Antiques Blog

An ongoing series of informative entries!

Some General Rules When Buying and 

Selling Antiques Online

March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

In this day and age we seem to be purchasing more and more online and this is not a bad idea. There are some nice things out there, and some at great prices. We may also be tempted to sell our items on to others but how easy is all of this and are there things we can do to ensure the process is a smooth one? There's no mistaking that online transactions can be fraught with difficulties. This is due to the fact that we are not present to actually see, hear and feel that item! So both buyer and seller can run into complexities they never dreamed of. Here are a few brief pointers for online buyers and sellers.

Recently I purchased a bicycle from a well-known internet selling site for use in our upcoming "Stamford in Bloom" event at Hoptroff & Lee. Last summer I had done exactly the same, the bike arriving on the train from France (no less), and wheeled straight into my garden from the courier's van. This year's bike arrived in a box having first been dismantled by the seller into several constituent parts. How this was done without a gallon of WD-40 I will never know as it was a very old bike and one look at the spanner and it would have surely fallen apart. Whatever had happened between pressing the purchase button and subsequent delivery, the fact remained that it was now not the bicycle I had seen in the images, furthermore it was in a much poorer state than was described and fit for nothing but the tip! The mud guards were broken, seat missing, handlebar grips virtually gone. It had been described to me as a perfectly good bicycle needing some TLC. It brought to mind a couple who sawed off the legs of a priceless Hepplewhite table so that the buyer could fit it in his truck! (an old episode of "Tales of the Unexpected").

This is just one example of what can happen on internet selling sites where descriptions are poorly detailed, often lacking in the most important information and relying on photos for the main description. So what lessons can be learned from this?

For my part I could have seen the rather poor images for what they were, requested clearer images and asked questions! Not all couriers take bicycles without a box and not all sellers are the same either so I should not have expected anything to be the same as before.

As importantly, when listing an item for sale online ensure you are including the full details, not just the bare essentials. What is this item really like? Where did it come from? How old is it? What is the actual condition? Does it have a name label? How will it be mailed? This applies to every item you sell especially if you find yourself thinking you can't really be bothered because you have loads to list. You MUST tell the buyer what they need to know, not just what you want to tell them. This is in accordance with EU Distance Selling Laws, the details of which can be found on this website on the policies page.

On a practical note I would say don't buy or sell items in the evening when you are tired because you will miss/omit details and make mistakes! If you are not sure of something, don't be afraid to ask the seller. If you don't get an answer that is satisfactory to you, the item is not for you, avoid it. If you are not sure regarding the mailing of an item, tell the seller how you want it sent. The same applies to you as a seller: give the full details in the first place and respond to buyers' questions promptly however irritating they appear to be. Remember that both buying and selling an antique can be complex and the same rules apply to both buyer and seller.

Think you might need an eye test? Well for some sellers on online selling sites this is long overdue! You wouldn't believe me if I related how many sellers have not notice anomalies in their listed items when I have returned their items to them. Now obviously some people just try to trick you, think you won't notice or won't be bothered to return the item, but some individuals just cannot see clearly, it's a fact! As a former health professional I know the stats on this one and I can assure you that this is definitely a big problem in all walks of life!

I purchased a collectable set of Toni Raymond pottery cockerels a few months ago and when they arrived the tails on each one had been broken and re-glued. It was a good repair but the crack lines were quite visible. The items had been described to me as "perfect". When I informed the seller he refused to believe I was being truthful and accused me of breaking the pottery myself and then repairing it. After several days of (his) anger and verbal (email) abuse (during which I informed the internet site that I was afraid he might pay me a visit!), he went quiet. I thought he had either died or his wife had informed him that she had broken and mended them in 1958. I am convinced that this was an example of a man with poor eye sight from the outset which ended up causing him and me a lot of aggravation, and him a large amount of money! If this applies to you, ensure that someone helps you by inspecting items you have for sale, or better still get your eyes tested for more reasons than just listing online!!

Listing an item clearly and in detail with great photos is paramount and will be more successful than the other person's! Always have good clear photos, and plenty of them. I, personally, will not entertain items with only 1 image. It's pure laziness and it is likely to cause me more work. Show the underside of items in photos and if there is nothing on the underside, say so. You will avoid having to answer lots of emails asking "What's on the underside" or ignoring your listing completely, which is more likely to be the case. Show all angles of an item, say if it has a signature/imprint/number, it all helps. Tell the potential buyer the item's provenance, even if it is just from your granny's house, a possible date she bought it perhaps, where it has been stored, and that it is from a smoke free home if that applies. If it doesn't apply, you should be ensuring that item is clean and odour-free before you list it! You may have heard of nose-blindness so get a non-smoker to have a sniff (no offence intended to smokers here). When selling anything of antique value you will be expected by fellow dealers to provide this calibre of information before they will entertain you. 

Packaging is very important and I, personally, am more likely to buy from someone who actually states that they view packaging as ultra-important. Bubble-wrap, although not planet-friendly, is reusable as long as you don't smother it in tape. Biodegradable paper and recycled packaging does the job, whereas newspaper should only be used on the outer packaging once the items is protected from the newsprint. Always use a box, and in cases of china and glass, a double box, no matter what the cost is, get the item there safely. There are videos on Youtube about packing properly.

Following this information will help you to:

a). show authenticity and clarity

b). get good feedback

c). adhere to EU distance selling guidelines

d). show reliability as a trusted seller

and get quick, hassle-free sales!



Corinna. Updated June 15th 2020

I wrote this while in lock down so many of you will be out shopping for yourselves now but you can still get some ideas, and you may still be shielding like me so even better!

Well, this is a really challenging time for all of us and I don't know about you but I have spent the last few weeks just working out how to survive, both personally and professionally!

Now that's done and most of us have established a daily living routine, we can start to get back to some of our interests, like our collectables, antiques and vintage! But what does this mean for us exactly when we are still self-isolating? 

Well if you have been watching Kirstie Allsopp "Keep Crafting and Carry On" you will know that she encourages you to use what you already have in the home, with the addition of sending for a few bits online. So this is a bit like that really.....

Firstly we can read these blogs and go on to do further reading around our favourites. It is amazing how much you can learn just by picking up a book or tapping into the wealth of information online. For example I recently began some research into postcard illustrators, and I have been able to use this information to help me buy in the future and to provide expert advice to our buyers. The information is also very interesting as I found one illustrators who had lived not far from where we stay in Suffolk and she mentions a lot of places we know. You can start up a blog of your own too with your very own blogging site!

