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Antiques Chat

We hope you enjoy reading our ongoing series of information from the world of antiques and vintage!

Some General Rules When Buying and 

Selling Antiques Online

Updated April 2022 

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.

A few years ago, I purchased a bicycle from a well-known internet selling site for use in our "Stamford in Bloom" event at Hoptroff & Lee. The previous summer I had done exactly the same, the bike arriving on the train from France, 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 I will never know as it was a very old bike and one look at the spanner would have surely made it fall apart. Whatever had happened between pressing the purchase button and subsequent delivery, the fact remained that it was now not the item 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 group of men who sawed off the legs of a priceless Hepplewhite table so that the buyer could fit it in his truck! (an episode from "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 should 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, 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 Distance Selling Regulations, the details of which can be found on this website on the policies page. Don't try to fool your buyer either, as an astute individual will make sure you get the item right back! At your expense too!

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 you want to buy, 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 an eye test 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 taken from my former career in Ophthalmology! I know the stats on this one and I can assure you that this is a big problem in all walks of life!

On one occasion, I purchased a collectable set of Toni Raymond pottery cockerels 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 me 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, we can all miss the odd paint chip or hairline crack. Better still get your eye sight checked for more reasons than just listing online!!

Listing an item clearly and in detail with great photos is paramount. Always have good clear photos, and plenty of them taken at every angle. I, personally, will not entertain item listings with only one image. It's pure laziness and it is likely to cause me more work. Show the underside of items in photos even if there is nothing to see. You will avoid having to answer lots of emails from collectors asking "What's on the underside" or ignoring your listing completely, which is more likely to be the case. Say if the item 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, pet and covid-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 before you list (no offence intended to smokers here). Also important is to include the size of an item because images can make things appear larger than they actually are, and if you are searching for something there is nothing more annoying than not being able to see what size it is.  

Packaging is very important and I, personally, am more likely to buy from someone who actually states that they view packaging as ultra-important. I received a pair of expensive china dogs on one occasion wrapped only in an old towel and rattling about in a large box. Needless to say they were both broken causing disappointment, more work, time and expense. Fragile items and items you particularly value will not survive the post or courier if they are not properly packaged so always use a box as opposed to loose packaging or something you think seems adequate. In cases of china and glass, use a double box, no matter what the cost is, get the item there safely because it will cost you more in the long run. There are videos on Youtube about packing a parcel. I stood behind a woman in the post office once who queried if the packaging around a pair of shoes she was posting was sufficient. The post mistress stated that it "looked fine". Except that it was a thin bag taped at one end and clearly revealing the tip of a shoe. The very weight of a pair of outdoor shoes is going to cause a problem, let alone fragile packaging. All you need to do is watch these TV documentaries about how parcels get thrown around in the course of being delivered to know that packaging has to be more than adequate. Your parcel should not rattle, the item within should be packed so tight it does not move. Some bubble wraps are now recyclable. 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. 

It's amazing how much info you can quickly get down on the listing page if you phrase it properly so make sure you list every detail.

Doing this will help you to:

a). show authenticity and clarity

b). get good feedback and more customers

c). adhere to Distance Selling Regulations

d). show reliability as a trusted seller

and get quick, hassle-free sales!

Good luck!

New Title Coming Soon

Spirit Levels

Collecting Tools by Jamie Lee

February 2021

Vintage and antique tools are a popular and growing field in the collecting world. It is easy to collect old tools, they can be found everywhere including auctions, flea markets, car boot sales, charity shops and internet sites like Ebay. These are all good places to start. You can expect to find bargains for just a few pounds, or you can pay thousands of pounds for some pieces like a rare Norris plane, so there's something for every budget.

Tools are often collected by craftsmen themselves who still use them, old tools were very well made and looked after and they function better than their modern counterparts. So the craftsman or woman can rarely pass up the chance to add to their collection!

Other collectors just look for rare examples for their aesthetic qualities and manufacturer's history, and would perhaps never use the tools they find. There is also a growing trend for people to collect old tools for decoration: old beech planes make great doorstops, and interesting farming and agricultural tools look good on a wall as a rustic feature, making an interesting talking point. So tools make great home decor!

Tools come in all types and from different trades, but whichever your preference a good guide is to look for interesting features: ornate decoration, brass and hardwood fittings and handles, Sheffield steel blades etc. These are all signs of good quality. Planes for example can be hardwood such as beech or steel, and can be for moulding, grooving, combination, rebate or smoothing. Makers such as Stanley, Lie-Nielson, Mathieson and Norris are all great finds.

Chisels are another popular choice to add to a collection, and turned wooden handles and specialty curved blades are all good points. Makers like Marples, Ward, Sorby, Henry Taylor, Addiss and Isles are quality makers to look out for.

As your collection builds you will find many interesting items from rosewood and brass spirit levels to leather-bound tape measures. Even when you have been collecting for a while you will have tools you do not know the use of but that's all part of the fun of collecting and researching!

At Hoptroff & Lee we love our old tools and always have a selection of carpentry and seasonal gardening/farming tools available. So if you are just starting a collection, buying or selling we are always happy to help and talk tools!

