Antiques Trade Talks – Spencer Swaffer

Antiques dealer Spencer SwafferFor over forty years, influential antiques dealer Spencer Swaffer has been selling his sought-after mix of unusual decorative antiques from his delightful shop in the West Sussex market town of Arundel. A dealer since the tender age (even running his own eponymous museum as a child), we caught up with him to learn more about his views on the antiques trade.

What is the unique appeal of antiques?

It’s all about well-being. Antiques give you the feeling of home and comfort and intelligent affluence.  When properly advised by an experienced dealer they also appreciate in value.

What areas/items are currently selling well?

There is a resurgence of interest in mahogany as well as homely old oak and elm furniture. Nothing too fussy in keeping with the plain English aesthetics.

Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?

It will all be about colour and warmth. An end to the plain whites and greys and shabby chic Brocante.  Think velvet rather than coarse, rough linen. Colourful glamour rather than chippy paint.

Antique dealer Spencer Swaffer's shop in Arundel
Spencer Swaffer’s shop in Arundel

What antiques do you have at home and why?

Everything we keep comes with the memory of the moment it was bought. A sense of time and place.  You don’t get that at Ikea.

What do you think will be the antiques of the future?

There will be no antiques of the future. The tagline ‘vintage’ will need to be updated or should that be re-purposed.

The interior of Spencer Swaffer's antiques shop in Arundel
The interior of Spencer Swaffer’s antiques shop in Arundel

Is new technology good for the trade and buyers/collectors?

The antiques business has adapted surprisingly well to being an online industry. This will continue. But there’s nothing to compare to the experience of seeing and touching in a real antiques shop.

Antique articulated wooden hands

How is the industry changing and are you optimistic for its future?

Am I optimistic? Always. Every day is a new opportunity to find something fabulous.

Tell us some trade secrets?

I’ve spent 56 years perfecting what I do – I’m not about to give anything away!

An antique collectors cabinet in Spencer Swaffer's shop
An antique collectors cabinet in Spencer Swaffer’s shop

What questions should buyers ask? 

If it doesn’t work out can I bring it back ? If the dealer is confident of his goods he should always say ‘yes’.

What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?

A Lucian Freud portrait.

You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?

Nothing for fifty quid is worth buying. I’d buy a good lunch.

Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?

I’m not telling you.

A collection of antique dummy boards in Spencer Swaffer's shop

What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?

Arguing in ‘Bargain Hunt‘ manner about the price. It’s just insulting to the seller who’s paid a proper price and is just looking for a working profit.

What do you consider the high point of your career in antiques?

Opening my shop doors every morning and the excitement that brings.

Are antiques attracting younger buyers and, if not, how can the industry reach out to them?

In Arundel, we are seeing many more buyers in their 20s and 30s. It’s all generational. The children of the antiques hungry baby boomer generation respected their parents’ taste in preference for mid-century. Their children are hungry for antiques.

A collection of antique vases in Spencer Swaffer's antiques shop

What do you wish you could change about your career?

I wish I’d spent more time in museums soaking up the look and knowledge. Be academic. Be knowledgeable.

What are your hopes for the future?

I’m 68 years of age. I’ve been doing this for 56 years, I’d like another 56.

You have a reputation for always being first in line at the fairs – how do you manage to do so!?

By getting up at 5am (and by being in bed by 5pm)


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