Iain Brunt is the owner of leading online antiques platform, www.antiques.co.uk. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, the website is offering a new pay-as-you-go option to antique dealers, fairs, private sellers and art galleries, aiming to help reduce the costs of selling to a global audience of potential buyers. We caught up with Iain to find out more about his life in the trade.
What is the unique appeal of antiques?
Key to antiques is history: their practical use which has shaped their design and form, and the immense craftsmanship that has gone into them when they were created a hundred or hundreds of years ago, when craftsmen worked with hardly any tools. This gave me my love for antiques and drew me into setting-up www.antiques.co.uk
What areas/items are currently selling well?
From our recent survey of our 1,200 trade members, as well as numerous private clients, arms and armour are the best sellers on the site, followed by walking sticks and jewellery. For example, one of our dealers Breedon Antiques just sold a walking stick – a sword stick with silver mount, while a private client in Barnsley sold a WWI boot knife.
Collectables are the most popular items to sell but, of course, furniture and decorative antiques are not far behind. We have a number of furniture restorers on the site so we are happy to be providing them an outlet as well.
Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?
We have had many periods when there was a fashion to buy, from painted furniture to industrial antiques, but now the buzzword is vintage. With vintage, quality and age are important, as the word ‘antique’ has been diluted over the years, but the ones really to watch are the original, unrestored and unique items.
What antiques do you have at home/collect and why?
I just love wood – the colour and patina mean it glows both in natural and artificial light and gets better with age. I also love bronzes and anything tactile. I also have some chairs, which although not important, I wonder who sat in them before me. Anything that is a pleasure to the eye – that is the key to collecting.
What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
Whatever today’s artists and artisans create, providing what they make will last, as a lot of today’s artists only create for now and not for the future. Signed pieces of furniture of quality and sustainability will last forever and will become tomorrow’s antiques. Uniqueness and innovative design is the key to being memorable and collectable.
How is the industry changing and are you optimistic for its future?
Yes, I am optimistic for the future, when you have been in the market for over 40 years you’ve seen many changes. New design is slowing down and people are looking back to the past for ideas and something different. The antiques world has 500 years of design to look at, it will always come back. Antiques are never lost they are just hidden away for the next generation to discover.
Is new technology good for the trade and buyers/collectors?
We have to embrace technology. When I started we only had a camera and film with a telex machine, not even a mobile phone. Now with the world of total transparency with regard to how to discover, sell and buy there’s never been as much information available at the fingertips of every collector.
What is key is having technology that can support all this information and access – otherwise you are overwhelmed. For instance, we have our valuation service which in 48 hours will give you a definitive idea of the value of the work, so this helps set the market rate, benefiting all.
Enjoy technology and let it do all the hard work for you and use it to reach all the four corners of the globe as we do at www.antiques.co.uk.
Tell us some trade secrets – what key questions should buyers ask?
It’s about observation rather than questions: your eyes will provide the answers to anything you need to know. Look carefully, try and learn from your mistakes but never buy unless you are completely sure.
What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
I trained in art in Impressionism with the Wildenstein gallery so I would collect art mainly of new movements or periods like cubism and abstractism as long as it had colour and movement and expressed the evolution of a new period.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buying?
A piece of furniture from the ‘Mouseman of Yorkshire’. His signature was to put a mouse on each piece he made – I am from Yorkshire and his mouse was on my seat at school and in my church. A very talented furniture maker who I never met.
Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?
I love car boot sales and flea markets, only because I love to rummage. If I am on a serious buying trip I visit all the antique shops and meet the expert dealers themselves.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
They don’t look closely enough and don’t ask themselves what is it that makes this piece so special?
Take my advice, try visiting museums and look closely at pieces and styles, then when you go to buy remember those museum pieces and ask yourself could this be in a museum, and, therefore, is it good enough? If your answer is yes, buy it, but don’t rush.
What do you consider the high point of your career in antiques?
When I was younger I had a stall on the Portobello Road. We had to get-up at 5am and it taught me I had to be tough and diligent. You also had to watch your wallet as it was dark! After that life became easier and I moved into my shop in the Pimlico Road and exhibited at the fairs as a recognised dealer.
Are antiques attracting younger dealers?
There are many young buyers now as it’s very affordable for them to start and there are many ways for them to reach the market-place. We have a lot of affordable pieces on www.antiques.co.uk so dealers can buy their stock cheaply and reach thousands of buyers online in the warmth. It’s much easier than when we started, freezing in the dark markets at 5am!
They are so tech-savvy these youngsters, so providing antiques, collectables and vintage via digital means makes it much easier to access, market and sell and that is attracting many more to the marketplace than ever before.
What advice would you give to people new to antiques who want to learn more?
Choose a period and object that you like and enjoy. I prefer art and style pieces, but also collect glass paperweights as I love their reaction to light. Try and visit as many museums, shops, galleries and exhibitions that deal with your chosen subject and talk to expert dealers. Searching the internet is also good but trust your own judgment first.
Don’t forget that there are antiques in every culture and each provides a different interpretation or representation – some are more interesting to collect than you will at first realise. But the most important advice is to enjoying the piece and have some fun discovering the world of antiques.