If you prefer to be doing a few more hands-on activities, how about tidying up that postcard and family photo collection you're always promising to do? I have recently started a new collection of vintage postcards including humorous ones, and I have added to my collection of Medici cards which were sold predominantly in the 1970s.  Where did I find these? Well in the attic actually and some also among lots I had bought to sell in the shop. But you can buy old postcards online. We have had lots of sales from people collecting cards and adding to their albums. Talking of albums, you could purchase a vintage album of which there are numerous examples online, including our Etsy shop. Scrapbooking is also a great way to display photos and cards, and if the cards are not valuable (if you can bear to) cutting up cards to make picture montages is a great idea and can be passed on as a keepsake. Old black and white and sepia photos are now very much on trend for a variety of crafts like assemblage (or recycled) art, funky framing projects and decoupage. Even jewellery in some cases! Junk and Art Journals have become THE thing to create. Not seen them? Get onto Google and have a look through the images, they're very inspiring. Pinterest is also another great place for inspiration and this covers a huge area of paper ephemera in gorgeous images. You can save them (Pin them) for easy access to ideas, the list of things on there is endless!

Ever thought of building a backyard bar? Again, a much sought-after commodity, you can build it outside in a sheltered spot or inside using existing shelves/cupboard/trolley. At Hoptroff & Lee we have many retro bar additions from counter top advertising to bottle openers and cocktail sticks! Our Etsy shop has some examples, and you will find all manner of collectible breweriana. Often you have stuff at home you don't realise you have. This is particularly true if you have been clearing out a parent's house or just some old stuff you bought once that is still hanging around in the garage. Many people say they have too much old junk that they need to get rid of and no-one wants it and actually there can be some very useable items among it! Things that comes to mind is decanter labels, decanters, old drinking glasses, beer mats, cocktail sticks, novelty ashtrays, and the list goes on. This is all stuff that has been stored for years and is often in really good condition so you could resurrect it and make something of it. You might be surprised at what you can get together! Now, getting back to the bar itself, it could just be a covered area in your garden/yard where you can enjoy a drink, and maybe entertain guests when we are allowed to mix a little more. Time to be planning it now then! The other day I saw on social media someone building his bar in an otherwise underused garden shed...use your resources and creativity.

No doubt you have been in the garden if you have one this past few weeks? You can use a variety of old pots, pans and baskets to create a lovely outdoor display. We have a few of these things on our Shop online page and in the shop if you have anyone to shop for you. If you have any of the following already at home, you are off to a good start! Bird cages, ceramic or metal pots, wire baskets, wicker baskets, tin trunk, an old brief case, unused handbags, barrels, kettle, teapot, loaf baking tin, the list is endless. Did you know that radishes grow well in an old handbag? It's a funky and alternative way to add a dash of colour or quirkiness to your garden. If you want a more traditional look, arrange your plants in an old tub or the pots you have around the garden that never get used. I found a lot of handy containers in my greenhouse I didn't know I had, and believe me I have a teeny, tiny greenhouse and a very small garden. I have arranged the motley crew with an old stone squirrel, a cracked sun face plaque I had put aside for mosaic, and a vintage swan daffodil vase languishing on a shelf in the shed. I have also sewn seeds in some really tatty wicker hanging baskets that were abandoned under the bushes, but when the lobelia grows over the sides its not going to show! Just remember to provide good drainage by putting some holes in the bases of containers. For containers without holes, use these as an outer pot, and stand your draining pot inside on stones so that it's not sitting in water. Lastly, don't forget to take photos and pop them on Facebook and Instagram! Let your friends see how creative you can be and share ideas! Creating an instagram account to show off your vintage collectables and their uses is a great thing to do as it's great fun finding angles and colours with your camera/phone etc., and you get people looking in from all over the world. They give you encouragement and in turn you can see their accounts and get ideas! Great inspiration for all! Then there's the Instagram camera, just one example of using camera effects to create artwork, or at least just a very effective image for your Instagram friends. You can use colours differently, cartoon effects, distortions...oh don't get me started, I'll be here all day!

Another idea is  home improvement, which you have all probably been into in a big way recently. But how do you incorporate vintage and antique goodies? One of the things I sold on Etsy was a pair of decorative brass handles with owl detail. They were huge, solid and heavy, I thought it was unlikely they would sell very fast until a guy in the States purchased them for his big old wardrobe door. The image he sent was amazing and they suited the door so well in shape and size and appearance. The handles had probably originally been removed from a piece of furniture or doors and you can do this by looking around in your own home and using your imagination.

Another image I received was from a collector of piggy banks. The image showed the pig they had purchased from me in the midst of many different pigs, and there were MANY I can tell you! So, think about starting a small collection to decorate your can be anything and it doesn't have to be costly. People coming to Hoptroff & Lee have been collecting antique candlesticks, dolls house furniture, Matchbox toys, selected colourful books, cats, dice, marbles. Some are used for existing projects, some for display, some for presentation (in a cabinet of curiosities or shadow box for example). If your'e not going to start now, when will you?

We sell a lot of door knockers online and this tells me that people are out there doing up their homes, a new lick of paint perhaps, and the addition of some nice details here and there. A vintage door knocker can come in all shapes and sizes and we particularly like the small ones that can be used where space is limited. On Etsy at the moment we have one shaped like a witch, there's a soldier, Lincoln Imp, a cat, fox, jester, and on the shop website, it's Henry the 8th, although this is a large piece of door furniture. They are great for the front door, an annexe, flat/apartment, garden gate, side door, or internally, like the man cave! And so easy to order! However, you can also get rummaging in your garage and outhouses and sheds. Didn't you have a box of stuff you have been meaning to get rid of? Can you find something and give it a new lease of life as a home decor item? Or maybe you can create something from it? See a few of my ideas at these addresses: (vintage items) (art made from recyclable items) (recyclable art and camera effects) (Our shop)

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Stamford Collectables

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

In the not too distant past, collectors with an interest in the town were known to amass large amounts of information about Stamford in the form of prints, photographs, postcards and playbills to name but a few. Anyone who knew Dr. Eric Till for example will know the dedication that individuals have for their art. In the 1960s it was a popular pastime to go out with your cine camera to record the town, and its special events to keep for posterity, then sometimes have  small gatherings to display your work. Much footage remains of the opening of the A1, the mid lent fair and the old outdoor swimming baths. My own father used to film everything and collect cards and badges, such was his interest in the town.

Today seems no exception with Stamford memorabilia flying off the shelves at Hoptroff & Lee. Almost anything will do! Books, prints, bill posters and collectors plates are often requested. Unusual badges, club memberships, Masonic items, ashtrays and calendars! The items that seem the most desirable are those featuring the Stamford shield with its blue and gold chequered pattern. Old prints, postcards or badges usually show this. Incidentally, do you know how you determine that the Stamford shield pattern is the true one and not a fake? The top right hand square must be blue.

The original Stamford postcards (and prints to some extent) are very popular, fetching high prices, not so much those featuring the well-known shots of the town, but the streets rarely seen in print like St.Mary's Place for example, buildings that are no longer standing like some of the old hostelries, and general views of the town as it used to be, eg., High street before the advent of the A1. Other scenes like the pony and trap leaving the Stamford Hotel and Grant's the Optician giant metal spectacles sign are very desirable. Shots taken outside of the town centre in Conduit and Recreation Ground Road for example are much sought after. 

