Why the experts love antiques fairs

Alice Roberton talks to the experts about why they love antiques fairs to give you the low down on everything you need to know to get the best out of your next visit

Antiques fair expert
Published: August 2nd, 2022 at 10:00 am

Clare Powell, co-organiser of The Vintage Bazaar Events

Clare Powell has been running events in Frome, Somerset and Devizes, Wiltshire, since 2010 and, like many event organisers – especially those hosting indoor fairs – she had to adapt when the pandemic hit. Faced with the issue of not being able to run safe events during Covid’s height, she quickly turned her hand to running a virtual edit of the hugely popular Bazaar. With the halt of ‘actual’ events threatening the livelihoods of dealers, and a loyal customer base left with fewer opportunities to buy, The ‘Virtual’ Vintage Bazaar was a huge success: ‘Even with our physical events now back up and running, it’s still going strong. And, to our delight, it turns out that to run the two side by side serves everyone very well,’ says Clare.

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Why experts love antiques fairs

What was the purpose of the virtual event?

The Virtual Vintage Bazaar came about due to the cancellation of real-life fairs. For a number of our dealers, this was an opportunity to come together virtually under the VB banner and continue to sell. Our buyers were missing the events, too, so it enabled them to keep buying and feel a small sense of normality. The Virtual Vintage Bazaar has enabled buyers from all over the world to access our events which, in turn, has opened up a whole new market to the dealers.

How does it work?

The dealers are introduced on The Vintage Bazaar Insta feed with a link to their account. Buyers follow each link to peruse the wonderful things for sale, and buy directly from the dealer. Goods are then posted from the seller to the buyer. Dealers are on hand to answer questions throughout the day. There are also links to our dealers on the day, via a dedicated website.

Why experts love antiques fairs

Can virtual events capture the atmosphere of actual events?

The online events have been really popular, however nothing can quite replace the feeling of treasure hunting at a real Vintage Bazaar. That said, many of our long-time dealers and customers have cemented friendships whilst doing business online, and are so delighted when they finally meet each other in Frome and Devizes. Our Bazaars, both online and face to face, are a joyful blend of shopping and socialising.

Do you have any advice for first-time Virtual Bazaar shoppers?

It’s actually easier than you think to shop at an Insta fair! My advice would be to check you are following all the dealers involved and turn on notifications for them. Make sure you’re following the hashtag #virtualvintagebazaar so you don’t miss anything. The great thing is that you can shop on the move or from the comfort of your favourite armchair.

Why experts love antiques fairs

What events do you have coming up?

The Virtual Vintage Bazaar will take place on Saturday 27th August, 24th September, 19th November and 10th December. We are also delighted to say that we will be holding The Vintage Bazaar at The Cheese and Grain in Frome on 22nd October. Turn to page 125 for more details on how to shop @thevintagebazaarevents

Alice's top fair buy

Why experts love antiques fairs

I recently picked up a lovely pair of vintage floral curtains, which I plan to use to hide my washing machine in a new laundry area I am having built out of salvaged materials. Whilst I’m waiting for the work to be done, they are doing a fantastic job as a tablecloth on my garden table!


Richard Burgoin of Arthur Swallow Fairs

Arthur Swallow Fairs was established in 1995 by my late father Peter Burgoin. My brother Marc and I developed a taste for the ‘trade’ pretty young. We helped with event set-up and learnt a lot about what makes a good fair and, in 2008, we took over the running of the business along with my wife, Anna. With our young children already showing a healthy interest in fairs, it’s throughand-through a family business.

‘Hosting everything from fastpaced one-day markets to relaxed three-day boutique home shows, our focus is aimed at the antique, salvage and vintage market. What’s great is that these fairs, markets and shows are suitable for everyone, from collectors through to home renovators; we firmly believe that antiques are for everyone, so we welcome families and encourage the younger generation to discover the joys of hunting for beautiful old pieces. The environmental and financial benefits of buying ‘preloved’ is huge and we’re seeing more and more people of all ages choosing old over new.

Antiques fair expert

‘Our three-day Decorative Home & Salvage Show 17th–19th June at Beale Park in Berkshire is our newest. Launched three years ago, it takes place in a stunning Thames-side field just outside Pangbourne. With on-site catering and a bar, the atmosphere is always relaxed and a good browse through the 70-plus stands could see you picking up a £1 bargain or making a serious investment. At last year’s show I bought a Victorian oil painting of a handsome bearded chap in the most beautiful gilt frame – our home is full of interesting old pieces, but this is definitely my favourite purchase.

‘After 11 years, I still get excited when we open the gate on the first day – I’ll never tire of watching a queue of happy faces enter in anticipation of falling in love with pieces for their homes and gardens. Our exhibitors, many of whom come down from the north specially to exhibit with us, make a huge effort to save their best stock and set their stands up beautifully. If you buy something large, you can drive on-site to pick it up or the dealer may be able to arrange delivery. Either way, there is always help on hand.’


