Drew Pritchard: How I got into the antiques trade
The Salvage Hunter on the stained-glass windows that transformed his career in the antiques industry
I can’t remember a time when I was not completely absorbed by antiques. My father collected antiques, instruments and motorbikes and, as a result, I was immersed in the unusual and the old from a young age. What really got me excited wasn’t the pristine museum pieces that we saw on family holidays but the rusty, broken stuff I found in the fields around my childhood home of Glan Conwy, a village in north Wales.
During the summer holidays, my best friend (and, much later, Salvage Hunter cohort) Tee and I scoured the beaches, local tips and countryside looking for pushbikes, car badges, oars and boat paraphernalia – anything that people had thrown away. We would sell what we’d salvaged at the side of the road to buy sweets and magazines.
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I loved the thrill of the hunt and decided that I wanted to be an antiques dealer by the time I was 11, but I couldn’t figure out how to raise the amount of money you needed to launch an antiques business. The way in for me was to become a restorer who found broken objects and added value to them.
I left school as soon as I could and took an apprenticeship working for a stained-glass restorer. I’ll never forget my first day on the job. My bosses Gordon and Stuart took me to a church in Holyhead. They showed me how to remove the stained-glass windows from the stonework and we carefully put them in the back of the van before the church was demolished. Years later, I set up on my own, working in a room by the side of my dad’s garage, dealing in stained-glass windows.
One day, a dealer pulled up in his van. When he threw open the doors and started to peel back the layers of stained-glass windows that lay unwrapped, I instantly recognised them. Not only were they the same windows that I had removed from the church in Holyhead, they were also, as I now knew, by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. I bought the windows on the spot. The dealer wanted £2,600 and it took every last penny I had. But when I got them back to the house to do some research, I found that they were even more special than I’d thought.
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