Hoptroff & Lee
Antiques in the Alley
An ongoing series of informational entries designed for the beginner and the more experienced collector!
Brass and Copper
Are brass and copper out of fashion? Well, we don't think so. Lots of pieces that have a modern significance or function are big sellers. Particular favourites are the large Haystack jugs and copper planters, great for kitchen display and flower art. Brass seems associated with the past, the mid 20th century to be exact. Pieces range from decorative animals to plates and candlesticks, some attractive, some ugly. Perhaps it's a Marmite thing.... you either like it or you don't. Personally I think there are some nice pieces so we shouldn't dismiss everything as "a load of old brass".
The biggest issue associated with owning brass is probably that you have to clean it to keep it looking good, and the way we do this hasn't changed much...you still require elbow grease! If I had a penny for every person who tells me that, as a child, it was their job on a Saturday morning to clean the family brass, I'd be rich! It was usually a girl's task and the memories have not faded! So, generally, we probably don't all admire and appreciate this shiny yellow metal as much as we could.
But take away the cleaning aspect and it all becomes quite interesting. Brass pieces often had a truly useful purpose in the home and it's fascinating finding out what that was. In store at the time of writing we have novelty lidded boxes in the shape of flies and tortoises, for example. These would have been made originally as ashtrays and match stores to keep near your chair or bed. If you look carefully some also have a ridged match striker in the metal. These reflect the age in which they were made but today the good clean ones (of which there are many) make quirky gifts and coffee table talking pieces. The in-word seems to be "trinket" box and they can store pins, beads, earrings, allsorts.
The very small pieces of brass which seem to have had little purpose often made up the contents of your mantelpiece. Little figures pulling carts or holding open sacks may have been spill-holders, important for lighting the cooker or lamp (or your ciggies) from the open fire. Others were decorative poker holders for the grate. Still smaller pieces, with flat bases, were manufactured as smoker's pipe tampers, for pushing tobacco down into your pipe. Today, people seem to buy the smaller items for lots of reasons, including nostalgia, or significance, and, in one case, comfort: for an elderly mother suffering from dementia, which I found particularly moving.
Copper is often preferred over brass for its warmth of colour. It is making a come-back in a big way probably due to the popularity of the wood-burning stove. There is an interest in the fireplace again and who doesn't enjoy a cosy winter's evening with the crackle of logs and the glow of copper? Coal buckets of all shapes and sizes are what we sell a lot of. Recently a copper kettle of ours was included in Stamford Living magazine as being an important part of interior design. There are some intriguing finds in copper and there is suddenly a revival in the really old-fashioned pieces for alternative use (see my future blog on this) like the Russian Samovar. Then there are those fascinating bits like the lidded chestnut roaster, hanging spirit measures, grain scoops and bed warmers. Of course, copper needs a polish too now and then to keep it at its best. But the odd piece here and there isn't going to cost too much energy and there are products on the market now for making your shine last longer.
Why TV Programmes about antiques don't reflect real life
Many customers like to try their hand at bartering for a lower price on shop items, often citing their TV viewing as a good reason for doing so, but please beware....the recent spate of TV programmes showing experts "knocking down" the cost by as much as 70% or 80% is an exceptional scenario. TV companies are in the business of making good television and are therefore responsible for some shocking, and sometimes mythical, events. The media is of course a strong motivator and gets us all thinking we can do the same. Unfortunately It only raises our expectations and puts things further out of our reach.
Most dealers cannot afford to drop their prices as low as we are lead to believe, and certainly not in the present austere climate. But they may still do so for 3 reasons:
*they are on TV and its exciting and a privilege,
*they are put on the spot and it's embarrassing to say "No"
*the money goes to charity at the end of the day.
None of the above is normal behaviour for your average antiques shop!
I have heard that TV producers ensure the full amount is paid to the dealer off camera anyway. I don't know if this is true or not but the whole set-up certainly does nothing for the antiques trader's image and his future sales (if s/he can do it for THEM, s/he can do it for me!)
In conclusion, if you think it's worth it, pay the price on the tag or at least don't expect unrealistic discounts. Traders will have their ideal fixed percentage.
Defining the terms "Antique", "Vintage" and "Retro"
A good starting point might be to look at the difference between "antique", "vintage" and "retro", those confusing terms which often attract a variety of definitions depending upon who uses them and at what time in history. Many customers ask me the difference between the terms, and my opinion will probably be challenged here, but here goes. The word Retro generally means a throwback to a different era. If you take a look on Pinterest, items on "Retro" boards do reflect this but the word has also come to encompass new items that look like the real thing, so perhaps we should change that "t" for a "p" (repro or reproduction).
