The British Antique Dealers' Association is the trade association for the leading antique dealers in Britain.
Since its foundation in 1918 the BADA has set the standard for trading in the antiques business. Our expertly vetted membership adheres to a strict code of practice. Find out what lies behind our sign of quality. In recent years, television programmes and lifestyle magazines have fuelled a nostalgic enthusiasm for the past. Their presentation serves not only to increase knowledge for art and antiques from earlier centuries but also to heighten our expectations of their value. The media constantly regale us with stories of people who find Turners skulking in the attic or rare Chinese dishes in the one pound box outside a junk shop.
BUYING ANTIQUES In reality, such lucky finds are rare and when they do occur they happen to those who have enough expertise to back their hunch with sound experience. For the rest of the world, buying a serious, valuable antique, whether it be a Regency dining table, 18th-century Dutch flower painting or an ironstone dinner service, involves considerable financial outlay. So, what steps does the enthusiastic but inexperienced beginner take to thread their way through the thorny thicket of the antiques market and emerge unscathed and unfleeced at the other side? Cash limits Firstly, a couple of obvious, practical points.
Decide on a cash limit and do not exceed it or you may end up repenting your spur of the moment extravagance. Try to stick broadly to your original intentions and do not get waylaid down tempting blind alleys. If, for example, you set out to buy a dining table, it is no good coming back with a card table. However prettily inlaid it might be, you will never fit all the plates on it at dinner parties. Similarly, if you wanted an intimate miniature for the bedroom you might live to regret that you ended up with a six foot square, bargain-priced, stag hunting scene that will not fit comfortably on any wall in the house. Be prepared to search around In feeding such considerations, the first thing you should then do is take a good look around at what is on offer in your chosen field.
Seek out those shops whose stock conforms to your general taste (not all of them will). Try locally first, but if your area is thinly supplied go further afield, taking careful note of the descriptions and comparing prices. In this context, antiques fairs make ideal hunting grounds but try, if you can, to visit some of the more prestigious venues, big annual events such as our own BADA Antiques & Fine Art Fair held in the Spring at the Duke of York's Headquarters in Chelsea or the Harrogate Antique Fair held in the Autumn (a list containing details of both these and other quality fairs is available on request from the BADA offices).
It is worth the expense of the entrance fee to gain the advantage of having so many serious dealers captive under one roof, and even if many of the pieces are beyond your pocket it nonetheless gives you a picture of the breadth and variety on offer. (It should be pointed out that membership of the Friends of the BADA Trust entitles members to free entry to many antiques fairs. Application forms are available on request by telephoning 020-7581 5259).
CHOOSING A REPUTABLE DEALER The other way to minimise the risks is to choose a reputable dealer. Here, the same advice applies to antique buying as it does to plumbing, life insurance or any business transaction. You can add an extra safety-net by going to a firm which is a member of a trade body such as The British Antique Dealers’ Association which vets its membership and enforces standards through the code of practice contained in its strict Bye-laws. Such safeguards can be important, particularly if you have cause to question the authenticity of your purchase and wish to claim redress.
Such a query should not, for example, present a problem if the piece came from a dealer who is a member of The British Antique Dealers' Association. Since 1918 the BADA has been looking after the buying public. Under its codes of practice, a mistake in the description of an object usually entitles the purchaser to a full refund from the member. In addition, should this be a cause for dispute between the BADA dealer and his customer, then the matter can be taken to the Association's free Arbitration Service.
Use specialists, not generalists Many BADA members tend to be specialists within their chosen field, rather than generalists, with years of expertise that the customer can draw on for help, not just with the initial selection but with follow-up advice on care and repair. Remember that you should never be afraid to ask questions. As a serious potential customer with hard-earned cash to spend, you are entitled to find out as much as possible from the vendor and no reputable professional should begrudge any genuine enquiry. Again, as in any field of business, it makes sense to build up a relationship with a specialist.
Think to the future; it is unlikely that your first purchase will be your last and any expert will have a wide circle of contacts that he or she can use to seek out special requirements for a valued customer. Any reputable dealer selects his stock with care and takes pride in any pieces he offers, so you will often find that, given a reasonable lapse of time, he will be happy to buy those pieces back from his customers or accept them in exchange for something else in the shop. Invoices On a practical note, having asked the dealer for details about a piece you have decided to purchase make sure that the invoice reflects that all-important information which helped you make the decision to buy. For example if the dealer pointed out some restoration, ask that this is noted on the invoice — it can protect you and the dealer for any misunderstandings later on. Ensure the invoice indicates the period of the article, if known.
