Monday, October 27, 2008

Nevermore The Antique Market

Most of last weekend was taken up with an antique market in Glasgow which we thought - heaven knows what possessed us - might be worth attending. I normally trade from an online shop but over the years I have also helped my artist/ craftsman husband when he exhibited or demonstrated at various events. Sometimes it can be great fun, as when you get free space or are actually paid a small sum to demonstrate. You get to put on a show, chat to people and hand out leaflets and postcards. They enjoy watching and often ask interesting questions.

But I don't think I had realised just how soul destroying antique markets can be for the stallholders - or perhaps things have become worse over the years. And I don't think it can all be laid at the door of the 'credit crunch'. TV shows where participants regularly beat prices down so that they can make a profit by selling items at auction have a lot to answer for. It is, when you think about it, completely the wrong way round, which is why they do it. It's very hard to make any kind of profit that way. And the dealers who capitulate 'for the publicity' (What publicity? They don't get any!) are only succumbing to the kind of pressure that TV companies are very good at exerting. It is, after all, their job.

TV shows and car boot sales, that's the problem. Boot sales are where you expect items to be cheap, although in my experience even those have become more than penny-pinching. I once saw a man chop up a nice little wooden table at a boot sale. He had wanted a couple of pounds for it. He didn't want to take it home. People had been offering him 50p. He said that he knew if he left it by the bin at the end of the day somebody would take it. So he chopped it into small pieces first. As a good recycler I didn't really approve, but I understood him completely. A day's quibbling over twenty penny pieces induces the sort of misery that can only be relieved by chopping up small tables.

Anyway, back to the antique market. We spent saturday sorting, labelling, pricing, packing and dismantling the car in driving wind and rain so that we could get everything in. On saturday night I made the picnic and put it in the fridge. On sunday morning we got up at 5.30 loaded up the car and were on the road by 6.45, also phoning our son, who had offered to help with the unloading, to give him a wake-up call.

We were forced to take a detour; a stretch of the main road was closed because of an 'incident' and we nearly lost our way because of road works in Glasgow but still arrived in good time. The weather forecast had been reasonably good, but an icy and torrential rain was falling. We stopped along the road from the venue and between cold showers, hefted boxes of stuff, piles of pictures, stands, easels etc down the steep ramp into the hall. Then I went and found a parking place while my husband started to assemble our stall. By 9.45 we were more or less there, and drinking a coffee, our son was on his way home (possibly back to bed?) and the first 'customers' were arriving.

We had what we thought was a good cross section of items. Not boot sale stuff, that's for sure. And not junk. We were showing a collection of Alan's paintings at very reasonable prices (£80.00 for an original acrylic isn't exactly extortionate- in fact these are print prices) We had a selection of costume jewellery, some vintage clothes, a few vintage toys, textiles, etchings and other artworks as well as some gorgeous Indian and Chinese embroidery and a few other curiosities.

Did we have any customers? No.

Well, we made the price of the stall and the petrol. And that was it. No profits.

But - and I have to say this is all uncharacteristic of Glasgow, which is my favourite city in the whole world - it wouldn't have been so bad if, with a few welcome exceptions, the people hadn't been so uncongenial. There was a handful of pleasant individuals, including the lovely man and his daughter who appreciated the paintings, couldn't afford to buy them, but asked interesting questions and seemed to enjoy what they were looking at. There were a few other smiley people who chatted, and passed the time of day.

Sadly, they were vastly outnumbered by an army of grim elderly ladies (I know, I know, I'm heading there myself, although definitely without the scowl) who handled the stock as if they were sorting through garbage, and baulked at paying anything for anything. The last straw was the young woman who spent the best part of ten minutes stroking, fingering, opening out and looking at an utterly stunning Indian wedding sari, one of the most beautiful textiles I've had the good fortune to find: five yards and more of gorgeous damask with a golden pallau, encrusted with beads and embroidery, all hand done as well. Its only faults were a few loose threads here and there. I could think of many uses for it, the most simple being draped as a curtain. It came with an equally beautiful beaded veil in gold silk satin which I've decided to keep for myself since it makes a lovely evening shawl. Because the girl seemed so taken with it (and because our takings were non existent) I offered it to her for £25.00 which is about what you would pay for a cheap voile curtain in one of our better known household textile chains. This - for five yards of vintage hand beaded silk - seems almost laughable in retrospect. I had obviously taken leave of my senses. But that's the 'market' effect for you. Her husband had his wallet in his hand. Then her mum, watching the proceedings from a safe distance, persuaded her that it would be a waste of money.

As they left, minus the sari, she said 'if it's still here next time, I'll have it.'

No, I thought and by this time I confess I was feeling a bit grim myself. You won't. Because it won't be here, I won't be doing another antique fair, and even if I was, I wouldn't be selling such a fine piece of work at such a crazy price. But I held my tongue. I knew for certain that she would regret it later on, because I've done exactly that kind of thing myself.

After that, the day just got worse and worse as our smiles got more and more fixed.

So it was with a huge amount of relief that we packed up, fetched the car, hefted everything back in (even colder, still rainy) and embarked on the long drive home where we had to offload everything and reassemble the car . Then, completely exhausted, we sat on the couch with a couple of large glasses of wine , looked at each other and said 'never, ever again!'

Actually, it isn't strictly true, because we do have one more craft fair coming up, but that's a charity event, we'll be showing mostly Alan's paintings, it's something we do every year and - because it's close to home - it doesn't present too many logistical problems. If we sell a couple of pictures all well and good. If we don't it won't be a disaster and we'll have done a bit of promotion in a good cause on the side.

What intrigued us though was just how many of the particants remarked that they had had a 'good day.' By which (since we could see exactly what was going on) they seemed to mean that they had made the stall money and a little over. But why on earth would anyone want to do a couple of days of hard labour - just to cover their costs and have a few quid over?

Our son, trudging back through the rain to help us load up again, remarked 'the world's changing mum. And this isn't the way of it.' I reckon he's right. There's a lot to be said - especially with antiques - for being able to see things, handle them, learn about them. It's one of the nicest things about buying in the saleroom, being able to see and touch interesting old items as well as being able to learn about them from more experienced fellow dealers. But it was significant to me at least that the vast majority of our fellow stallholders looked like retired people. And when they stop, I wonder if anyone younger will be willing to do it? Which would be a pity, since I rather like buying items at these Antique Fairs. But if I think somebody is asking a fair price, I don't try to beat them down to peanuts. And I always handle the objects as though they are precious - which to the stallholder they so often are.

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