Vintage has become a buzzword for anything remotely old, including cars and people! If you shop on Ebay you will find that sellers insert the word "Vintage" in a listing for any item that is "used" and may only be a few days old. In reality, most websites and shops of any calibre, including Etsy, will insist that vintage means a minimum of 20 years of age. So if you remember 1999, apparently you are now vintage! For true vintage lovers, vintage roughly means the 1940s to the 1960s. Now, that often means that the 1970s and 1980s, those much-maligned decades in terms of this ongoing argument, are not really falling into any camp, which brings us back to that word "Retro" again. Personally I think that's where the 1970s sits at the moment, in the Retro column, although time and fashion will probably change it. True retro, in my own opinion, from the early to late 1970s, is extremely stylish...remember Tupperware and Pyrex? Some of the designs are unequalled. If you are familiar with Gaydon Argosy melamine, you will adore the different colours in their harlequin tea set. Carlton Ware money boxes are now very collectable, as is Caithness paperweight jewellery, and the work of designers such as John Clappison and Briglin. For me the 1980s just isn't old enough to be in any category just yet but it has its followers, particularly those big statement brooches!
Lastly "Antique"...now that's also debatable because most serious dealers, and this includes the experts on the various TV antique shows, say that an antique has to be in excess of 100 years old to qualify, and they can be pretty serious about it. There is of course the terms "Quality" and "High-end" vintage or antiques, so now we have a further division in the definitions...oh its so confusing, but as long as we buy something because we like it so much, does it really matter?
A series of informational entries designed for beginners and the more advanced collector.
Caring for your purchases.
January 15, 2018
Vintage and Antique items are old, so signs of age and wear are inevitable. This will happen through use or inadequate/lengthy storage. Due to this, items may have a shorter lifespan, so they need gentle treatment and should not be expected to do everything they once did.
Ideally your collectable will be positioned out of direct sunlight or any fierce heat source. This preserves colour, veneers and surfaces.
Immersion in water over several minutes, either hot or cold, is a no-no as this can cause glaze crackle and other surface alteration. It warps wood and lifts gilding. If you need to wash ceramics, like pots, the choice is to either wipe over with a damp cloth or wash very gently in water that is not too warm. Using a cloth is preferable to an abrasive pad. Of course, it goes without saying that the dishwasher really is one to avoid for your antique dishes, glassware and cutlery!
Water should never be used on these items:
*Mercury glass Christmas tree baubles
*Face powder compacts
*Metal items that may rust or already have signs of rust, like tools
Dealers will tell you that harsh cleaning chemicals are to be avoided but there are some gentler alternatives: a small amount of washing-up liquid for example will not usually harm glazed porcelain, whereas a powerful kitchen cleaner will probably damage most antique materials. A proprietary brass, copper or silver cleaner of a trusted make is perfect for cleaning these metals, whereas a gritty abrasive chemical will potentially ruin shiny surfaces, sometimes leaving a dull bloom and scratching. Often we reach for the nail varnish remover to get rid of sticky patches left by labels etc. This is a harsh choice for plastics, metals, veneers, melamine and varnishes as it instantly melts the adhesive, spreads it and leaves an opaque scratched surface. For wooden surfaces, advice must be taken on cleaning materials as sometimes only beeswax will do, and at other times you may do well to leave the wood untouched except for a light dusting. Always ask your dealer. Metal also requires advice regarding cleaning. Old tools for example and other metal items like a Godin stove tend to respond well to a gentle working of wire wool followed by a coating of teak oil or similar.
Safety first! Today's cooking appliances are more efficient than in the past, now having a greater choice of hob surfaces, flame settings etc. Ovens can be fiercer and reach higher degrees of heat, and of course our microwave ovens work quite differently to the old stove or cooker. Caution must be taken with all kitchen gadgets such as a vintage percolator, antique copper saucepan set, or stove kettle originally made for the appliances of the day. The same applies to pie funnels and oven proof dishes, always use carefully or display your pieces rather than use them. Ceramic jelly moulds and teapots should also be tested carefully with boiling water, although these are often bought for display and teapots particularly can be used for dispensing cooler liquids.
What to look out for when purchasing antiques and collectables.
Part Two. By Corinna Hoptroff
Following on from part 1 of this blog entry, I am going to look at a few smaller issues which can have a big impact when you are buying antiques and vintage, using all our senses to detect little details that are right in front of us.