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An ongoing series of informational entries

What on earth is tobacciana? by Corinna.

Updated April 2022.

Well, it's another of those terms which we can't quite place in the English language isn't it? Like breweriana, kitchenalia or automobilia, to which I must latterly add: Petroliana and railwayana! You can see how the word originates but it remains a rather awkward-sounding noun! Basically, tobacciana means items relating to tobacco and smoking. Many people look with disdain upon things associated with a now much-outdated habit (no offence to smokers intended here). With our modern outlook and definitions of health we might consider that cigarette lighters and ashtrays should remain firmly in the past. But there are others who just find these items fun to collect, the true tobacco bygones that bring back nostalgic memories of Dad and Grandad in front of the fire with a pipe, novelty cigarette dispensers we could occasionally play with or going to the corner shop for a packet of 20 No.6 tipped for one relative or another! So many people smoked in the mid 20th century, you see it in old films and dramas of the era, and the vintage posters on Pinterest. We had sweet cigarettes, sweet tobacco, chocolate smoking outfits. This is why there were so many smoking-related items manufactured and why we still see them surviving today!

Cigarette dispensers, the type with the bird that picks up the cigarette for you, for example, are fetching high prices at the moment. There's not too many around now that are in good working order, or they advertise themselves as a souvenir, which also lowers the value. They were probably cheap, mass-produced items and the word "novelty" says it all. But they are great fun if you can find them. Cheaper plastic versions from the 1970s have a rather more banal focus with the cigarettes dispensed out through certain body parts of an animal, usually a donkey, OK for the less delicate among us!!

You perhaps wouldn't believe it but smokers' pipes are very popular too, and it doesn't matter if they are used! Obviously the less used ones are more popular but if you are looking for a particular pipe then anything will do! Some of the large decorative Meerschaum pipes featuring faces or animal heads are probably the most sought after. And it doesn't stop there because we are now paying small fortunes for pipe rests, cigar ashtrays, and smoker's cabinets bearing the famous names.

Cigarette lighters are very collectable, especially the older novelty ones but also the retro 1960s ones and if they are in their original packaging, all the better. There are some really nice lighters around with the funky 1960s patterns engine-turned on the front but they are more collectable if they carry one of the famous names. Ronson and Colibri for example. These can fetch big money especially if they are in working order and have an original box!

Cigarette cases are another item that can be classed as tobacciana. Again there are lots and lots of these still around and they can be traditional mass-produced cases or very attractive quirky ones: painted, enamelled, jewelled, covered with shells, looking like bank notes, turtle shells and maps! Of course you collect what you like but at the end of the day worth is determined by condition and rarity, and those all-important brand names! Precious metals also top the list of course!

Ronson and Colibri again are leaders in the field, many of their products having integrated lighters. Other popular names include Tremblay which tend to be quite scarce, and Leatherlite, Har Bro and Tallent seem to have been the cheaper brands, but are fine examples.

At the other end of the scale you have Sylvacrome and Emu, and the nice attractive designs but without the names. Having said that, if worth has nothing to do with it, some of the unbranded cases are very popular. People just love cigarette cases for alternative uses: collections, display, jewellery holders, credit card trinket boxes and photo stores.

Lastly, have you ever seen or owned those tiny little brass animals often sold today as mini ornaments? Take a closer look and if they are standing on a flat round base they are probably pipe tampers, a type of tool used to push the tobacco down into a pipe to produce a solid mass to light with your match. You may also be familiar with other brass items like the well-known turtle with lift-up shell, or brass fly with lift-up wings. Known affectionately today as trinket boxes they would have been made originally to house your matches and if you look closely you may also be able to see the match striker, a collection of parallel grooves impressed into the underside of the lid. Brass makers in the mid 20th century rarely made anything that didn't have a useful purpose, especially during the war, so look out for these special pieces! They make great collectables and unique gifts! The giant fly has become a firm favourite with Steampunk enthusiasts.

Caithness Jewellery by Corinna Hoptroff

Updated April 2022

I don't know how many people are familiar with Caithness jewellery but I was introduced to it quite early in my life when I worked as a Saturday girl (aged 13) in a gift shop! My boss impressed upon me the quality of these pieces and she was right because they still carry that quality today and are much sought-after by collectors.

The Caithness company, of course, is better known for its desk paperweights and other glass products, some of which fetch very high prices indeed. You can be a slave to Caithness because their designs are all so beautiful and so varied! So too with the jewellery. Each piece has a silver setting with a miniature glass paperweight at its centre, known as the "stone". Its secret lies not only in the fabulous detail of the mini glass cane millefiori paperweights but in the fact that every single piece is hallmarked Sterling silver, that's a full British hallmark issued by a British assay office. Due to the addition of the hallmark the pieces are considered true Sterling silver and can carry a good price. Add to this the choice of all types of popular jewellery pieces in a variety of designs from different artists and you can see the quality shining through! The official launch of this range was in 1970 and you will find hallmarked pieces throughout this decade, falling well into the vintage range today.

