Antiques Today – Summer 2017 / 2018


An intimate boutique-style affair at the 2017 SAADA Antique, Art & Design Fair!

The saying that ‘Change is the only constant in life’ has never been more appropriate than when looking at the art and antique industry today.
We have seen seismic shifts in the last five years with the way business is being done. Many small traditional antique shops have closed and either migrated to flea markets, antique fairs, or to online platforms.

The rise of online auction platforms such as eBay internationally and Bid or Buy locally, has dominated the lower end of the market where purchases are made via descriptions and pictures. As for top end dealers, our main competition is now in the form of fine art auctioneers, both existing and new (two in South Africa in the last year alone) who have in effect become the retailers we once were.

Where does that leave an association such as SAADA?

The answer is that we have shrunk in terms of members as the market has polarized around those dealers who offer the very best in terms of stock, service and most importantly knowledge. In fact, it is this knowledge that makes us stand apart from everything else. Experience coupled with a system of vetting by one’s peers ensures that goods offered by our members at our fairs, are of a standard that cannot be found elsewhere.

When purchasing either at our fairs or in members shops you will get an invoice with a description of the goods. In the unlikely event of a dispute the association can be called on to mediate and effectively resolve the complaint.

Having exhibited at some of the UK’s top fairs I am always impressed by their vetting committees and the importance of what they do. Vetting for any dealer must be the most uncomfortable and unsettling experience but is actually one of the most important aspects. It allows one to be able to say during the fair that a piece was deemed fair-worthy, accurately described and passed muster. This process is something that is missing from the fine art auction market and just because something is described in a catalogue, does not mean all is well and fine.

Here in South Africa, SAADA fairs are unique opportunities where clients can source, see and handle pieces while having the opportunity to shop comparatively

Auctioneers are agents for the seller having no investment in the items that they are putting on the rostrum, not a bad thing but without experience and knowledge you as a buyer can end up with a few ‘lemons’. The major auction houses tend to stand by what they sell, even though their conditions of sale state that the buyer takes on that responsibility. How that will affect the integrity of your collection, only time will tell. Having said that, it is possible to buy something under its market value and that is one of the auctions strongest selling points. What sets our members apart from the traditional auction platforms is that they invest their own money into their stock and you can bank on the fact that with their own money invested, their inventory will be authentic.

Here in South Africa, SAADA fairs are unique opportunities where clients can source, see and handle pieces while having the opportunity to shop comparatively. This is superior to buying sight unseen from an online platform. With experience and hard-won knowledge our ability to recognize quality and rarity, ensures the best items in every genre of our industry are located and acquired by our members. Once sourced restoration and research add value and when we present these super finds at a yearly event, it is not surprising to see a host of red stickers on opening night followed by frenetic restocking the next day.

Another benefit in buying from a dealer here, is there is no buyers premium still to be added to the ticket price

One of the other benefits in attending art and antique fairs is the ability to interact with the dealers and get first-hand specialized knowledge as to any new trends. Many of these are identified by top dealers well in advance and this can allow you as a client to catch the wave before it peaks and reap the rewards. The latest and most important one has been the meteoric rise of the Chinese market. A market filled with later copies of earlier styles and also of outright fakes it has allowed respected dealers with integrity, the ability to grow a client base who buy from them exclusively.

Another benefit in buying from a dealer here, is there is no buyers premium still to be added to the ticket price, something often overlooked when bidding in the heat of the moment at auction.

Looking to the future the market will evolve and top end dealers will continue to prosper as the demand for specialized knowledge increases. I remember an antiquarian book dealer in London telling me that the knowledge in the vast array of reference books he sells, will not in the near future be available on Google. Just ask any of the SAADA members about their reference libraries and the stock answer will be, they need more space for new additions. As for the way we do business, there is a distinctive move towards a more intimate setting such as boutique fairs and pop up exhibitions giving the dealer time to concentrate on their top clients who are becoming a larger part of their annual turnover. For any serious collector being part of this A list has to be a very smart move.

Jeremy Astfalck.

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