When I was young, one of the highlights of Christmas in Conwy – the small Welsh town I grew up in – was going to the local pub on Christmas Day wearing the clothes you’d received as gifts, all at once. Some of us would be standing at the bar in bath robes, eight pairs of socks, pyjamas or full football strips, and I remember once wearing a brown jumper my nan had knitted with one sleeve much longer than the other. It never failed to be hilariously funny and often highlighted some quite poor gift choices!
If you’re stuck for ideas, an antique makes a brilliant gift for Christmas. Generally, you’re buying something of which there’s only one in the world and what could be better than something that is truly original? I always make sure that I buy everyone in my family one antique among their presents each year, and that goes for the children too. The older ones might get a lovely piece of Scandinavian jewellery along with an iPad. I’ve bought both of my daughters vintage Rolex watches – not hugely expensive, but simple ones – that are special. They’ll keep them forever, and they’re presents that will appreciate in value.
One thing that I do as a dealer is shop for Christmas all year round. We don’t just get to November and think, ‘Quick! Better start shopping!’ We accumulate pieces that you can wrap up as presents throughout the year – wonderful Welsh blankets, mirrors, small stools, watches and jewellery, old signs and letters (buying people their initials makes a thoughtful choice). Pedal cars, cast-iron fire engines and tin-plate toys always go down well too. Classic toys appeal as much to adults who often think ‘I’ve always wanted one of those’ and are magical to children. Small fairground rides, such as miniature gallopers, are among some of my favourites.
I love to buy old tin-plate cast-iron toys that have been beaten up by kids in the process of letting their imaginations run wild. Try to buy late 19th-century German or French tin-plate toys – they are so much fun. You’ll pay around £40 to £70 for a beaten-up tin truck and they look great. I have a tin-plate tow truck in my living room – it looks brilliant, really enigmatic. If, however, you’re looking to spend a lot of money, you’ll want to hunt for early to mid 19th-century German, French or Italian puppets or cast-iron automata, which are truly fairy tale. If you’re going for the best, buy through specialist dealers. For simpler antique purchases this Christmas, below are my top tips.
TIPS FOR BUYING ANTIQUE GIFTS
A common mistake I see people doing is buying with their heart. In other words, they buy what they like rather than considering what the recipient might like. Think carefully whether that person will love it.
Always make sure you get a detailed receipt so the item can be returned if it’s not right.
Look for antique Christmas presents all year round. If you see something and it seems perfect for someone, buy it. Don’t wait. It might be the only one…
If you’re buying for someone who loves a particular style or period that you know nothing about, take pictures in their house of the things they love and show them to a dealer who specialises in the objects or era that they collect.
Unless someone is a fanatical collector of pristine toys like Matchbox cars, I’d advise not to buy toys in a box. I know they’re collectable and at their most valuable boxed, but it doesn’t make your heart race to see them like this – unless you’re a serious collector.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you’ve bought everything in plenty of time for Christmas. Two to three weeks is the standard time it takes for delivery generally, and it’s wise to add on a little extra time for Christmas packing and specialist delivery.
Portrait: Grant Scott