Nottinghamshire-based dealer Richard Byron White is the owner of Prometheus Antiques. He has been in the antiques business for thirty years, and worked for himself for the last twenty years. Richard says he’s proud to call himself a general antiques dealer, with an interest in all periods and areas, although he has recently developed a strong interest in artworks.
How did you get started in antiques?
When I was sixteen my parents insisted I get a part-time job, not wanting to just do anything to earn some money I wrote to all the antique shops in Newark my local town asking for a job. One kindly gentleman wrote back offering me weekend work and that was it, my journey in this weird and wonderful world began.
What is the unique appeal of antiques?
For me, it is individuality. The world of antiques is full of unique items. If you live with antiques your collection will always be just yours, reflecting your own style and interests and no one else’s.
What areas/items are currently selling well?
For me, it is artworks, people will always have a space on the wall for another painting. I do find still-life and portraits are selling well and always, always horses.
Which are the ones to watch/future sellers?
Second half of the twentieth century paintings
How can antiques work well in traditional and contemporary settings?
In a traditional setting you can work with the fabric of your property to create at once an interior that is sympathetic to the history of the house but also a home, with all the warmth and individuality we want from our place in the world. In contemporary properties a sparing use of antiques actually heightens the modern aesthetic of simple elegance while adding that element of drama you only get from something old. It’s about contrasts.
What antiques do you have at home/collect and why?
I have and do collect pieces relating to Lord Byron as he is an ancestor of mine. A theme in my home is birds so I have collected for decorative purposes in this area also. I like themes in interiors, it provides a focus without too specifically being a collection and giving a home a look of a museum.
What do you think will be the antiques of the future?
Antiques for me have always been about quality so if you look at any period or field with this in mind you are looking at the antiques of the future.
How is the industry changing and are you optimistic for its future?
The industry has changed more in the last twenty years than it ever had before. We have seen the rise of online sales and while always being slow to move with the times I feel this area has now been fully embraced by the business. The business will survive and flourish, there have always been antique dealers and there always will be.
Is new technology good for the trade and buyers/collectors?
Whether technology is good or bad for the world of antiques is irrelevant really, it is part of the modern world and the business will adapt and change with it. The internet and all that entails is actually very exciting for the business as the possibilities are endless.
What makes the antiques trade so interesting/exciting for you?
Quite literally you never know what you are going to see! Every day is a new adventure, I learn something new every day, it has given me a unique life.
Tell us some trade secrets – what key questions should buyers ask?
Buyers don’t seem to ask questions anymore and that would be my top tip, ask questions from whoever you’re purchasing from. Ask about condition most of all but always be sure that whoever is answering the questions actually knows what they’re talking about!
What antiques/artworks would you buy if money were no object?
I would give full and unfettered rein to the whims of my imagination in the world of paintings: impressionists, pre-Raphaelites, Scottish colourists, naïve and folk art, portraits, anything and everything that spoke to me.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/art would you buy?
I would be buying twentieth century artwork, looking for good individual pieces and not well-known artists. If you look around and judge a painting by its own merits not the signature it is amazing what you can pick up for 50 quid.
Where are your favourite antique hunting destinations and why?
Regional auctions where you can always find something interesting.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that buyers make?
Buying on price (high or low) and not simply because something speaks to them and their aesthetic.
What do you consider the high point of your career in antiques?
Surviving! I entered the trade as it took a downturn and yet I’ve built a career and a business. I am pretty proud of that.
Are antiques attracting younger buyers and, if not, how can the industry reach out to them?
Sadly, the world of antiques still has an elitist stigma attached to it. To engage with younger buyers, we need to be more open to embracing change, opening up and having more fun with it. There are already some wonderful younger dealers doing this.
What advice would you give to people new to antiques who want to find out more?
Find a dealer with an eye you like and engage with them, if they’re anything like me they’ll be happy to talk to you.
Any predictions for the antiques trade in 2023?
In all honesty I think it will be a difficult year with recession looming, the cost of living crisis and troubles around the world, however, it is the unique nature of the business that will carry it through, as it always has.