USE YOUR EYES: one of the things I always stress when buying is to give every item a thorough inspection. Whether you are buying for yourself, for someone's birthday or to sell on, it spoils things if you get home and find something chipped or a part missing. It may seem obvious to look at something but this is where we often fall down...by not inspecting things properly. So take the time to get your specs on and make a detailed observation!
Teapots and honey jars etc: the common chips appear UNDER the rims and spouts of teapots, and inside the rims of jars and containers. Run your finger around these areas and USE YOUR SENSE OF TOUCH to feel as well as look carefully. Hairline cracks are not always obvious, but you can feel the edge of a larger crack which sometimes cannot be distinguished in a dark interior. USE YOUR EARS: carefully flick the item with your finger and listen. If it sounds like a bell with a resounding after-sound (more audibly noticeable with glass) it's probably ok, if it's a dull clunk it probably has a crack somewhere so follow-up with a good inspection. Chips and nibbles from the edge of glass items are notoriously hard to find and again all you can do is look at rims and edges including the base of an item and tips of pointed pieces like bird beaks and carefully feel to see if they have been sheared off.
Marks, scratches and general wear: just like the spines of books, leather wallets for example can get really worn out at the corners and folds. Choosing a good second-hand wallet means opening it flat and inspecting these areas. Machine stitching can be expensive to repair and adds to the cost of your item so as general rule I wouldn't buy anything where the stitching was unravelling or a stud fastener was failing. The same applies to vintage leather boxes for collar studs and the like, always look at the leather hinges and feel for signs of wear. Leather items can also prone to damp and long storage times in the wrong place can lead to mildew. This also applies to wood, paper and fabric items. Mildew is unsightly and may never be removed entirely but the smell alone can be very off-putting and may take a long time to eliminate, so USE YOUR SENSE OF SMELL to help you decide if you should buy.
Missing parts: if an item has a suspect finish on the underside where it looks like it may have been part of something else, it probably has. Metal or brass figures are attractive initially but were probably part of a car mascot or letter rack for example and missing their original main section. Some gravy boats and little jugs may have had accompanying saucers originally so for this one you need to do your homework on the internet or in a book to find out because they will be greatly reduced in value if they are not the complete set.
Reproductions: occasionally you come across an item that just doesn't look old enough to be the genuine item/ the seller doesn't really know much about it/the price seems cheap. This may be a reproduction of an original design and these days, repros can be very good. USE YOUR INTUITION: if things don't feel right, don't buy! Other items with missing parts may include wall-hanging items without their hooks, some requiring soldering, games without instructions, compacts that don't close properly, logos missing from the fronts of trophies, and items sold as pairs that are actually odd. These little details will disappoint you later and probably cost you money.
There's a lot to consider when searching through antiques fairs, car boot sales and shops. Don't be afraid to be seen thoroughly inspecting items including having a good sniff! I have never had to taste anything yet and don't advise it, but use all of your other senses and don't get caught out!
What to look out for when purchasing antiques and collectables
PART ONE. By Corinna Hoptroff.
It can be very disappointing if you get something home from an antiques fair and someone says "That's silver plated, not real silver", or you just realise the item you paid for with your hard-earned cash is a little less in quality than you desired. So what sort of things should you be looking out for before you buy? Here are a few examples.
FAKE or FORTUNE:
People get very worried regarding items turning out to be fakes, and so they should. If you really want the true item and are being encouraged to buy it as an authentic piece, you want to know all is ok. The truth is there are so many fakes out there and some of them are very good. They range from pottery to precious metals, pub memorabilia to vintage and designer clothes, jewellery to gemstones. Sometimes the fake is glaringly obvious, but sometimes it might be as little as one wing very slightly higher than the other, or a false signature with the "L" just a little shorter than it should be. A slight difference in colour might be the issue, or a very clever but not quite convincing signature. The best weapon we have is to do some extensive homework. There are lots of websites dealing with issues around fakes, with photos, and prices you would expect to pay for the true item etc. Find out as much info as you can from a variety of reputable sources, then you can go out hunting fore-armed. There are lots of other things you can do like talk to the seller. You should never be afraid of challenging a seller, after all it's your money. But you do need to know your stuff before you do it! Hear what they have to say. Do they know the provenance of an item? How did they acquire it? Why is it marked up at the price it is? Ask for the history and value of the piece as quoted by Miller's Antiques Guide or specialist source. An internet seller told me he had evidence of an item being genuine with a genuine price tag as he had seen it in Miller's Antiques guide. When I asked him which edition this was he became verbally abusive. A good seller would know or find this out for you, sometimes immediately by locating the info on their tablet. The seller could be genuine with authentic items to sell, or not, and believe me you can always tell! After a while you begin to hear all the usual banter and old rubbish as well as encountering the genuine article! Practice is needed. Listen to what your gut tells you and if in doubt, abstain. Beware of places where people go to sell their fake wares (well-known selling sites on the internet and other places which I am sure you are aware of). Finally, if you do discover you have purchased a fake, report it to the appropriate authority, you will of course have the seller's details to hand!