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David Ashley of David Ashley Antiques

David Ashley turned his hobby into his career three years ago after the company he worked for went into liquidation. It was a chance to turn his passion for antiques into his livelihood, he says: ‘They went bust on the Monday and I was at Sunbury Antiques Market at 6.30am on the Tuesday morning!’ David sells English and Continental antique furniture, an eclectic selection of decorative antique and vintage items, including gardenalia. Having visited fairs most of his life he is now a regular at some of the biggest antiques fairs across the UK.

Antiques fair expert

What unusual antique has recently passed through your hands?

I have always had a thing for interesting chairs. A while back, I managed to get my hands on a pair of George VI coronation chairs, which were lovely to own, but even better to sell. I feel very privileged when pieces like this come my way.

Do you have any good fair stories?

Yes, lots! Early one morning at Henley Decor Fair, I recall waking to a banging noise, but didn’t think anything of it. I finally got up to investigate, only to find that the dealers next to me had managed to lock themselves in the back of their van and had spent two hours phoning and messaging dealers to rescue them. There’s never a dull moment at a fair!

Which are your favourite fairs and why?

Arthur Swallow Fairs’ summer Decorative Home & Salvage Shows are favourites of mine for their beautiful settings and relaxed feel. These three-day events take place in three different locations and are brilliant for both sellers and buyers. Sunbury Antiques Market is one of the country’s longest running ‘proper’ markets, with thousands of interesting pieces. It takes place twice a month. I have fond memories of visiting this fair 40 years ago with my father. And Henley Decor Fair (in May and September) on the banks of the Thames has a real festival vibe. Incredible pieces are presented by some of the best dealers to a backdrop of great food and music.

What fair would you recommend for July?

The Loseley Park Decorative Home & Salvage Show, near Guildford in Surrey, is a fantastic event (15th–17th July). It’s really well established now and attracts some of the best decorative antiques dealers in the business, and the prices are also good. Do you have any fair visiting tips? If you see something that you like and it’s the right price just buy it. If you don’t, someone else will. I’ve missed out on so many pieces in the past by thinking I’d go back, only to find they’ve been sold. This is a gutting feeling I do my best to avoid.

Alice's Top Fair Buy

Antiques fair expert

Last summer, I bagged some excellent pieces for my new home and garden; alongside garden furniture and an aluminium coffee jug/vase, I bought a pair of heavy chippy-paint French shutters for £120 to add architectural interest to my house. With the help of a few hooks, they also do an excellent job of displaying objects.


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Simon Pearson of Chandeliers to Bones

Developing a love of old things in his childhood by exploring derelict mansions and the local bottle dump, Lancashire-born Simon Pearson later discovered that French antiques are what really make him tick. After many years living and working in France, he returned to the UK in 2018 and is now trading at fairs on home turf.

Antiques fair expert

Do many French dealers come over to trade at UK fairs?

Yes, and all of them are very hardworking people who are constantly travelling to buy and sell the best stock they can. Prices are always reasonable, especially considering the costs involved in crossing the Channel. Brexit and the pandemic slowed French antiques coming into the UK for a while, however things are getting back to normal now.

Do you have any good stories?

I’ve had a couple of interesting finds, one being a small 19th-century oil-on-canvas that had been pasted over with 1950s wallpaper. I could see it was a study of a sheep’s head and when I gently removed the paper it revealed the signature of Juliette Peyrol-Bonheur, a very collectable artist. This kind of find makes all the hard work worth it.

Which UK fairs are good for French antiques?

You can find French antiques at most UK fairs, as there are plenty of people like me sourcing in France. The more southerly fairs are good hunting grounds due to being more accessible for the French dealers, with Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton and Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors Fair being especially good. Kempton is similar to the French trade fairs, with an early start, quick set-up and early finish. Ardingly is a little more relaxed.

Which fairs do you recommend for French antiques this August?

For size and the opportunity to source European antiques, Arthur Swallow Fairs’ Lincoln Antiques & Home Show (10th August) and IACF’s Newark International Antiques & Collectors Fair (11th–12th August) are good to visit. I know a number of French dealers who are already sourcing for both. You’ll find a good selection of Belgian and Dutch dealers there, too.

Do you have any tips for buying French antiques at UK fairs?

Many French dealers don’t have time to clean up their stock and will often sell in an ‘as found’ untouched condition – a tell-tale sign it has come straight from a property clearance or been found in a barn somewhere. A French dealer once told me that it’s better to leave the dust and dirt in situ to show it has been brought fresh to market. So don’t be put off by a bit of dust or dirt as it could be a sign of authenticity.

Alice's Top Fair Buy

Antiques fair expert
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I recently bought some items from Simon’s stand at the Ripley Decorative Home & Salvage Show, and a favourite piece was this charming 1950s oil painting of Notre Dame by a Parisian street artist. It cost me £15. I have a thing for religious relics, and this artwork perfectly sets the scene for my growing collection of Lourdes Virgin Mary figures.

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