Paul Ysart is a name associated with Caithness and indeed Paul had experimented with the creation of paperweight jewellery. Together with other designers he created the first pieces from around 1968 to 1970. Many pieces for sale today in online stores are attributed to this artist only but Paul was with the company from 1963 to 1970 so only these very early pieces can be attributed to him and appear to be quite rare. Here, I should advise you to always check the hallmark of the piece of jewellery to ascertain the possible artist. Colin Terris was a later designer while MacBeath, Thomson, Holmes and Deacons are names associated with making the glass stones. It is worth mentioning that the maker's initials may not appear on the jewellery, sometimes just the initials CJ for Caithness Jewellery. 

When you are buying Caithness jewellery be sure to check the above details on the silver settings and also the clarity of the glass stones as many of the jewellery pieces will have been worn and will show signs of use.

Some exciting Yuletide Finds!

Updated April 2022 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, so look out for this term when searching online. There are some nice examples of surviving mercury glass tree decorations mostly spherical but some that have a crimped lantern-like shape and some are modelled on fruit like melons and lemons. I particularly liked the grape-shaped ones as a child. Of course today's most collected  baubles are "concave". You 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! You will be lucky to get 6 of them in good condition for less than about £45, and even more fortunate to find a true set due to their fragility. 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. It is easy to be bedazzled by the colours and shapes so don't forget to check for these details.

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. It's worth taking a little extra time to pack away the more delicate ones 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. They were all space-inspired, Sputnik-style shapes, but in really used condition with the colours worn away, 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 polystyrene bodies with pipe cleaner arms, flock coats and seated in wire sleighs. Then there were the ones made entirely from the pipe cleaner itself and I came upon a pair of these one Christmas 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 but at big prices. Typically with these selling sites sellers follow other sellers' prices and so the prices get higher and higher and are not reflective of the true worth so be wary. These days you can make your own pipe cleaner figures with a product called Bump Chenille (mostly available online), which is thicker in certain places along the stem and is ideal for modelling the figure's details. You can't beat the original vintage item so be sure to snap them up whatever their condition. It is worth bearing in mind that as a seller of Christmas baubles, don't ever throw away any broken baubles because you think buyers won't want them, because they do! Last Christmas, a vintage dealer friend of mine was given a ridiculously high sum for a bag of broken plastic and glass baubles.

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 for enormously high prices). They are again quite ugly but with their confetti textured surface they look good, (once cleaned up and sterilised), decorating the white icing of Christmas cakes!

Please see below for the blog entries. This top section is under construction.

New Title Coming Soon!

Stamford Collectables

Updated April 2022 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 open air 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 (Warrenne) shield with its blue and gold chequered pattern and three lions to the left. 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 former 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 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 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 so I treasured it anyway. But beware (particularly) online retailers who should state quite clearly in their descriptions if the card is not original. They don't always do this.

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.

In addition to the terracotta works, 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 and we have some examples in the shop. This is a modern pottery inspired by the the former Stamford ware, being made in Stamford in the early 1970s. At Hoptroff & Lee we often have a "Stamford" display in the windows so keep an eye on our website for dates. 

What are the popular collectables today? 

Updated June 2022 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 a dusting nightmare for your mum! These little items were collected in their hundreds and are still popular collectables today!

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 towards 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 had 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 regular basis.

Postcards and photos: 

People have collected postcards over the decades, from the pretty Victorian offerings to the modern art designs. Today, we see that any popular on-trend interest is automatically reflected in postcard sales of the same subject, a good example of this is Steam trains and general railway interest which has come to the fore all over the country. Or maybe it's an artist's centenary celebration that starts a mass buying of Old Master art cards. "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. Stamford postcards are very popular collectables in Stamford!

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 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! Carte de Visite (or visiting cards) are photographs on thicker card taken in Victorian and Edwardian times and showing family members in studio settings. These are all very interesting but those of famous persons, and those incorporating items of social history like a child's toy or a trinket held by an adult are those that fetch the most money. 

Here at Hoptroff & Lee with have several carte de visite, and 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 

PART 2: Using all your senses

Updated April 2022 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 (covid-allowing of course!). 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 April 2022 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 had been a portabe 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!

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

Updated April 2022 by Corinna Hoptroff

It can be 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 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. 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 word of mouth). Finally, if you do discover you have purchased a true fake, you can report certain items to the appropriate authority (such as trading standards). Always get a receipt and 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, distance selling rules are just one thing that are very useful here. 

Electrical items bought second-hand can be dodgy, and here we have an important health and safety issue! Never ever 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 or you were willing to get it tested yourself. 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 in his home, to express safety as he saw it. His photo was nothing short of a death trap comprising a complex set-up of trailing and twisting cables. Some individuals are unscrupulous, and some quite simply stupid. My purchase was 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.

Face Powder Compacts 

Updated April 2021 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 British 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. Every girlie girl will love a pretty compact! 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 April 2021 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 April 2022 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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What exactly is Breweriana? 

Updated April 2021 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.

Alternative uses for antique and vintage items PART 2

Updated April 2021 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 June 2022    Corinna Hoptroff

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, or the open fireplace. 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. 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 and scales, grain scoops and wine coolers. 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 June 2022 by Corinna Hoptroff

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 discussion: Defining "Antiques"

Updated March 2021 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!