By Mark Brown
1. Dirt/dust/mold and mildew
Why is it that folks won't take the time to wash the dirt and grime off something before they try to sell it? Whether you're on ebay, at the flea market or in a shop, it doesn't take a moment before you see, feel or even smell what I'm talking about. You shouldn't have to wash your hands after picking up an item or carefully navigate through a shop to keep from brushing up against a piece of furniture. I've often thought that there were two main reasons vendors leave the dirt on - to purposely hide defects or just plain laziness.
2. Un-priced, misidentified
It really gets my blood boiling when I lift a price tag to see "Old Bowl - $200." What? If it's an old bowl, then it's probably worth $2. Now, if it's a circa 1890 T&V Limoges sauce tureen, then maybe it's worth $200. If the vendor won't do a little research, go to the library or cruise the Internet to intelligently identify what they're selling. Maybe they should consider going into another line of business. Then there's the shop with no price tags and the owner carefully looks you over and does a mental appraisal on the value of your car. In this case, you really can't spin around and leave fast enough!
You lift a figurine and knock over the one next to it, stretch across half-a-dozen vases to hopefully reach the one that you want and catch your sleeve on one in between, turn around and bump into something, or worse yet, have to back out of a dead end isle that is so cramped that you can't turn around. Sound familiar? These sort of situations can really take the fun out of antiquing as you're more worried about "break it and you buy it" than anything else. A considerate vendor will limit the quantity of merchandise to not only reduce the chance of breakage, but also better display what is offered.
4. Poor lighting
"Just because you can't see what you're looking at shouldn't affect you buying it!" I swear, half of the shops I've visited really believe that. Their owners should try identifying an etched mark on a piece of cut glass, or read a furniture label, or determine the difference between hand-painted porcelain and transfer ware under a single 40-watt bulb suspended 10 feet over their head. Good lighting helps make sales, but then again, poor lighting helps make poor quality hard to distinguish.
I can't recall any shop in the valley that hasn't carried a reproduction at some time. We even have a few pieces in our shop, but they are all clearly marked as such. But it's the failure to properly identify them that has become a significant problem in the antiques business. As more and more reproductions show up in main street retail stores, more of these fakes are appearing in antique shops and malls labeled as antiques. Is it dishonesty on the intent of the shop owner or just a lack of expertise? This is a decision you'll have to make. As to the shop owners, they need to remember that once their business gets a reputation of selling fakes as antiques, it's hard to shake the distrust that is created between them and their customer base.
6. Antique/charity/junk/flea market
You walk through the door labeled "Crazy Harry's Antiques" and skid to a halt because suddenly you're not sure where you really are! Is this an antiques shop or have you fallen down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world that resembles your Aunt Margaret's closet? The contents of an antique (or antique and collectible) shop should reflect the name. Sadly, there are several "so-called" antique shops in the valley that resemble overpriced yard sales. Used baby clothes, CDs and outdated computer monitors just don't qualify as antiques, at least not for another three or four decades. Again, once a business gains an unhealthy reputation for loading its shelves with fantasy antiques, the customer base becomes the same - fantasy.
On the flip side, it's those same six irritants that make this business/hobby the challenge that I also enjoy. Not only have I enjoyed the flush of excitement to wash off thick layers of cigarette and grease film to uncover a rare piece of hand painted porcelain, but I've also spent hours digging through trashy roadside junk stores to emerge with absolutely nothing in hand. Like the words that the late Jim McKay used to open ABC's Wide World of Sports with, it's "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." But, don't you just love it?
Mark Brown and his wife June Lingwood-Brown own Why Not Antiques located at 7994 Main St., Middletown, Va. For more information or to contact him, visit whynotantiques.com or call 540-868-1141.