Drew Pritchard: Behind the scenes at an antiques fair
The Salvage Hunter shares tales of what really goes on at his favourite antiques fair
Of all the antiques fairs in London, The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair is my favourite. There are more expensive fairs and, arguably, some that are more prestigious but, if you’re into decorative antiques, it’s the best by a country mile.
I love the friendly atmosphere. It’s like a fantastic five-day antiques market with dealers who really go to town on their stands. The visitors, who include the best international dealers and interior decorators as well as celebrities, are low-key. The dealers are allowed to remove and replace any stock that sells immediately, so there is an intense atmosphere because if visitors buy something, they can take it away there and then.
I’m now on the Standards Committee for the fair and I’ve had stands there for my business too. At the first one, a nearby stall-holder was selling taxidermy. On the second day of the fair he said, ‘If ever you want to get a cup of tea or something, ask someone to mind your stand and give them your mobile number in case you’re away for 10 minutes or so.’ Good tip, I thought. Later on he said, ‘Mind my stand for me,’ and I said, ‘No problem,’ and took his mobile phone number.
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He didn’t come back after 10 minutes. In fact, he didn’t come back that day, or the next. He came back two days later. ‘Where have you been?’ I asked him, astounded. ‘I’ve been shooting,’ he replied. I found out that he’d just been left a shooting estate – and I’d been selling and dealing for him for two days.
The second time I did the fair, I’d just come across some storming dining tables from the Welsh National Library in Aberystwyth – the perfect size, made in the 1970s, and I had about 12 of them. I couldn’t believe my luck. Now, the things you don’t take to antiques fairs are big tables – they don’t sell – but no one had told me this.
I rolled up, pleased as punch with myself, and a very experienced dealer friend, Richard, said, ‘You’ll never sell these.’ I was gutted. Yet somehow I sold every table. It was luck, the right product at the right price – trusting your instincts. Yet that’s not to say that I knew it all.
At the next antiques fair I was selling a cellaret – a wine cooler with a drain hole and plug underneath to let out the ice when it was empty. This example had bronzed empire feet and was so big I could practically sit in it. By 6pm, Rob, a fellow dealer, and I had been on our feet all day, so we had a bottle of wine, then another, and three or four dealers joined us.
Half-an-hour before closing time a guy came over. ‘I’ll buy it,’ he said of the cellaret, ‘but I want it for a party tonight at my house in Chelsea.’ ‘No problem,’ I told him, ‘we’ll bring it round in a cab.’
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Rob gave me a hand. We got to the house and the buyer wanted it on the top floor. We swayed and staggered up five storeys of a lavish house crammed with more empire furniture with bronzed feet – not a square metre without a fantastic piece on it. Unbeknown to me, Rob had been putting the empties in the cellaret all evening. When we got to the top and looked back, a deep red trail of wine had followed us up every floor from its unplugged drain, all over his beautiful carpet.
‘That’s a £40k bill to recarpet this house, at least,’ I thought in panic. The buyer looked up at us two dishevelled antiques dealers and simply said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ So whenever he comes to my stand at the Decorative Fair, he now gets huge discounts.
Some you win, some you lose, but it’s all the fun of the fair.
More from 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
How to create country house style
How to be a successful antiques dealer
The thrill of an unexpected find
How Drew Pritchard became an antiques dealer
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