Antiques Trade Talks – Marlesford Mill

Based in east Suffolk, Marlesford Mill was opened by husband and wife team, John and Lesley Ball over 30 years ago, and now hosts a wide range of dealers selling antique and vintage pieces for the home and garden. We caught up with Lesley to find out more about her life in antiques.

What is the unique appeal of antiques?

The clue is in the question! Unique! Every antique, excepting of course the machine -made production stuff is truly a one-off and brings with it a real connection to the people behind the object and their place in history.

What areas/items are currently selling well?

We sell right across the board but in the run-up to Christmas it’s always the sparkly stuff, lots of glass, mirrors, lights etc., plus of course, the extra chairs and the bigger table, although this year not too much of that last one for obvious reasons.

Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?

The Chinese and Asian market has been very buoyant for some years but we are starting to see the rest of South East Asia and the East in general creep out from the shadows

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

I have a real weakness for country chairs and Chinese porcelain

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

Anything that is made with integrity of style and design and using good materials will always have a nose in front and last the distance

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

It’s so very pleasing that a good percentage of our customers are under 30 – there is a real interest in buying into history and it is proving that antiques truly are for everybody, not just the rich.

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

Yes and no, accessibility to sale rooms all across the country and further is definitively a boon, but you do need a lot of self-discipline.

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

Definitely ask if what the label says is true. No antiques dealer should ever be afraid to give you the truth about their stock.

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

I don’t really have an answer to that one. I don’t covet any item because it is highly valued, but I do get super excited if I find something unexpectedly lovely in a mixed box of small items from auction that cost peanuts!

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

Probably a chair, then at least I could sit down and worry about having spent my last £50!

Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?

We always go to local auctions when we are away, loads of fun, a real busman’s holiday. But, honestly, so much new stock turns up here at the mill every day that walking through in the morning before we open is a real thrill.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?

Desperation bidding! We’ve all done it at some time. Learning not to keep putting your hand up or pressing the button is crucial!

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

When I bought a Chinese plate in 1964 at a jumble sale for 2d old money and decided that was what I wanted to do. It’s taken me a while but I’m getting there!

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

We’re certainly seeing a lot of pocket money buyers, and it’s great that so many young children enjoy shopping with their parents and making their own purchases. The key is not to talk down to them or try to impress.

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

Read and go to museums and exhibitions. Then read some more and go to big auctions selling high end pieces, and then read some more…!

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