Loving the past

Louise Phillips, chair of the British Antique Dealers’ Association, outlines the basics for people who are new to buying historical objects

In my capacity as chairman of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) and also as a second-generation dealer for the past 40 years, I am often asked where one should start when buying and collecting antiques. Many people have said that it is a somewhat daunting prospect. But if you follow a few simple criteria you will find that it is both fascinating and hugely rewarding to buy a piece to decorate your home or add to a collection.

Buy what appeals to you and what you would like to live with in your home.
Buy the best you can afford.
Buy from a dealer who you like - over time you can build a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship.
The dealer should be a member of a reputable trade association.

Members of BADA are governed by a very strict code of conduct, and the art and antiques they sell are eligible for certificates of provenance. This is increasingly important when taking into consideration the huge growth in online buying and selling.

They are elected to the association by their peers, which means customers are able to benefit from their wealth of expertise and inventories. Many members are world authorities and published writers on their specialities. You will find that dealers are delighted to advise and talk about their stock - an enormous help to you as a buyer if you are just starting out.

As a dealer, predominantly of early oak furniture, my buying criteria are colour, patination and authenticity. Colour is a personal taste, but over time it will become clear what is a good colour for a particular type of wood from a particular period.

Patination is the result of years of dirt, finger grease, wax and polishing - it can’t be sprayed on or applied from a tin. As for authenticity, I have clients who only buy pieces that are 100% original, including every last piece of metalwork: nails, hinges, handles and locks. Such pieces do exist, but are not very common.

As well as these three criteria I like to see things like original drawer linings, though if a piece is exceptional I will forgo this.

A knowledgeable, reputable and established dealer will be able to advise on every point of a particular object, be it silver, porcelain, furniture jewellery or paintings. This is where establishing a good relationship is of huge benefit.

If you are keen to learn more about fine art and antiques, a great option is to take up membership of BADA Friends. Formed in 1991, the Friends seek to increase knowledge and appreciation of fine art and antiques through an annual programme of private tours, guided walks and inspirational activities.

Recent events have included a visit to Downing Street, a guided tour of Coutts Bank, a private tour of Chevening House - traditionally used by the Foreign Secretary - and a guided tour of the Reform Club. We also have a regular programme of visits to showrooms and galleries, and regular online Zoom talks.

For more information visit badafriends.com. We are delighted to offer readers of The Lady a discount on membership. Please contact Anne Green (anne@bada.org).
Specialists from Woodbridge Antiques in Suffolk have some top tips for lovers of the precious metal

Perhaps you are looking for a special gift, pieces to grace your own home or thinking of starting a collection? Buying antique silver is lots of fun, and one of the great things about British silver is that by using hallmarks you can identify when, where and by whom a piece was made.

Here is our introduction to silver hallmarks and what else to look for when buying silver.

What are hallmarks for?
Hallmarks are symbols that are stamped on a piece of silver by one of the four UK Assay Offices once it has tested the item to make sure it has the correct amount of silver in it. In Britain the most common grade is ‘sterling silver’, which means an item is 925 parts per thousand silver and 75 parts other metals, usually copper.

Look for the lion
Often they will be quite obvious, but sometimes they are hidden within a pattern, so you may need a magnifying glass to find them. The most important symbol to look for is the lion (number one in the photo below), or a thistle, which identifies the object as sterling silver from England or Scotland. If there is no lion, it could be from another country or just silver-plated, made from a base metal such as nickel or copper with a layer of silver. Plate can also have markings that look a bit like hallmarks. Look out for the letters ‘EP’ or ‘EPNS’, which stand for ‘electroplated’ or ‘electroplated nickel-silver’.

Where and when was it made?
Once you have identified your piece as being sterling silver, look for the town hallmark. In the picture this is an anchor (2), indicating that the metal was assayed in Birmingham. Other common location marks are London (a leopard), Sheffield (a crown), Edinburgh (a castle) or now-closed offices such as Chester (three wheatsheaves and a sword).

The hallmark also tells you how old the object is. The date letter in this photo is ‘k’ (3). Unfortunately, date letters vary depending on where the silver was made, so you will need to consult the bible of antique silver dealers, Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks. This can be bought from Sheffield Assay Office (£25, assayoffice.co.uk). Since we know the piece was made in Birmingham, the ‘k’ gives a date of 1909.

Who made it?
The maker’s mark (4) shows that this piece was made by Jones & Crompton, a Birmingham silversmith.There are thousands of maker’s marks, so you will need to refer to another reference book. One of the most authoritative is still Sir Charles Jackson’s English Goldsmiths and Their Marks, which was first published in 1905.

What else should I look out for?
The condition of antique silver varies a lot and affects the price of the object. There are four simple checks to make.

Look at polished surfaces for dents, creases or scratches.
Check around hinges, seams, edges and near handles for any splits in the metal.
Hold heavily decorated items with raised sections up to the light to check for small holes that have been caused by over-cleaning.
If a piece consists of two or more parts, for example, a lidded pot, check that the hallmark is the same on both pieces.

What should I buy?
Sterling silver items make great presents. You could choose a piece that will be 100 years old on someone’s birthday to wish them a long life, and silver photograph frames are great for pictures of newlyweds or new babies.

More practical pieces include candlesticks, bon-bon dishes and cutlery for the dining table.

It may seem obvious, but the most important part of collecting is finding pieces you really like. At Woodbridge Antiques we have a wide array of sterling silver pieces, many of which are available in our online store.
Happy hunting!

Whether you’re buying or selling jewellery, the world of auctions can be an opaque and confusing place. Once you have waded through a minefield of specialist terminology about the object in question, working out what fees will be charged when you buy or sell can be a nightmare. There is the hammer price, the final price, the vendor’s commission, the buyer’s premium... the list goes on. We asked the experts at Elmwood’s auction house in London’s Notting Hill to lead us through the process.

When an experienced valuer assesses a piece of jewellery they will consider its designer, what it is made of, the weight of any gemstones, its size and origin.
For diamonds and other gemstones we use a rule called the ‘four Cs’: carat, cut, colour and clarity. When you ask for a valuation, make sure the expert specifies these elements and compare them to any certification you might have.

If you’re thinking of selling an item the auction house should tell you their fees at the start of the process - be sure to ask what they charge for sales (the vendor’s commission) as well as fees for photographing the piece and insurance.

If you want to buy a piece of jewellery at auction, first ask for a condition report to see if there is any damage and to confirm the carat weight of any gems. Once you have decided to buy, you can leave a maximum bid (an ‘absentee’), or bid live at the auction, on the phone, or online. You should research what the auction house charges buyers - the buyer’s premium. The industry standard is 25% + VAT, which equates to an extra 30% of any successful bid!

At Elmwood’s we believe in transparency, sustainability and quality. If you want to know how much your jewellery is worth, we will provide a free, noobligation valuation either online or in person.
What’s more, if you decide to sell we don’t charge vendor’s commission. As a result, we hold more sales than any luxury auction house in the country - ensuring opportunities for sellers and buyers every week.