But watch out for facsimiles! I recently purchased a copy of a young Miss Woods standing outside her shop next to the library in High Street and although I knew what I was buying it was a very poor copy, of sentimental value only. I had known Miss Woods when I was a child and she sold me sweets from her small and well-stocked shop. Beware particularly online retailers who should state quite clearly in their descriptions if the card is not original. They don't always do this.

On the subject of ceramics, Stamford once had its own potteries, producing Stamford Ware at an early period in history, some still remaining but in the Lincoln museums perhaps. Stamford Ware was a lead-glazed earthenware which fired in many different pastel colours. Bowls and other vessels were sold in many wares abroad. Today you can still find Joba Ware at antiques fairs . This is a modern pottery inspired by the the former Stamford ware, being made in Stamford in the early 1970s. 

A little further afield incorporating the County of Lincolnshire, the great interests include postcards of the Spalding bulb fields (mostly coloured) and memorabilia of the now obsolete Tulip Festival. Brewery bottles including salt-glaze jars are also very desirable especially those showing the old business and town names like Bourne and Stamford. The Lincoln Imp is very popular. There are lots of imps and elves, all affiliated to their own counties and many people don't know the difference between them. The Lincoln imp is upright and has his right leg crooked and resting over the left. He is displayed on everything from toasting forks to ashtrays, paper knives to candlesticks. The more unusual the item the more money it attracts.

What are the popular collectables in 2020? 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

I have to start with Wade porcelain and in particular Wade Whimsies, those little animals many of us remember from the 1970s, in their own mini boxes, sold in their thousands at pocket money prices! They would be bought singly, probably one per week, swapped at school, purchased as birthday treats, used as mini gifts in Christmas stockings, and would be lined up on your bedroom window sill as just one more dusting nightmare for your mum!

Wade started out early, in the 1950s to be exact, in Ireland, later relocating to England. The first Whimsies were in boxed sets and featured zoo animals, wild animals, elves and pixies and domestic dogs and horses. They were quite bland in their colouration, being mostly beige and white with a touch of green for some. They were sold to Canada in the 1950s and 1960s and used as freebies in their "Red Rose" tea products. 

By the early 1970s, the animal designs had changed to hedgerow and country animals, birds, butterflies and fish. The colours were a little more adventurous and the iconic beige and blue predominated. There were lots of "sets" but mainly they were sold separately, and also appeared in party crackers especially toward the 1980s. These solid little lumps of porcelain were mass produced and sold in thousands of outlets like gift and toy shops and hardware stores. In the case of related Wade designs like the tortoises with lift-up lids, these were sold in Woolworth's in sets of 3 (boxed) and that's why everyone seemed to have them! Locally, Whimsies were sold by Harrison and Dunn Hardware who had a whole wall devoted to them, and kids would spend their Saturday morning pocket money on a Wade Whimsie. 

No self-respecting child would come home from their British holiday without one or two Whimsies! This is because the product was cheap, you seemed to have something really special for your money and it sparked an irresistible collecting craze! Whimsies are still collected and a few rare ones have surfaced: certain models, rare colourways etc. At Hoptroff & Lee Whimsies have their own section, and this is replenished on a very regular basis.

Postcards and photos: 

People have collected postcards over the decades, from the pretty Victorian offerings to the modern art designs. "Valentine" was a popular and prolific producer of local scenes and greetings cards in Scotland from 1850 to 1963 when it was taken over by John Waddington. During the two world wars, the postcard market saw many romantic and humorous designs and even the introduction of silk to the images. These all fetch high prices today. In the 1970s it became popular to collect art cards with both classic and modern examples. One of the great producers of art cards in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s was the Medici Society, who rolled out a huge collection of the Old Master paintings like Constable, Van Gogh and Picasso. They also showcased the work of illustrators such as Molly Brett, Margaret Tarrant and Racey Helps. Postcard collectors of that era will be familiar with the little woodland figures, teddy bears and river creatures in bright, bold colours and amazing detail!

"Salmon" postcards produced scenic views from 1880 onwards and also had a great many set collections such as animal and bird studies. Another prolific producer of cards was the British Museum of Natural History who introduced animal and bird studies that are both accurately detailed and beautiful. 

On quite a different note, Bamford's saucy seaside postcards were a great favourite throughout the mid 20th century and collectors have now started to gather these humorous offerings for posterity. The fact that they are seen by today's generation as dated and mildly offensive is what makes them collectable! Whatever cards you collect, they are fetching huge prices, especially large collections in their original albums. The way you can usually tell if they are the original is by looking at the reverse. Some of course have a message which gives the greatest clue but even if blank you can usually see if the item is a facsimile. The fact that a card has a message on the back doesn't seem to affect price generally. It rather depends on what a collector is looking for...some like the messages because they are historical and they personalise a collection. Others who are the straight collectors of sets maybe or individual rare cards may want them in their original pristine condition.

Photographs are also highly sought after, obviously the rarer the better. Albums of black and white photos of the wars, events in history, people portraits and places including the rarer shots of streets etc fetch high prices. Local photographs and postcards (in our case, Stamford: see previous entry) are much loved especially a rare view, and in particular those that are real, not reproduction. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference so buyer beware!

Here at Hoptroff & Lee with have several postcard albums showcasing cards from all eras and to suit all needs! We also stock antique postcard albums.

What to look out for when purchasing antiques....using all your senses! PART TWO. 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

see below

Following on from part 1 of this blog entry, I am going to look at a few smaller issues which can have a big impact when you are buying antiques and vintage, using all our senses to detect little details that are right in front of us. 

USE YOUR EYES: one of the things I always stress when buying is to give every item a thorough inspection. Whether you are buying for yourself, for someone's birthday or to sell on, it spoils things if you get home and find something chipped or a part missing. It may seem obvious to look at something but this is where we often fall not inspecting things properly. So take the time to get your specs on and make a detailed observation!

Teapots and honey jars etc: the common chips appear UNDER the rims and UNDER teapot spouts, and inside the rims of jars and containers. Run your finger around these hard to see areas and USE YOUR SENSE OF TOUCH to feel as well as look carefully. Hairline cracks are not always obvious, but you can feel the edge of a larger crack which sometimes cannot be distinguished in a dark interior. USE YOUR EARS: carefully flick the item with your finger and listen.  If it sounds like a bell with a resounding after-sound (more audibly noticeable with glass) it's probably ok, if it's a dull clunk it probably has a crack somewhere so follow-up with a good inspection. Chips and nibbles from the edge of glass items are notoriously hard to find and again all you can do is look and feel rims and edges including the base of an item, and tips of pointed pieces like bird beaks to ensure they haven't been sheared off.

