Julie and Peter Miles run Albion House Antiques based in East Anglia and specialising in antique prints, Staffordshire pottery and glass. They can be found on the Selling Antiques website and at the Long Melford Antiques Fair which takes place on the first Wednesday each month in the Suffolk village
How did you get started in the world of antiques?
My husband and I first met in 1978 while both working in Selfridges. We filled our flat with junk shop finds, this continued through our life and when my husband left the design world we decided to really concentrate on antique dealing. When we first started in 1997 we felt we had to experience every marketplace so we stalled out at Portobello Road, Newark, Ardleigh, Sandown, and Camden passage. We stood out at Kempton Park for over a decade.
What is the unique appeal of antiques?
To be able to own something from the Georgian period or earlier is quite something. I remember in Portabello Road buying a damaged 17th-century tea bowl for a fiver, c.1680, and being completely amazed at owning something that old. I could not believe it and to be honest it still amazes me.
What areas/items are currently in demand and why?
I think antique prints are being more appreciated and they are still relatively cheap to buy, though buying a good antique frame is becoming more difficult. When I was at art school in the seventies I studied art history and the old gentleman that taught the subject was also a print dealer. He told me the reason he dealt in printed matter and not original art was that for a relatively small sum of money, I can’t remember how much, say £50, you could buy an old master engraving from the seventeenth century, a thing of great beauty and of museum quality. That same amount spent on original art will buy you some Highland cattle standing in a puddle. That always stuck with me.
What do you think will be in demand in the future?
There are some fantastic artists around at the moment: Mark Herald, Vanessa Copper, Rachael Blame, Claudia Rankin and Joseph Dupre. I could spend a small fortune on their work.
How can antiques and vintage items work well in traditional and contemporary settings?
I think modern art sits alongside antiques really well and adds a really good contrast.
What items do you have at home/collect and why?
You find over the years you get to love all genres of antiques so it becomes very eclectic at home! we love early prints, ceramics/pottery and glass.
How is the antiques and vintage industry changing and are you optimistic for its future?
Antiques go in and out of fashion but there are always people that would not have their homes any other way – hardcore dealers always have antique interiors. However, the antiques industry has been very hard hit by Brexit. The dealers from Europe who love English antiques can no longer ship back to the continent because of customs. They used to come over by the coach load, but no more; I don’t blame them. We have lost most of our European clients online.
Tell us some trade secrets – what key things and question should buyers consider and ask?
I think people put far too much emphasis on condition. When an item is over 200 years old it will have some issues or losses; you’ve got to see past the chips and love the antique. Don’t over clean or restore it, its fine as it is.
Having a big budget without experience can be a dangerous thing. Start out by paying small amounts for things and get used to handling them, that way you will make small profits or small loses but won’t break the bank. Deciding to spend your pension pot learning to deal in antiques will last you about 18 months.
What antiques/vintage pieces would you buy if money were no object?
A piece of sacred pictorial art from the early Renaissance… anything will do, I’m easily pleased.
You’re down to your last 50 quid – what antiques/vintage items would you buy?
Antique glass is very under-valued at the moment and you would get a good few pieces for £50!
Where are your favourite hunting destinations and fairs – why those?
Buying trips are always exciting as you never know what you will come home with. Graham Turners Antiques Fair Long Melford Suffolk, the first Wednesday every month, is a small, quality fair, datelined, with some of the best dealers in the South of England. Kempton Park, of course, is always worth a visit.
Is the antique and vintage marketplace attracting younger buyers?
Yes, young people are definitely more interested and buying antiques is green! The only things I have ever bought new is a fridge and washing machine (they’re both rubbish!).
How can the industry attract more younger buyers?
I think the way to attract young buyers is to promote the actual cost and value of antiques – you can get a well made and handsome chest of draws for less than a £100, and often less than £50! The antique will likely hold its value, unlike something from a retailer which is valueless the second it leaves the shop.
What advice would you give to people new to antiques and vintage who want to find out more?
Buy and handle the things you are interested in, its the best way to learn, that and the Internet. You can find out about anything today. The wonderful thing about antiques is you never stop learning. No matter how long you have been in the business there is always something coming up you have never seen before. Antiques are so diverse and often things were made in such tiny batches or one-offs that they just haven’t survived.
You also never know where you will find something: I picked up one of my favourite things in a house sale just four houses away! Always be on the lookout, honing your antiques radar.