Antiques Trade Talks – Marc Kitchen-Smith

Marc Kitchen-Smith
Marc Kitchen-Smith in his shop – photo Stephen Tolfrey/Studio Wallop

Marc Kitchen-Smith has been a collector and antiques dealer all his life, and for the past 15 years has concentrated on sourcing and selling antiques. He has a workshop and showroom located on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Find out more at marckitchensmith.com

What is the unique appeal of antiques?

Individuality and character! Whether originally handmade or factory produced, every antique object will have acquired its own uniqueness over time. Years of use and wear and tear, the effects of heat and moisture, chips, scuffs and old repairs, all contribute to give that object its own unique patina, to make it look like no other. Every antique has a story behind it, no matter how grand or lowly it is.

What areas/items are currently selling well?

Anything that falls under the banner of ‘decorative antiques’. Prints, paintings, old signs, sculptures and ceramics – especially if they feature domestic animals. Customers are looking for special items to ‘dress’ their homes and gardens. Also, old pine furniture that still has its original period paintwork surface to it – particularly chests of drawers. In the 1970s and ‘80s, stripped and waxed pine was all the rage, so dealers were caustic-dipping furniture by the truckload to meet the demand. This has meant that pieces which have managed to survive unscathed, still with all that lovely old paintwork, are now all the more desirable.

Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?

As fashions change, the popularity, and hence value, of certain antiques fluctuates. Currently 19th-century Staffordshire ‘flatback’ pottery groups are selling for very little. Well-chosen examples arranged together can make a lovely decorative collection, and will hopefully start going back up in value.

The interior of antique dealer Marc Kitchen-Smith's shop
Photo Stephen Tolfrey/Studio Wallop

What antiques do you have at home/collect and why?

I’ve always bought and sold items that I personally like, which has often unfortunately proved to be a flawed approach, as I can end up liking an item so much that I can’t bear to part with it. At home, we have a mix of country furniture decorated with examples of folk art and natural history. Consequently, my growing collection of antique pigeon decoys are jostling for space with a similar collection of ornithological taxidermy! A lot of the antiques I choose to keep are there to complement the interior of our Georgian townhouse – they help create the mood and ambience of our home.

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

Anything that is still made as a ‘one-off’ or in limited editions. Rarity is, and always will be, a key element to something becoming collectable, and with that comes a market and financial competition for ownership. I also think items of technology could potentially be antiques of the future. Maybe early computers and mobile phones? Good quality music systems are already going up in value, as connoisseurs shun downloads for vinyl.

A portrait of a terrier dog from antique dealer Marc Kitchen-Smith

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

As the industry moves further away from the high street to the digital world, it has attracted a lot of new young dealers into the trade. This fresh blood is a healthy invigoration into the trade, giving it new approaches and enthusiasm.

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

The general move away from physical premises for antique dealers to the virtual world of online shops is not altogether a bad thing. Although there is nothing better than physically handling an object in person, at least the market for that item has now opened up to include a wider audience. The world is then your oyster! The downside is that collectors have the opportunity to ‘bypass’ the trade and purchase directly from the auction houses, who are also online. Good for the collectors, not so good for the dealers…

Tell us some trade secrets – what key questions should buyers ask?

When selling an item, I try to be as descriptive about it as possible – its finer points and its flaws. This is usually backed up with a good selection of photographs of it – all in order to minimise the questions a buyer needs to ask. Buyers should always ask for ‘best prices’ as the trade has usually allowed for this in their pricing.

A glazed cupboard in Marc's antique shop

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

If money were no object, I would buy 18th-century saltglaze jars in the shape of bears. These have always formed part of any serious pottery collector’s inventory, and rarely lose their value.

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

The best oil painting available for the money, and ideally a dog portrait – I know I could sell it almost immediately, which would free up cash to buy more. No matter how big or small someone’s home is, there is always room for a piece of nice art!

Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?

My favourite hunting destinations are local auctions (which ideally aren’t online!), and also local house clearance operators. House clearances are where new stock is discovered that is fresh to the market, and purchase deals can be done on a one-to-one basis, before they get to auction. Antique centres can also be good hunting grounds, as they hold a lot of antiques from different dealers, giving you a good cross-section to choose from.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?

I think the biggest mistake most buyers make is usually when buying online from auction sites, and not viewing in person. If there are insufficient photographs of an object, or the description is incorrect, then there is always the possibility of buying badly. An item can arrive, faulty or badly repaired, or worse still – a reproduction! There is no substitute for looking at and inspecting an item in person, if that is possible.

Antique chest in Marc's shop

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

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve reached my ‘high point’ yet! I love dealing in antiques, so I suppose everyday is a kind of ‘high point’. Perhaps when I pick up that painting for £50 and it turns out to be worth £500,000 that will the THE high point!

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

Certain antiques are attracting younger buyers, particularly practical items such as lamps, chairs, tables, mirrors, etc. Social media is playing a bit part in reaching this target audience, and whereas many younger buyers would not have stepped foot into an actual antique shop or auction room, they are happy to buy online.

Marc Kitchen-Smith
Photo Stephen Tolfrey/Studio Wallop

What advice would you give to people new to antiques who want to learn more? 

Buy what you like, within your budget – trust your instinct! You have to be passionate about the things you are collecting or selling. Don’t watch too many programmes on TV about antiques. Although knowledge can be gleaned from them, they can be misleading on costs and values in the real world! Read up on period history to understand the context in which certain antiques originated from. The social history aspect of an antique is an integral part of its design and functionality.

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