’m weighing you up before I decide on a price’ or ‘I’m so embarrassed about what I paid for this, I don’t want the person I bought it from finding out how much I’m hoping to sell it for’! Below are some more examples to help you speak antique but they’re really just the beginning…

Antiques dealer phrases to know

A marriage

This is when an object is no longer original. For example, when you have the base of an 18th-century house cupboard with a 19th-century house cupboard on top.

It’s backed

A term for when a customer buys a piece from you, you deliver it to their house, you take payment, they seem happy with it… and then out of the blue you get a phone call asking to take it back. By then, you’ve delivered it for free, spent the money they’ve given you and by the time you’ve returned the cash and collected the antique, you’re skint.

Phrases that were once dealer-only terms, and their meaning has now changed

'What’s your best?'

A saying that is now so overused it’s been taken away from the antiques world and today simply means ‘what’s the best you can do?’ It used to be a term only used by the trade, and it was a way of saying I AM trade (without having to say so) and can I therefore have your best trade price?

‘Country House Condition’

This once referred to a high-quality antique from a country house of note, which was in good condition and showed beautiful signs of age. It’s now so banded about it can be used to describe any piece that might be from a large house, possibly in the country, that is simply knackered.

More from Drew Pritchard:

Inside the home of Salvage Hunter Drew Pritchard

How I got into the antiques trade

Drew Pritchard’s sofa collection with Barker and Stonehouse

Drew Pritchard on his book, favourite antiques and upcoming ventures

Why patina is king

How to create country house style

How to be a successful antiques dealer

Why I love industrial design

The antique that got away

The thrill of an unexpected find

Must-find garden antiques

How Drew Pritchard became an antiques dealer


Drew’s best antique finds


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