Friday, 6 May 2016
Cheap as chips
I have spent too much time hanging around stonemasons, and not enough hanging around Freemasons. The wrong sort of dust has rubbed off on me. I cannot recall any stonemason who has given up his vocation in order to become a stand-up comedian.
Due to my glamorous assistant constantly going awol and making promises he had no intention of fulfilling, I have had to go back to getting down on my arthritic knees and covering myself in dust again - at my age.
I does not matter one jot how expensive the material is, how valuable the object, or how much money the chips and dust represent as they fly into your eyes, it still hurts and - as everyone has been telling me for years - you don't make money from this sort of work, you earn money, which is not the same thing.
An antique dealer will buy an object in an auction for £2000, get me to add value to it by paying me £1500 to tart it up, then sell it for £20,000. That is making money. A few deals a year is all it takes to make a good living, and the actual work involves driving all over the country every week, seeking out the right things, which is quite tiring, but not as tiring as pounding away at resistant marble for hours a day.
Since I bought a TV licence, I have taken to watching 'The Antiques Roadshow' on Sunday nights. This show - which involves the team taking over a country house for a day and filming the people and objects they bring in for appraisal to make it - used to be essential viewing for antique dealers, but only as comedy.
An expert in his/her field would spend a few minutes asking the punter how he/she came to own this interesting object, give a potted history of the maker and how it was made, then conjure up an outrageously high estimate of its value - usually about 5 times what it would fetch in reality. That is where the comedy came in, but the dealers expressed concern that their livelihoods were being eroded by this irrational raising of the general public's expectations.
Things must have changed dramatically since the financial crisis, and since I last bought a TV licence.
Now, someone brings in something which looks quite special, and the expert describes how and why it is so special, whilst we all sit at home guessing what figure they will come up with.
I look with a slightly more experienced eye than your average punter for reasons given at the top of this post, and I might murmur to myself - or H.I. - "Hm. I would say... £2500." The dealer then puts it at £400-£500. I think they have been got at by the Guild of British Antique Dealers.
When the expert eventually pronounces the paltry and insulting figure, there is a universal gasp of surprise from the nearby onlookers, the owner breaks out in a broad grin after recovering from the shock, and thanks the expert heartily for this wonderful news, adding that they had no intention of selling it (it was their mother's, father's, dog's, etc. etc. and has been in the family for 25 years, etc. etc.) and promises to treat the thing with a lot more respect than they have done in the past.
There are some exceptions to this scenario, though. An Indian man brought in a miniature painting a few weeks ago, and the expert asked him how much he had paid for it.
"Well then, that was money well spent, because I would say that it would probably fetch around £30,000 today."
With a stoney face, the man replied, "Yes. That is what I expected."
Posted by Tom Stephenson at 01:32