Marks, scratches and general wear: just like the spines of books, leather wallets for example can get really worn out at the corners and folds. Choosing a good second-hand wallet means opening it flat and inspecting these areas. Machine stitching can be expensive to repair and adds to the cost of your item so as a  general rule I wouldn't buy anything where the stitching was unravelling or a stud fastener was failing. The same applies to vintage leather boxes for collar studs and the like, always look at the leather hinges and feel for signs of wear. Leather items can also be prone to damp and long storage times in the wrong place can lead to mildew. This also applies to wood, paper and fabric items. Mildew is unsightly and may never be removed entirely but sometimes the only way you can detect it is by smell and this alone can be very off-putting, taking a long time to eliminate, so USE YOUR SENSE OF SMELL to help you decide if you should buy. Face powder compacts do not store well, whatever the conditions. Mostly the metal is affected but more often the mirror inside can undergo damp saturation leading to "foxing" a misty appearance which cannot be reversed.

Missing parts: if an item has an interrupted finish on the underside, it may have been part of something else. Metal or brass figures are attractive initially but may have been part of a car mascot or letter rack for example and missing their original main section. Some gravy boats and little jugs may have had accompanying saucers originally, so, for this one you need to do your homework on the internet or in a book to find out because they will be greatly reduced in value if they are not the complete set. 

Reproductions: occasionally you come across an item that just doesn't look old enough to be the genuine item/ the seller doesn't really know much about it/the price seems cheap. This may be a reproduction of an original design and these days, repros can be very convincing. USE YOUR INTUITION: if things don't feel right, don't buy! Other items with missing parts may include wall-hanging plaques without their hooks, some requiring soldering, games without instructions and pieces, compacts that don't close properly, logos missing from the fronts of models and trophies, and items sold as pairs that are actually odd. These little details will disappoint you later and will cost you money to get them reinstated.

There's a lot to consider when searching through antiques fairs, car boot sales and shops. Don't be afraid to be seen thoroughly inspecting items including having a good sniff! I have never had to taste anything yet and don't advise it, but use all of your other senses and don't get caught out!

Our Second Blog Entry

What makes a good vintage garden planter?

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

Planters can include the garden/patio variety or can extend to conservatory/garden house or interior home decor. If you want the retro or antique look almost anything old can be turned into a holder for plants or flowers, all you need is a little imagination! Today's modern florists choose copper buckets and troughs in pairs for maximum effect, the older and more battered the better. Another favourite is the old-fashioned milk churn usually without the lid, with swathes of tall delphiniums and greenery arranged and placed either side of a church doorway for the perfect wedding. Chimney pots are still in great demand as they are unusual shapes and sizes, like the crown variety with its regal-looking top. If you have a smaller home or are not quite so flamboyant, a vintage planter can be made using any variety of small bowl, bucket or tyre. Not very pretty? Well think again...a customer bought a porcelain bucket from us, it had a lid with a hole at the centre, it was probably a loo or slops bucket originally, but it doesn't matter as it was very pretty with its Oriental pattern and rattan handle. Potties or chamber pots give a similar effect. Old galvanised buckets and tin baths also look great planted up with colourful summer bedding! These are really quirky ideas and add interest and a talking point in your growing area. 

Plants such as alpines which need good drainage but won't necessarily need depth of soil will definitely enjoy growing in the centre of an old car wheel (and tyre) which has natural holes. Also ideal is an old shellfish or oyster bucket (see image) which has drainage perforations all the way round the edges. Gardeners get very concerned about pots and other containers without drainage holes, this is a little limiting because the options are either to make your own holes and where you can't do this, just stand your plant in a well draining pot on a riser inside the lovely container you have chosen and check it often. Sometimes a hole-less pot, barrel or bowl is a great advantage for plants like Astilbe and bog and water plants that like to have their roots in water. Choose the container to suit the plant, there's always an option. The rule generally is to get planters together that complement each other and are arranged with style so that you don't get the scrap-yard look! This can so easily happen when you start using items from inside the home, metal and plastic containers which just don't give the look. They need to be of a certain age and be aged in appearance, like having the required amount of rust or general shabbiness for example. 

An old basket or standing canvas bag are great for growing bulbs or any plant really, and also for nurturing small vegetables like salad leaves, carrots and spring onions. They provide good drainage and your plants will thrive as long as you keep them topped up with water. I once grew some seeds in an old handbag hung from the shed door, the possibilities are endless!

If you are a flower arranger I am sure you have used all manner of receptacles for your creations, and many a good arrangement has been made to stand on top of an antique stool for example. Small stone animal garden ornaments or their modern counterparts can be used as an integral part of the arrangement by standing them in front of the flowers. Porcelain swans make a good conservatory container for small blooms like grape hyacinth or crocus. Little vintage birds can be placed inside window boxes and large pots to add colour and interest, and snowdrop bulbs can be grown in tea cups.

While on holiday I saw tall glass jars and milk bottles planted up like mini terraria with fine horticultural grit (the pretty seaside type) and tiny cacti...a lovely idea for unused vintage glass!

Hoptroff & Lee are currently stocking lots of different quirky planters for use inside or our this Spring!

What to look out for when purchasing antique and vintage items. PART ONE. 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

It can be very disappointing if you get something home from an antiques fair and someone says "That's silver plated, not real silver", or you just realise the item you paid for with your hard-earned cash is a little less in quality than you desired. So what sort of things should you be looking out for before you buy? Here are a few examples.


People get very worried regarding items turning out to be fakes, and so they should. If you really want the true item and are being encouraged to buy it as an authentic piece, you want to know all is ok. The truth is there are so many fakes out there and some of them are very good. They range from pottery to precious metals, pub memorabilia to vintage and designer clothes, jewellery to gemstones. Sometimes the fake is glaringly obvious, but sometimes it might be as little as one wing very slightly higher than the other, or a false signature with the "L" just a little shorter than it should be. A slight difference in colour might be the issue, or a very clever but not quite convincing signature. The best defence we have is to do some extensive homework. 

There are many websites dealing with issues around fakes, with photos, and prices you would expect to pay for the true item etc. Find out as much information as you can from a variety of reputable sources, then you can go out hunting fore-armed. 

There are lots of other things you can do like talk to the seller. You should never be afraid of challenging a seller, after all it's your money. But you do need to know your stuff before you do it! Hear what they have to say. Do they know the provenance of an item? How did they acquire it? Why is it marked up at the price it is? Ask for the history and value of the piece as quoted by Miller's Antiques Guide or specialist source. An internet seller told me he had evidence of an item being genuine with a genuine price tag as he had seen it in Miller's Antiques guide. When I asked him which edition this was (they are updated frequently) he became verbally abusive. A good seller would know or find this out for you, sometimes immediately by locating the information on their tablet/mobile. The seller could be genuine with authentic items to sell, or not, and believe me you can always tell! After a while you begin to hear all the usual banter and old rubbish as well as encountering the genuine article! Practice is needed. Listen to what your gut tells you and if in doubt, abstain. Beware of places where people go to sell their fake wares (well-known selling sites on the internet and other places which I am sure you are aware of). Finally, if you do discover you have purchased a true fake, you can report certain items to the appropriate authority (such as trading standards).Have the seller's details to hand.