There is no point in buying what you believe to be an 18th-century table, described on the invoice as “a fine walnut table” only to discover later that it is a Victorian copy. Paying for your purchases Some dealers incorporate terms and conditions of sale into their sales invoices. Others do not. This can mean that ownership rights to the antique you intend to buy will vary depending on whether or not they have been paid for in full. The same goes for deposits. The moral of this is that you should always make your intentions clear and if you do not understand any aspect of your purchase arrangement, such as deposits, or who bears restoration costs simply ask the dealer. He won't bite! Do not tell a dealer you intend to buy an item if in truth you are not quite sure that it is right for you. If you need to check with your spouse that he or she approves of your purchase then be honest with the dealer and tell him as much.
The dealer may then be prepared to hold the piece for a day or two, but he may reserve the right to sell in the meantime should a firm offer come in. So often do customers ask to have a piece reserved for them, only then to disappear into thin air, that the dealers do have to cover themselves. The golden rule Finally, your guiding principle should always be to buy what you like. Forget for a moment about buying for investment. Most antiques do appreciate in value, but why not let the dealers take the financial risks. Under their expert guidance you will have the confidence to indulge your own tastes.
BUYING FOR EXPORT Buying antiques to take or ship abroad is relatively straightforward in the United Kingdom. Export licences The main restriction you have to bear in mind is the export licence threshold, currently £65,000 for most objects over 50 years old destined for Europe. Most items below this threshold may be exported without an individual licence under Open General Export Licence procedures, although some categories (paintings of historical British personages for example) have lower or higher thresholds ranging between £Nil and £180,000. A new basic £30,400 threshold applies in respect of destinations outside Europe.
A good dealer should be able to help you with this but should you wish to make the application yourself application forms for export licences and the full list of thresholds may be obtained from The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Export Licensing Unit, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH. Telephone: 020-7211 6164. Endangered species Items containing specimens of endangered species of flora or fauna such as carved ivory or tusk usually require a certificate in order to be legally exported from the United Kingdom. Furthermore, a separate licence may be required by other countries to import antiques containing such specimens. Provided the piece is antique these certificates, known as C.I.T.E.S. certificates, are not generally difficult to obtain. BADA dealers are usually happy to apply for them on your behalf as part of their service. However, should you wish to deal with the application yourself forms can be obtained from C.I.T.E.S. Licensing, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Floor 1, Zone 17,Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6EB. Telephone 0117-372 8168. Antique firearms Firearms more than 50 years old may require a cultural goods export licence (see above). In addition, a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) export licence may also be required for firearms manufactured since 1897 and for some made before that date.
Again, your antique dealer should be able to advise you about a licence, but if you prefer you may wish to contact the Export Control Organisation, Department of Trade and Industry, 4 Abbey Orchard Street, London SW1P 2HT. Telephone: 020-7215 8070.
SELLING ANTIQUES If the time has come for you to be parted from your antiques then bear a number of things in mind. Assessing value Several opinions are better than just one. So that you have a feel for the range of values first take the item or a photograph of it to your local dealers or auction house. If it becomes apparent that the item is really rather uncommon you might then want it looked at by specialists. Most BADA dealers specialise, whether it be in Regency furniture or 18th-century silver. The BADA's blue list of members (available free of charge from our contact address) provides an excellent list of specialists and a good starting point for finding one. When asking how much someone will give for your item or what it would sell for at auction, ask the dealer or auctioneer to describe it. This is helpful because assessors' opinions may vary and this could provide you with an explanation for any variations in the price you are offered. Descriptions For example, if one dealer describes an item as “19th century in the Sheraton style” and offers you £1,000 and another as “Sheraton” worth £2,000 then you need to ask both dealers more questions.
Do not assume that a difference in value means that you are being intentionally diddled, when the simple explanation could well be that one dealer is more experienced in 18th-century furniture than another. After all, it is unrealistic to expect a general antique dealer to know everything about western Europe's entire output of cultural goods for the past five hundred years! If the dealer is a member of a well-respected trade association which recognises 18th-century furniture as his speciality then clearly you are more likely to get an informed opinion about your piece than if he sells ‘bric-a-brac’ from a local flea market. Another good reason for getting a description is that it will help protect you against a dealer who might otherwise be tempted into offering you considerably below market value. Reminders As regards the price offered also remember the following; whichever route you use to sell your goods, either the dealer or the auction room needs to make a profit.
Selling to a dealer means you usually get paid immediately and there are no extra hidden costs. If you sell at auction you have to pay for both vendors’ commission and catalogue photographs and it is surprising the hole these make in the hammer price. Knockers Never sell to ‘knockers’, the term commonly used for so-called dealers who call at your door on the off-chance you have something to sell. It is most unlikely that you will receive a good deal. Finally Finally whether buying or selling always deal with a dealer who belongs to a reputable trade association, preferably of course a member of the BADA.