The art of antiques browsing

PUBLISHED: 10:44 29 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:44 29 June 2016

Where do you start? discover the lost art of browsing. Photo: Hadrian /

Where do you start? discover the lost art of browsing. Photo: Hadrian /


The French call it window-licking but for us Brits, window-shopping is practically a national pastime – Carol Burns considers the all-but lost art of browsing antiques

The chances are if you are a lover of all things antiques – you are at the choosey end of the shopping spectrum - no wandering the aisles of anonymous stack ‘em high chainstore shops for you. But when you love to go to antiques fairs and markets and are on practically first name terms with your local dealers – how do you avoid turning your house into Aladdin’s cave?

The answer lies in the art of browsing: no I don’t mean web browsing – although the principle is the same, following your own idiosyncratic path through seemingly endless things. It‘s all about enjoying looking without buying. It’s a tricky art when you are looking at one-off items that you will probably never see again, but put your wallet away and consider if looking at something is as good as owning it.

You might think window shopping is bad news for the sellers – but seasoned browsers tend to buy without any of the disappointment and regret that often follows an impulse buy, and ends with that person avoiding fairs in future – which means no more sales.

So why browse? Looking should always be part of the fun of antique hunting – it’s a great learning experience and it’s good for the soul. Really. Window-shopping is a highly personal pursuit. With your money staying firmly away in your pocket or purse you can be playful and discover new things about yourself – allow your tastes to roam and free the more lurid end of your tastes that’s usually kept under wraps in favour of the reigning neutral 
contemporary look.

It’s also a great research method – it helps you learn what things are worth, what things are readily available and helps you discover your own tastes as you find yourself drawn to the same era, material or collectable time and time again. For some people it’s a case of willpower and only looking at the thing you want - but where’s the fun in that?

So what are the rules of browsing?

Look before you leap – part of the joy of antique hunting is the discovery of something unusual or rare. If you find something that makes your heart pound, go away and see if it goes it again when you return

Research – spend time looking at everything, filing away the things you like and dismissing things you don’t.

Head over heart – you might LOVE that piece of Lalique – but do you have somewhere to put it? Will it work in your home?

Get tactile – we look with our hands too. Fondle the ancient wood, stroke the old tapestries and textiles and flick through the old books (but remember all breakages may have to be paid for!)

Practice – head to your local public art gallery or museum (we love the Museum of Somerset and wander through the visual feast of the public collection or peruse the curios and antiquities where nothing is for sale (but avoid the gift shops!).

…And if you fail – try, try, try again!

The expert

“With 100 traders in either cabinets or units here at Antiques Bazaar, Crewkerne, we have a great selection of stock for collectors,” says Anthony Bucke. But what is being collected currently? “Daily we are asked for Poole and Moorcroft pottery, but buyers are very discerning over condition and subject matter,” he tells me. “Oriental blue and white, from the 19th century or earlier, sells quickly, and here condition is less critical. Posters and advertising signs are great wall displays, but the rarer items are increasingly out of many people’s budgets. This is caused in part by the surge in themed pubs, cafes and retail operations, where budgets can be very generous. Posters of music concerts from the 60s, 70s and 80s; an early poster of a pouting Marilyn Monroe; French, German and Scandinavian adverts; the patriotic Union Jack enamel signs, local road signs; safety and warning signs are all worth a punt if within your budget. Once the preserve of student bedrooms, they are in much greater demand, and to be honest deserve better exposure.

“Brass and copper are broadly out of fashion, but good arts and crafts hammered pots, jugs and plates are popular, possibly for future investment.

“However the fundamental rule in collecting or investing in antiques is to be sure you like your purchase.”

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