What about things that work, or more to the point don't, how can you be sure that even if it's working now, it will continue to do so when you get it home, and for how long? Always a nagging thought! Well, this is difficult because it may even surprise the seller who KNOWS it was in working order when they sold it/sent it to you, and may be quite genuine. Antique and vintage watches and clocks for example are mechanical which means that they can go wrong at any time. Add to the mix that they are also old having ticked away the years, been wound several times, knocked off tables and shelves, roughly handled, moved house and stored in attics. They are therefore going to show signs of wear and tear and we as buyers just take the risk. For higher-end pieces it goes without saying you should only buy from a reputable dealer who is or employs an horologist and can supply paperwork regarding provenance and servicing, and the accompanying receipts. For used and pre-loved watches and clocks, vintage automated toys and other mechanical items it would be helpful to have some sort of guarantee for servicing that has been carried out. But in most cases, if for example you are buying a used watch from someone who is not a jeweller or watchmaker, you won't usually get that sort of paperwork. Mostly you have to get it home and test it out and hope, and if it doesn't work send it back. Always check that something is returnable, EU distance selling rules are just one thing that are very useful here. 

Electrical items bought second-hand can be dodgy, and here we have a safety- first issue! Never underestimate this danger. Items should be Portable Appliance (PAT) Tested to be made safe for sale, but currently there is no strict legal requirement for this to take place before you sell an item to someone, so I would be very wary of buying anything like a used lamp or electric percolator for example from the internet second-hand selling sites unless it had undergone PAT. It is interesting to note that PAT could be just a case of placing an official label on an appliance without any test taking place, there is no additional paperwork involved at this stage. So watch out and get as much information as you can before you buy. The story here just to illustrate the dangers of buying electrical items involves a pub/bar font I purchased (a light-up advert for beer). It was listed as a lamp. When received, it was a plastic structure with a crude bunch of wires coming from the back which had obviously been on fire at some stage as it was visibly melted and blackened. An electrician explained that many of these items often had a very low wattage and could not be made into a lamp in the conventional way, although many people have and will try it. When I complained to the seller, he sent me an image of how he had his bar lights rigged up on the dresser, and it was a picture of a death trap with trailing and twisting cables everywhere. Some individuals are unscrupulous, and quite simply stupid on occasions! My purchase may have been another fire waiting to happen. If in doubt, either don't buy, or get a qualified electrician to look over your appliances.


This is another inclusion for our "Fake or Fortune" section. How do I tell if it's real silver or gold? Precious metals like silver and gold may or may not have hallmarks. Not having them makes life a little difficult and doubt sets in. Having hallmarks gives an age and authenticity to the piece. An assay office is responsible for the stamping of Hallmarks. For silver, until 1998, there were 4 compulsory marks including a fineness standard, a date letter, the symbol of the assay office used and the initials of the person responsible for taking the item to be assayed. The silver and gold marks can be researched by looking at any relevant book or internet site. Learn the standard ones if you want to collect precious metal, or know where to find the correct information. Carry a hand-lens or loupe with you, they are inexpensive to buy, and your book on hallmarks (you can get mini-guides), or use the internet, and study the hallmarks on pieces carefully, taking into account what the seller thinks they have in their possession, does this match? Ask to look at pieces in cabinets and don't be afraid to take your time looking closely and saying if you cannot recognise something. Some hallmarks are worn, cut through, or unclear due to dirt. Prices may need to reflect this depending on the item, so be clear on what you are paying for. Electro-plated Nickel silver or EPNS is not an assayed metal, and just to confuse us sometimes has a set of what look like hallmarks, but are just symbols apparently not meaning a lot. Silver-plate is as it says, a silver-plated coating over another base metal which can become tarnished, or flake off. EPNS is one form of this. So don't be fooled or get excited by what looks like silver, study the metals carefully. Modern silver, and mass-produced pieces of jewellery, will just be stamped 925 which is the percentage of silver content. (Sterling Silver is 9.25%). Now, I am not an expert on precious metals so this is just an introduction to get you started, and I will post further information as it becomes available.

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Caithness Jewellery

Some exciting Yuletide Finds!

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

My exciting Yuletide finds have again been all about those much-loved items: the Christmas tree decoration, or as they call them in the United States....ornaments. There are some nice examples of surviving mercury glass tree decorations mostly round ones but some that have a crimped lantern-like shape and some are modelled on fruit like melons and grapes. I particularly liked these as a child. Of course some of the most treasured baubles are "concave" will all have seen these with an indent on one side and you just can't resist putting your finger inside to feel the pattern! They are of course extremely popular and highly collectable so you will be lucky to get 6 of them in good condition for less than about £45, and even luckier to find a true set due to their fragility. 

Of course, when Christmas is over all we want to do is get the decorations down and packed away and usually this is in the attic or garage where the storage environment is not good, and this is how our older glass baubles get damaged: heat, cold and damp. 

When you are out purchasing mercury glass baubles you are looking for breaks and cracks and ensuring the original metal tops and hanging loops are present. Take extra time to pack the more delicate ones away in a strong plastic box at room temperature because you won't see these lovely old glass items made this way again and it's good to preserve them. Recently I came across a set of atomic glass baubles: yes they were all space-inspired, Sputnik-style shapes, but in really used condition, so not terribly pretty. I bet they were neglected when it came to storage. I would love to have seen them when they were new!

Another great item to look for is the original pipe cleaner Christmas figure. In my day these were elves with rather sinister faces and they had polystyrene bodies with pipe cleaner arms, flock coats and they were sitting in wire sleighs. Then there were the ones made entirely from the pipe cleaner itself and I came upon a pair of these recently in their original packets: Santas on cardboard skis. Circa 1960s. They are typically a product of Japan and much loved in the 1950s/1960s by the good people of the U.S. Ebay and other outlets have LOTS of them for sale at big prices. These days you can make your own with a product called Bump Chenille (mostly available online from U.S. stores), which is thicker in certain places and is ideal for legs and arms and heads. But you can't beat the originals so if you see them snap them up however beaten up they may be! 

Ever heard of "Snow Babies"? Strange little figurines, sitting, rolling, like toddlers in their white teddy bear outfits. Usually porcelain, they were made by the old doll factories in Germany to be played with by Victorian children. They are now being excavated (the snow babies that is) once again by enthusiasts (and people who sell them on ebay!) They are again quite ugly but with their confetti textured surface they look good decorating the white icing of Christmas cakes!

Face Powder Compacts 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

Compacts are fascinating things and mirror compacts (without the powder tray) are still being manufactured today. Nothing beats those face powder compacts of the past, that chic stylish little ornament that you slipped out of your handbag to powder your nose anytime, any place, anywhere! They were made in all sizes and designs, and not just round and square but in the shape of pianos, globes, hands and watch faces, to name but a few. They were pretty, stylish, neatly petite, ludicrously garish, and tatty towards the end due to excessive use! Many still survive intact, some completely unused, and that's why I advise looking out for a bargain now whilst they are still around, because they are nice to collect and in some cases are a good investment. 

