Karen Dalmeny is a familiar face on the antiques fairs circuit, including regular stints at Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park racecourse, and known to fans of ITV’s Secret Dealers and Dickinson’s Real Deal. We caught up with her to find out her thoughts on the fast-changing antiques and art market.
What is the unique appeal of genuine antiques?
They reflect history and a journey through the centuries. They depict a bygone age, from the fine art to the trivial – beautiful pieces from gothic to art deco, from aesthetic to arts and crafts. Buy an antique today and it will still be around 100 years or so from now. I absolutely love antiques.
What areas/items are currently selling well?
Fine art and quality antiques will always find a home, whether that be furniture, paintings, silver, jewellery or collectables. For lesser items the market is much more fickle. From the current demand for Chinese artefacts to other South Korean and Asian tastes. Whereas the market was strongly driven by, say, the American collector among others, the appeal and accessibility of our antiques has gone global.
Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?
Oh for a crystal ball! To know which contemporary artist to collect or which innovative device will ‘turn to gold’. My advice as a dealer is always the same: buy what you like and the best you can afford.
What antiques do you have at home/collect and why?
Some dealers surprise you at home… Not an antique in sight! Me, I love antiques at home, too. My parents collected, so I have a few treasured ‘heirlooms’ pieces that have just grabbed me, and there’s always the antique I paid too much for and can’t bear to stand the loss. Traditionally, dealers and collectors were very ‘purist’ about their furnishings. But not any more. You couldn’t mix period oak with Victorian mahogany, or even worse, reproduction. These days it’s almost fashionable to mix and blend styles. It all about the LOOK!
What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
Today’s wares are tomorrow’s antiques. Be aware of ‘firsts’. Whether that be gadgets, electronics, fashions or art. Is there an artist or potter for example causing a stir or reflecting innovation. Be lucky and enjoy your collecting!
How is the industry changing and are you optimistic for its future?
My lovely industry is rapidly changing. When I started some 30 years ago, Victorian was snubbed, only Georgian or earlier was good enough for a true antique dealer. We’ve now passed through Victorian, Edwardian, mid-century, vintage and retro. The future is probably in the latter fields with an emphasis on nostalgia. This area of collecting and dealing can be kinder on the budget too. There will, however, always be those who adore and appreciate antiques. Thank goodness!
Is new technology good for the trade and buyers/collectors?
My knowledge for probably 15-20 years was built on reference books, experience and mistakes! The arrival of the internet has transformed the trade. A world of reference is quite literally in the palm of our hands. Anyone anywhere can now buy at auction without entering the room and sellers can market their wares sat in front of a desk. The world of antiques has shrunk. Technology, is it a good thing? Only time will tell.
Tell us some trade secrets – what key questions should buyers ask?
Shhhhhh that would be telling. Never assume an ‘upmarket ‘ dealer hasn’t got something affordable and a bargain. You can’t be an expert in everything and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’ve often had my best buys this way.
What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
I think if money were no object I’d love to dabble in contemporary art. Maybe Beryl Cook, Banksy or Lenkiewicz et al. Collect for a rainy day.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?
So I’m down to my last 50 quid! What would I buy. Well, not another long case clock, that’s for sure. I currently have around 25 waiting for the market to up-turn. Still waiting! Seriously, I’d buy a pretty piece of jewellery and hope for the best. Or maybe an underrated piece of arts and crafts – I should be so lucky!
Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?
I love to attend auctions. Yes, there are still a few of us left, and find them exciting. Trawling markets is also fun, but my favourite method of buying is to source privately – ‘fresh to the market’ goods.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
The one sure and certain way of learning is from your mistakes. I still make them! It can be on price or from perhaps buying from a less than honest trader selling imperfect goods. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.
What do you consider the high point of your career in antiques?
I’ve experienced several high points in my career as a dealer to date. Back in the day, starting in Portsmouth renting a space in a shop, to eventually having one of the largest busiest shops in the town. Additionally, some thirteen years ago I embarked on a TV career on ITV’s Dickinson’s Real Deal. Some 15 series later, I’m still there, the last original lady dealer. A second show, Secret Dealers, was great fun too.
Are antiques attracting younger buyers and, if not, how can the industry reach out to them?
The business is attracting younger buyers and sellers, too, predominantly focusing on mid-century and vintage wares. Hopefully, as everything goes in cycles a few may gravitate to the real thing and develop a love of antiques too.
What advice would you give to people new to antiques who want to learn more?
Anyone coming into the business needs to spend as much time as possible just watching and learning, whether that be online, auctions or markets. Watch for trends particularly then have a go. And good luck!