Yesterday we went to an antiques fair. I’ve certainly been to antique shops before. I’ve even been to a small selection of antique emporia (little difference to a shop), but I’ve never been to an antiques fair. And for that I must reflect and thank someone for 43 years of good fortune. I have a strong dislike and mistrust of the value invested in antiques. Watch any episode of any antiques show and by and large you’ll note that not a lot is worth a lot. All it needs is for one person to find a hidden gem and another person to value it well beyond what most people would consider reasonable and there you have it – a fresh wave of antique enthusiasts, most of them thoroughly clueless.
The antiques business and the level of its success is directly related to the rise in disposable income over the last century or so, the increase in living space for the average person, the lust for more and more stuff, regardless of its monetary value and of course a sickly sentimentality that makes us cling on to that stuff in the deluded imagination that it will make our fortunes or be worth passing on to others. But watch Bargain Hunt and watch it closely and you’ll see the myth in action: people flapping around with some tit in a tweed waistcoat and wearing a pretend monocle for an entire day and they end up with a profit of £17, if they make any profit at all.
There is another name for an amateur antiques expert and that is ‘deluded’. I’m taking nothing away from my mother in law by saying this. Doubtless she knows far more about ceramics and jewellery and designer dresses than I ever will but having them stuffed into boxes and bags and cupboards and lying untouched for decades didn’t really do them much good. Every antique store is just a slightly more attractively arranged hoarders spare room and is always stuffed with things that will simply never sell. Incidentally the reason I went to the antiques fair in the first place was to support Wifey as she begins the mammoth task of selling some of her mother’s possessions to generate money towards a better level of care for her. I think I may have earned a solitary brownie point for it but I imagine I’ve probably also already used that up by being a prat in some other department. Easy come, easy go.
To give it some due at least the fair surprised me. I was surprised by how busy it was. I was surprised we had to queue to get into and out of the car park. I was also surprised we stayed so long. It was crammed; a huge sports hall jam packed with regimental table after table, each one covered with hunk upon spunk of another person’s junk. I couldn’t spot much treasure but then that’s all quite subjective. Quite why people would want a collection of Toby jugs baffles me. Why anyone would want to pick up novelty dog brooches, or fourth hand bowties, or ornamental soup spoons, or postcards of Winchester Cathedral from the 30’s, or a near complete collection of Royal Mint coins commemorating the life of Jeremy Beadle, or a grab box of knackered, unplayable Cliff Richard vinyl (arguably all such vinyl is unplayable), or an empty ammunition magazine from an AK-47 is totally beyond me.
As I squeezed my way through gaps in the turmoil I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of buying and selling going on. A few half-hearted attempts at haggling here and there but this was hardly a Moroccan souk. People were mumbling away but the flash of cash and card were hard to pick out. I wondered how many of these people did this for a living – antiques. Unless you’re very established or very, very lucky it must be a hand to mouth existence and at the end of every fair you must have to pack it all up again; every lank, bobbly cardigan and chipped picture frame and engraved back scratcher and faded Beano Annual with the message: ‘To Timmy, with all our love, Grandma and Grandad, Sept 81’, and then take all it home and wait until the next fair. And the one after that. I say this only because there weren’t many happy faces and there must have been a reason.
Anyway, the main thing is that Wifey started to get a feel of what kinds of things were on offer and in what condition and at what prices and so, in a round about way, it was a veritable triumph. I know what will happen next – we’ll end up loading the car and setting out a stall and I’ll be trapped there for a whole day as she chats away to anyone that asks because she’s nice like that. I doubt we’ll sell a lot and I’ll have to have several showers to remind myself I am not an antiques kind of guy. The world of antiques is a mystery void to me. I don’t know who makes the rules and who decides which glass blowing factory from the 1870’s should suddenly be very fashionable (the answer to the last part is probably some scheming turd who has a store room full of 1870’s hand blown glass). But what I can tell you is that it all means very little to me. If antique experts think we’re preserving history they’re wrong: we’re just preserving a vast gathering of little bits of other people’s lives, (the overwhelming majority of which, please remember, is total crap) that they didn’t have the wherewithal to dispose of when they were alive. And that seems a little stupid to me.
G B Hewitt. 18.11.2019.