 Of course, make-up has changed and we rarely see anyone powdering their noses now in public but compacts make great display items and can be used for solid perfume (see and trinket boxes. Youtube and Google are littered with information about compacts from dating your cosmetic holders to refilling them so you won't be short of a good read, but here are a few basic facts. Good names like Stratton and Kigu manufactured great quality compacts using the top materials. These pieces are usually of good weight with a sound lid enamel; of course their overall appearance will depend upon how they have been treated. Long term storage in a place tending to be damp, like the attic, has ruined many a good compact by causing "foxing" or mistiness of the mirror inside, and also making the foam puffs deteriorate which makes a real sticky mess. 

The date of the compact can be told roughly by the engine-turned pattern on the base, for eg., concentric rings and stars were used in the 1960s and 1970s, and a hatched pattern came later in the 1980s (more reading on the internet). The earliest compacts (some as early as the 1920s) had steel mirrors and were for loose powder with the creme puff solid powder coming along in the late 1950s. You can tell if your compact is for loose or solid powder by its appearance inside. 

The loose powder compact has 2 special things: a powder sifter like a thin gauze circle, and an inner metal lid. You put your loose powder in the powder well (bottom of the compact) with the powder sifter on top and close the solid metal inner lid down on top and your powder puff on top of that. This is all designed to keep your powder in place and also to have it prepared for when you open up for action: the pressure forcing the powder up between the holes in the sifter! Opening the inner lid is a stroke of genius in the case of Stratton who invented the self-opening (inner) lid. Just extend the main outer lid of the compact back very carefully beyond the vertical and the inner lid pops open, fasten it in place again manually by bringing the lid forward again and pressing down the inner lid until you hear the click of the little clasp. 

 A convertible compact is one that takes both solid and loose powder depending on which you prefer. This type of compact has an open powder well into which you put a solid creme puff powder insert in its own metal tray. It will just sit in place quite firmly until empty. Some creme puff compacts have a tiny hole in the base to insert a pen/pencil point and poke out the used tray from the underside. The convertible compact will, in addition, have a deeper style of powder sifter with a plastic edge. This is for the loose powder and you use it as before but in this case its best to turn the sifter upside down and place it over the loose powder giving it a bit of space. Then (in some quality compacts) there is an additional open metal ring which closes down on top to keep the sifter in place. The puff goes on top of this. If I'm losing you here, take a quick look on Youtube at the images that go with these steps, or pop into the shop Fridays/Saturdays for advice, we have lots of compacts in stock.

Collectors pieces are the unusual shapes and designs plus the limited editions, but whatever shape it is your compact is best with all of its parts intact, including its outer packaging, and of course the clear display of a good name. You can get replacements on certain websites for sifters, puffs etc. "Vanroe" is a good one. "Boots" sell some nice-looking powder puff replacements too. Compacts are great fun, and why today's cosmetic manufacturers haven't jumped on the bandwagon and made replacement solid powders for vintage items I will never know. "Max Factor" is at least one company that has the right size of creme puff solid powder insert to fit Stratton. There are others too so do your research.

Compacts make sweet little gifts for bridesmaids at vintage weddings, thank yous, and collectors pressies. Look out for all types of vintage compacts but also for the collector's pieces of the future like Estee Lauder solid perfume compacts in the shapes of animals. Avon is also good at producing some unusual bits, and selected compact mirrors are also becoming collectable. Follow our "Girlie" board at: for some great images of vintage cosmetics from the beauty era.

Caring for your purchases 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

Vintage and Antique items are old, so signs of age and wear are inevitable. This will happen through use or inadequate/lengthy storage. In addition, materials just deteriorate with age whatever you do with them. Due to this, items may have a shorter lifespan, so they need gentle treatment and should not be expected to do everything they once did.

Ideally your collectable will be positioned out of direct sunlight or any fierce heat source. This preserves colour, veneers and surfaces.

Immersion in water over several minutes, either hot or cold, is a no-no as this can cause glaze crackle and other surface alteration. It warps wood and lifts gilding. If you need to wash ceramics, like pots, the choice is to either wipe over with a damp cloth or wash very gently in water that is not too warm. Using a cloth is preferable to an abrasive pad. Of course, it goes without saying that the dishwasher really is one to avoid for your antique dishes, glassware and cutlery!

Water should never be used on these items:

*Mercury glass Christmas tree baubles

*Face powder compacts

*Metal items that may rust or already have signs of rust, like tools

Dealers will tell you that harsh cleaning chemicals are to be avoided but there are some gentler alternatives: a small amount of washing-up liquid for example will not usually harm glazed porcelain, whereas a powerful kitchen cleaner will probably damage most antique materials. A proprietary brass, copper or silver cleaner of a trusted make is perfect for cleaning these metals, whereas a gritty abrasive chemical will potentially ruin shiny surfaces, sometimes leaving a dull bloom and scratching. Often we reach for the nail varnish remover to get rid of sticky patches left by labels etc. This is a harsh choice for plastics, metals, veneers, melamine and varnishes as it instantly melts the adhesive, spreads it and leaves an opaque scratched surface. For wooden surfaces, advice must be taken on cleaning materials as sometimes only beeswax will do, and at other times you may do well to leave the wood untouched except for a light dusting. Always ask your dealer. Metal also requires advice regarding cleaning. Old tools for example and other metal items like a Godin stove tend to respond well to a gentle working of wire wool followed by a coating of teak oil or similar.

Safety first! Today's cooking appliances are more efficient than in the past, now having a greater choice of hob surfaces, flame settings etc. Ovens can be fiercer and reach higher degrees of heat, and of course our microwave ovens work quite differently to the old stove or cooker. Caution must be taken with all kitchen gadgets such as a vintage percolator, antique copper saucepan set, or stove kettle originally made for the appliances of the day. The same applies to pie funnels and oven proof dishes, always use carefully or display your pieces rather than use them. Ceramic jelly moulds and teapots should also be tested carefully with boiling water, although these are often bought for display and teapots particularly can be used for dispensing cooler liquids.

Alternative uses for antique and vintage items PART 1

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

STOP! Before you throw out that old stuff that apparently has no use, think again. It's "on trend" now to use things for different purposes than they were originally intended! Perhaps this is what we should have been saying and doing 50 years ago! Before you know it the years have passed and you have collected some really good stuff! But who would have thought that all that old stuff would come in useful? We would have to have had somewhere to keep it all for a start! On the other hand there are a lot of people finding themselves having to do family house clearances and they just don't know what to do with everything that has accumulated. The best thing to do in this case is to hand it all over to a sale room, ensuring you check the costs beforehand of course. But wait...some of those lovely items can be used again...this is real recycling, or even upcycling (if you make it into something else completely). Here are a few ideas that you can try, or buy, from Hoptroff & Lee!

