How to buy antiques on Instagram

We explore the world of antiquing online and demystify the art and etiquette of buying antiques on Instagram

Isobel at The Hoarding Hare specialises in decorative vintage homewares.

One good thing to come out of a rather tumultuous 2020 is a flourishing online antiques industry. With more people shopping this way, new dealers are joining the scene – all thanks to the marvellous efficiency of Instagram.

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People made redundant or furloughed who had been toying with the idea of making a living out of antiques finally made the leap. No need to find a shop or take on rents and rates – all they needed to do was gather stock, have a good eye and upload images to an Instagram account. Tanya Zendra did just that and launched her business on Instagram this year @tarn_london. ‘Instagram allows me to reach my audience, and interact with them, see the homes they are designing,’ she says. ‘It’s an amazing channel for this.’

Charlie Andrews of @oldstockantiques, who has been selling on Instagram for three years and has a large following of regular customers around the world, says Instagram makes it more feasible and affordable to start up a business and allows sellers to be more flexible with their pricing. ‘I would recommend Instagram to anyone who’s looking to start dealing, either as a hobby or as a full-time profession. What I personally enjoy about dealing on Instagram is how accessible it is for everyone. It’s easy to discover new dealers and pages by searching hashtags or by looking through the followers of an account you like.’ 

ind all manner of intriguing pieces, from furniture to curios, at Old Stock Antiques.
ind all manner of intriguing pieces, from furniture to curios, at Old Stock Antiques.

While beautiful online antiques stores are plentiful and easy to use with a click of the ‘add to basket’ button, the social networking site is where everyone is interacting on a level akin to a real-life antiques fair. Antiques lovers scroll through, pore over and admire stock, chat with dealers, strike deals and type furiously to secure items on offer.  

There are several ways dealers sell. Some join in as exhibitors at virtual markets and fairs run by organisers who cannot currently hold on-the-ground events such as those organised by @thedorsetbrocante, @frockmevintagefair, @littlevintageloverfair,
@thereclaimedhomefair
and @thevintagebazaarevents. Other dealers hold their own, timed sales on particular days of the week. And many simply upload an image of an individual item as and when they find it and sell to the first interested buyer to get in touch. You may also see dealers post a collection of wares displayed as a stand or a stall with a list of the items pictured in the caption underneath.  

It’s important to make sure you know how to buy from a dealer, as business is conducted in various ways. ‘Sending a DM (direct message) once you see something you like is commonly accepted as the best form of dialogue, or you can state your interest by leaving a comment and the dealer will get back to you via DM,’ says Charlie. You may find that some dealers sell to the first person to type SOLD into a comment on the post, while others may do all of the above. Some include description, measurements and price, and others will expect the buyer to enquire about an item. ‘That’s when the use of DM comes into play,’ says Isobel Martin of @thehoardinghare. ‘It makes for a more personal approach and potentially wriggle room on price.’ 

The Old Cinema Instagram image of mid-century sideboard

Most dealers respond quickly and once a price is agreed an invoice is sent and payment via bank transfer or PayPal is common. ‘Delivery is organised by the seller and items arrive at your door as per any other online shopping platform,’ says Charlie. ‘Most dealers tend to put a red X or O in the description or comment section once an item is no longer available. It can be very competitive and the good stuff always sells rather quickly, so don’t be shy. Send that DM!’ 

Dealers such as Jennifer Bristow-Smith of Starched & Crumpled and Dawn Milne of The Curious Flea run sales at designated times, usually every Sunday and offering approximately 30 items. Meanwhile Isobel sells her vintage finds as they come in and also takes part in Insta fairs. ‘Instagram is now my shop window,’ she says. ‘Fair operators have thought outside the box and produced some outstanding virtual fairs. I’m about to take part in my fifth one with @asfairs.’ She loves interacting with the antiquing community this way. ‘I set up The Hoarding Hare because I have always loved and appreciated a bygone. So when a customer buys a vintage treasure and shares a photo of it given a new lease of life in another loving home, that’s my job enabled, complete and fulfilled, all through the power of Instagram and virtual fairs.’

Source antique and vintage textiles, costume and haberdashery at Starched & Crumpled.
Source antique and vintage textiles, costume and haberdashery at Starched & Crumpled.

Top tips for buying antiques on Instagram

• Turn on post notifications to keep abreast of the dates and times of specific dealers’ Instagram sales, or to know when new items are posted for sale so you don’t miss out, says Jennifer.

• Commenting SOLD is a commitment to pay for your item(s), says Jennifer. You cannot delete your comment later or change your mind as it stops others from being able to buy. 

• Ask questions before commenting as not all dealers accept returns, says Jennifer.

• Keep an eye on the Instagram account of the organiser running the fair, this is where updates will be posted about timings and how the event will work, says Isobel. Most publish a list of the dealers taking part in the days running up to the event with bios
and previews.

Make a cup of tea or coffee and get comfy as your eyes will be feasting over some wonderful antiques and vintage gems, says Isobel. Take your time and enjoy browsing all the dealers that are exhibiting through a fair, she says. There will always be new accounts popping up, so be sure to scroll through.

• Make sure you ask for information on condition and, if needed, more detailed photos, says Charlie. However, most dealers add detailed descriptions to their posts.

• Ask questions, says Isobel. Unlike a real-life fair where you can physically handle the item, it’s essential that you as a customer are fully aware of size, flaws (these pieces have had long lives), and the cost of shipping/courier/postage.

• Follow dealers whose stock and style you like, says Charlie. Follow a wide range, from the most followed, trusted dealers right down to the start-up guys, as it’s important to support everyone involved. In this game you never know what will come up next and who will find it. 

As with a live fair, if you see it and want it – buy it! Don’t hang about as there will be five others wanting it, warns Isobel. Vintage or antique pieces tend to be one-offs so secure your purchase by paying promptly. 

There are no set policies for returns or refunds, meaning communication and trust is important, says Charlie. The antiques industry in the UK is a small one and it seems everyone knows everyone. ‘I find most dealers to be passionate and honest and have bought and sold thousands of items without any issues.’ 

• Most dealers including myself will ask for an email address and send an invoice, says Charlie. Make sure you get an invoice!

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Words: Rosanna Morris