What about things that work, or more to the point don't, how can you be sure that even if it's working now, it will continue to do so when you get it home, and for how long? Always a nagging thought! Well, this is also difficult because it may even surprise the seller who KNOWS it was in working order when they sold it/sent it to you, and may be quite genuine. Antique and vintage watches and clocks for example are mechanical which means that they can go wrong at any time. Add to the mix that they are also old having ticked away the years, been wound several times, knocked off tables and shelves, roughly handled, moved house and stored in attics. They are therefore going to show signs of wear and tear and we as buyers just take the risk. For higher-end pieces it goes without saying you should only buy from a reputable dealer who is or employs an horologist and can supply paperwork regarding provenance and servicing, and the accompanying receipts. For used and pre-loved watches and clocks, vintage automated toys and other mechanical items it would be helpful to have some sort of guarantee for servicing carried out. But in most cases, if for example you are buying a used watch from someone who is not a jeweller or watchmaker, you won't usually get that sort of paperwork. Mostly you have to get it home and test it out and hope, and if it doesn't work send it back. Always check that something is returnable, distance selling rules are just one thing that are very useful here.
Electrical items bought second-hand can be dodgy, and here we have a safety- first issue! Never underestimate this danger. Items should be Portable Appliance (PAT) Tested to be made safe for sale, but currently there is no strict legal requirement for this to take place before you sell an item to someone, so I would be very wary of buying anything like a used lamp or electric percolator for example from the internet second-hand selling sites unless it had undergone PAT. It is interesting to note that PAT could be just a case of placing an official label on an appliance without any test taking place, there is no additional paperwork involved at this stage. So watch out and get as much information as you can before you buy. The story here just to illustrate the dangers of buying electrical items involves a pub/bar font I purchased (a light-up advert for beer). It was listed as a lamp. When received, it was a plastic structure with a crude bunch of wires coming from the back which had obviously been on fire at some stage as it was visibly melted and blackened. An electrician explained that many of these items often had a very low wattage and could not be made into a lamp in the conventional way, although many people tried. When I complained to the seller, he sent me an image of how he had his bar lights rigged up on the dresser, and it was a picture of a death trap with trailing and twisting cables everywhere. People are unscrupulous! My purchase may have been another fire waiting to happen. If in doubt, either don't buy, or get a qualified electrician to look over your appliances.
KNOW YOUR HALLMARKS.
This is another one for our "Fake or Fortune" section. How do I tell if it's real silver or gold? Precious metals like silver and gold may or may not have hallmarks. Not having them makes life a little difficult and doubt sets in. Having hallmarks gives an age and authenticity to the piece. An assay office is responsible for the stamping of Hallmarks. For silver, until 1998, there were 4 compulsory marks including a fineness standard, a date letter, the symbol of the assay office used and the initials of the person responsible for taking the item to be assayed. The silver and gold marks can be researched by looking at any relevant book or internet site. Learn the standard ones if you want to collect precious metal, or know where to find the correct information. Carry a hand-lens or loupe with you, they are inexpensive to buy, and your book on hallmarks (you can get mini-guides), and study the hallmarks on pieces carefully, taking into account what the seller thinks they have in their possession, does this match? Ask to look at pieces in cabinets and don't be afraid to take your time looking closely and saying if you cannot recognise something. Some hallmarks are worn, cut through, or unclear due to dirt. Prices may need to reflect this depending on the item, so be clear on what you are paying for. Electro-plated Nickel silver or EPNS is not an assayed metal, and just to confuse us sometimes has a set of what look like hallmarks, but are just symbols apparently not meaning a lot. Silver-plate is as it says, a silver-plated coating over another base metal which can become tarnished, or flake off. So don't be fooled or get excited by what looks like silver, study the metals carefully. More modern silver, and mass-produced pieces of jewellery, will just be stamped 925 which is the percentage of silver content. (Sterling Silver is 9.25%). Now, I am not an expert on precious metals so this is just an introduction to get you started but look out for further blogs on silver and gold, testing for authenticity etc etc. Part 2 of what to look out for when buying antiques and vintage will follow shortly.