Retro and vintage drinking glasses: are really popular again with the advent of the vintage home cocktail bar and the Man Cave. Last Christmas and New Year Hoptroff & Lee sold several sets of Babycham glasses, liqueur glasses and Martini glasses complete with drip mats and advertising logos for use at seasonal parties given at home. Use them for champagne cocktails, retro drinks like sherry, gin and tonic, Martini with olives, and for home decor use them as tee-light holders, they are very attractive!

Quirky planters for the garden, house or conservatory: almost anything can be used as a funky plant holder. I will be doing a blog on planters in more detail soon but here's a few examples for now: baskets, copper and brass buckets, chimney pots, enamel bowls and buckets, oyster bins, plant stands (church style, old lamp bases and stools), old garden ornaments, shells. old garden implements, milk churns, bread bins, samovars, tyres, sinks, dolly tubs. All you need is a little imagination.

Cigarette Cases and Compacts: in the U.S. cigarette cases are used as photo stores, photo display for your desk and business card holders. They are a stylish way of impressing your clients, something out of the ordinary. Compacts, the old face powder holders from the 1950s/1960s, can be used for their original purpose and you can still find powder inserts for certain makes. As make-up has changed so much, and compacts are still much sought-after, women tend to buy them for their evening bags as pill or jewellery holders. Vanity tables are now on-trend so why not start a compact collection for display. Who can resist the colours and shine of a pretty compact inlaid with Mother of Pearl shell? 

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An ongoing series of informational entries

What exactly is Breweriana? 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

The word Breweriana explains its meaning to some extent but is a little colloquial! It basically means collectables from the world of the brewery, pub, inn or bar. Barware might be an alternative word. I have to admit I love these types of collectables and have many in my own retrobar (another colloquialism!). You too can have a bar by exploring the many different items under this broad heading. With the advent of the covered outside bar area (heated in winter!) becoming the popular spot for a lively cocktail party, barware has become THE thing to explore and gather. At Hoptroff & Lee, breweriana is amongst the most popular things we sell. 

GLASSES: Consider vintage branded drinking glasses, a great addition to any bar. Remember they don't make them with the old nostalgic names anymore, well not the ones you remember when you had your first drink! They are all very different-looking these days and its just nice to possess and use the old ones! Firstly the Babycham glass. Really sought after, especially at Christmas for celebratory champagne parties. These glasses with their iconic "saucer" shape have a variety of logos on the foot and the side of the glass. The white fawn logo usually indicates the 1950s, one of the earliest Babycham glasses. The yellow fawn with the blue bow, prancing left is around the 1970 mark. Other fawns prancing right will most likely be the 1960s when the drink, often considered to be a lady's bevvie, was in full swing. Although there are many of these in all different guises so check them out on a specialist internet site. Then there are some later logos like the fawn in the top hat, on a Martini shaped glass, these are the Millenium collectables, limited edition 2000. Stem shape also makes a difference, with the hexagonal versions considered to be the sought-after ones. So there's lots to look for. 

All of these glasses are highly collectable and fetch a lot of money if they are in great condition or boxed. Guinness has a huge amount of collectables, including glasses in all shapes and sizes. The earlier ones plus the early merchandise generally, bottle and labels, are very collectable, and the glasses from the 1970s with the handles, and stems, are very desirable. For Guinness, it's best to join a specialist collector's club to get to know the ins and outs of all of the merchandise over the years and you can chat and ask questions if you are a member. There's a lot of fakes out there so when you are purchasing the old bar figures, often made by Wade or Carltonware, you need to know your stuff, so join a club now, it's often quite reasonable in price and you learn a lot.

BAR FONTS/LIGHTS: read my previous blogs on safety when buying electrical items as bar fonts feature a lot in this area. These are great to own and use if they are wired up correctly so always check this out carefully.

BAR TOP ADVERTISING FIGURES: again read my previous blogs about fakes and do buy these items from reputable dealers because they are there to be enjoyed. They are SO nostalgic, from a more relaxed era in my opinion. Take the Booth's Gin red lion or the Gordon's Gin glass boar head. Very stylish and great bar decor. You will pay a bit for them as there's so few around now that are intact but they are well worth it! Babycham again...great bambis or fawns, whatever you like to call them, they are in all different poses depending on the year/decade: leaping, forward-facing, side-facing, lip over glass etc etc. Often they are often flawed due to the fact that they are mostly plastic and have been moved about a bit. However, some have been locked away for years in cupboards and appear on the internet and in antiques shops in pristine condition, so look out for them now. Or search for the brass or ceramic varieties which fetch large amounts of money. Other bar top items for collection and display are ceramic ashtrays, bar top signs and shelf edge signs.

DECANTERS: porcelain decanters are great fun. They come in so many different shapes and sizes. I personally like the Sandeman Port Don in his black cloak and hat. Did you know that he can be "glass in left hand" or "glass in right hand"? Important to the collector. Small or large, decanters come in the shapes of eagles, drunks, dogs, cats, woodpeckers, and many more. The Famous  Grouse and Dubonnet animals have taken a particularly high price hike just recently! I am no expert when it comes to the cut-glass variety but these can be researched online. I do know that there are some very attractive pressed glass decanters which enhance any decanted drink. These are often very low in price and are an attractive addition to your party.

coming soon Tools by Jamie...c'mon Jamie!

Alternative uses for antique and vintage items PART 2

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

Following on from part one I will look at a few further ideas for your inspiration. Crates: we sold many apple crates last year and it was fascinating hearing what people were doing with them. One of the ideas is storage, but not just a stacking box system. Apparently they make good bedside cabinets and side tables! They can be left bare or painted and placed on end they provide storage inside for books or a lamp as a light source. Clever!

Suitcases: vintage suitcases are still on-trend for storage, mainly stacked for effect with the larger ones, like trunks, used as coffee tables. Brides acquire the smaller cases to store their wedding cards and other memorabilia.

Ladders are still in demand as chic towel holders in the bathroom and rustic plant pot organisers in the garden. Staying on the subject of wood, old furniture is now taking a new lease of life in the garden: a chest of drawers, or even just the odd drawer are now acting as containers for growing herbs and bulbs. Old chairs are going the same way, as you will see from the Stamford in Bloom examples around town, so you see, you should never dispose of anything!

Tools: vintage wooden planes and similar tools are being made into lamps by adding a squirrel bulb at one end to create a funky piece of home decor. Almost anything can be made into a lamp (by a qualified electrician) or a coffee table. At Hoptroff and Lee we made an old paraffin stove into a glass-topped side table. This is true an item a new lease of life and saving the environment from senseless waste.

Birdcages: very few of us keep caged birds these days, so use a vintage bird cage as a display in the garden, hanging in a tree with fairy lights, or indoors with silk birds and flowers. Very on-trend! Or remove the base and use as a chic garden cloche. Some of the retro 1970s cages look great with church candles inside.

