Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Antique dealer: What to sell

The range of items that you decide to stock will probably depend on:

  • your own areas of interest and expertise
  • the sector of the market you want to target
  • current trends in demand
  • where you will be located
  • how much space you have

You might decide to specialise in any one of the following or you could stock a bit of everything so that you appeal to as many customers as possible. Dealers outside London often carry a wide range of stock.

Just a few of the different categories from which you might decide to stock items include:

  • furniture - there is a huge range of different types, with some dealers specialising in country and farmhouse furniture, others focusing on Georgian pieces and so on
  • textiles and carpets, tapestries and needlework
  • paintings, drawings, prints
  • sculptures
  • clocks (including grandfather clocks) and barometers
  • ceramics, glass, decorative objets, metalwork
  • stamps, coins and medals
  • jewellery, silver, old Sheffield plate
  • oriental art and objets
  • books, toys, curios and collectables
  • guns, weaponry and militaria
  • musical instruments
  • other specialist items, such as antique fishing tackle
  • antiquities and relics
  • 'retro' and vintage items, which are not necessarily antiques

You might decide to specialise in a particular style, school or period.

Remember that the UK is set to ban sales of ivory items in the future, except for a few exemptions.

If you plan to do house clearances you will have many non-antique items to dispose of - you could have a bargain corner for the better items and sell others to secondhand goods dealers.

You might decide to offer a range of services such as repairs and restoration, valuations, paint stripping, re-upholstery and so on. Maybe you will undertake valuations and appraisals. Some of your customers might want reproduction items which can be ordered from a catalogue. Perhaps you plan to 'upcycle' relatively low value items to increase their appeal and give them a new lease of life. Maybe you intend to produce and sell 'recrafted' and 'new-old' items made to traditional designs out of old and reclaimed materials.

Displaying your stock

The nature of your stock will affect the way in which it is displayed and the overall effect of your premises. If you plan to deal in very expensive items you will probably space your stock out so that the full impact of each piece can be appreciated by potential customers. If you plan to target the bric-a-brac end of the market you may decide to indulge your customers' desire to rummage for bargains and cram as many pieces as possible into your premises. Take care to minimise breakages by displaying fragile items in cabinets out of harm's way. Don't forget that dishonest people may pocket small items while your attention is distracted.

Try to keep your displays as attractive as possible by constantly adding new pieces, or at the very least moving stock around so that it seems as if you have new pieces to sell.

A lot of dealers now use social media like Instagram to highlight new pieces.

If you intend to sell some items through eBay, another online marketplace like Etsy or, and/or through your own e-commerce website, then you'll probably need to take good photos and write complete and accurate descriptions to accompany them.