Crafty ideas: lots of people are creative and little tins and boxes are great for creating miniature worlds! Decorate the tins on the inside with a theme that corresponds with the vintage lid, like bicycles inside a puncture repair tin. Make them into keepsakes and gifts, decoupage or paint them, or leave them empty for trinkets. Altered art is popular in the U.S. Take an old camera or alarm clock and customise it! Add new surfaces, legs, a head maybe, anything that comes to mind!

There's lots more alternative uses for vintage and antique items I am sure and I shall explore more of these in the future. Until then, happy imaginings!

Brass and Copper 

Updated March 2020

Are brass and copper out of fashion? Well, we don't think so. Lots of pieces that have a modern significance or function are big sellers. Particular favourites are the large Haystack jugs and copper planters, great for kitchen display and flower art. Brass seems associated with the past, the mid 20th century to be exact. Pieces range from decorative animals to plates and candlesticks, some attractive, some ugly. Perhaps it's a Marmite thing.... you either like it or you don't. Personally I think there are some nice pieces so we shouldn't dismiss everything as "a load of old brass".

The biggest issue associated with owning brass is probably that you have to clean it to keep it looking good, and the way we do this hasn't changed still require elbow grease! If I had a penny for every person who tells me that, as a child, it was their job on a Saturday morning to clean the family brass, I'd be rich! It was usually a girl's task and the memories have not faded! So, generally, we probably don't all admire and appreciate this shiny yellow metal as much as we could. 

But take away the cleaning aspect and it all becomes quite interesting. Brass pieces often had a truly useful purpose in the home and it's fascinating finding out what that was. In store at the time of writing we have novelty lidded boxes in the shape of flies and tortoises, for example. These would have been made originally as ashtrays and match stores to keep near your chair or bed. If you look carefully some also have a ridged match striker in the metal. These reflect the age in which they were made but today the good clean ones (of which there are many) make quirky gifts and coffee table talking pieces. The in-word seems to be "trinket" box and they can store pins, beads, earrings, allsorts. 

The very small pieces of brass which seem to have had little purpose often made up the contents of your mantelpiece. Little figures pulling carts or holding open sacks may have been spill-holders, important for lighting the cooker or lamp (or your ciggies) from the open fire. Others were decorative poker holders for the grate. Still smaller pieces, with flat bases, were manufactured as smoker's pipe tampers, for pushing tobacco down into your pipe. Today, people seem to buy the smaller items for lots of reasons, including nostalgia, or significance, and, in one case, comfort: for an elderly mother suffering from dementia, which I found particularly moving.

Copper is often preferred over brass for its warmth of colour. It is making a come-back in a big way probably due to the popularity of the wood-burning stove. There is an interest in the fireplace again and who doesn't enjoy a cosy winter's evening with the crackle of logs and the glow of copper? Coal buckets of all shapes and sizes are what we sell a lot of. Recently a copper kettle of ours was included in Stamford Living magazine as being an important part of interior design. There are some intriguing finds in copper and there is suddenly a revival in the really old-fashioned pieces for alternative use (see my blog on this) like the Russian Samovar. Then there are those fascinating bits like the lidded chestnut roaster, hanging spirit measures, grain scoops and bed warmers. Of course, copper needs a polish too now and then to keep it at its best. But the odd piece here and there isn't going to cost too much energy and there are products on the market now for making your shine last longer.

Antiques on TV 

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptoff

Why TV programmes about the purchase of antiques do not reflect real life! 

Lots of customers like to try their hand at bartering for a lower price on shop items often citing their TV viewing as a good reason for doing so, but please beware....the recent spate of TV programmes showing experts "knocking down" the cost by as much as 70% or 80% is an exceptional scenario. TV companies are in the business of making good television and are therefore responsible for some shocking, and sometimes mythical, events. The media is of course a strong motivator and gets us all thinking we can do the same. Unfortunately it only raises our expectations and puts things further out of our reach.

Most dealers cannot afford to drop their prices as low as we are lead to believe. But they may still do this on TV for 3 reasons: 

*they are on TV and its exciting and a privilege, 

*they are put on the spot and it's embarrassing to say "No"

*the money goes to charity at the end of the day.

None of the above is normal behaviour for your average antiques shop!

I have heard that TV producers ensure the full amount is paid to the dealer off camera anyway. I don't know if this is true but the whole set-up certainly does nothing for the antiques trader's image and his future sales (if s/he can do it for THEM, s/he can do it for me!) 

In conclusion, if you think it's worth it, pay the price on the tag or at least don't expect unrealistic discounts. Traders will have their ideal fixed percentage.

Our first ever blog: Defining "Antiques"

Updated March 2020 by Corinna Hoptroff

A good starting point might be to look at the difference between "antique", "vintage" and "retro", those confusing terms which often attract a variety of definitions depending upon who uses them and at what time in history. Many customers ask me the difference between the terms, and I'll bet my opinion will be challenged here but here goes. The word Retro generally means a throwback to a different era. If you take a look on Pinterest, items on "Retro" boards do reflect this but the word has also come to encompass new items that look like the real thing, so perhaps we should change that "t" for a "p" (repro or reproduction).  

Vintage has become a buzzword for anything remotely old, including cars and people! If you shop on Ebay you will find that sellers insert the word "Vintage" in a listing for any item that is "used" and may only be a few days old. In reality, most websites and shops of any calibre, including Etsy, will insist that vintage means a minimum of 20 years of age. So if you remember the year 2000, apparently you are now vintage! For true vintage lovers, vintage roughly means the 1940s to the 1960s. Now, that often means that the 1970s and 1980s, those much-maligned decades in terms of this ongoing argument, are not really falling into any camp, which brings us back to that word "Retro" again. Personally I think that's where the 1970s sits at the moment, in the Retro column, although time and fashion will probably change it. True retro, in my own opinion, from the early to late 1970s, is extremely stylish...remember Tupperware and Pyrex? Some of the designs are unequalled. If you are familiar with Gaydon Argosy (melamine), you will adore the different colours in their harlequin tea set. Arcopal had some great glass ware designs. 

Carlton Ware money boxes are now very collectable, as is Caithness paperweight jewellery, and the work of designers such as John Clappison (Hornsea pottery), Jessie Tait (Midwinter) and the designers at the former Briglin Pottery. For me the 1980s just isn't old enough to be in any category just yet but it has its followers, particularly those who love big statement brooches! 

Lastly "Antique" that's also debatable because most serious dealers, and this includes the experts on the various TV antique shows, say that an antique has to be in excess of 100 years old to qualify, and they can be pretty serious about it. There is of course the terms "Quality", "True" and "High-end" vintage or antiques, so now we have a further division in the definitions! 

One thing that's useful to know is that if you see a sign for an antiques shop you must remember that this is a very fluid term in today's market. The shop may contain items that some will consider vintage, collectables or retro!