Memoires Of An Antique Dealer

I used to have a stall in what was optimistically called Camden Passage Antique Market.

This meant that I had a long table two chairs and a wall with a sort of set of narrow shelves in a long space full of dozens of identical set-ups, and the idea was that we would all sell our “antiques” to the clamouring hordes from these tables.

Well lets get one thing straight to start with, not a one of us was there to sell antiques, even though some of the stuff that was being offered might be called antique if your only definition of that word was “old” and worn out.  Real antiques in the sense of very old, but beautiful and well preserved objects, were very, very few and far between in that market.  On the very few occasions that one or other of us actually turned up with such a real antique, the fighting among us to buy it before the market opened was terrifying.    This was a sort of pre-opening ritual in the market, we all used to walk along inspecting all the other stalls in the hope of finding something that we could sell on our own stalls.  We would then bargain like mad, to ensure that we only paid about half the price we reckoned we might be able to sell it to the regular punters for.

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It was a strange life, one spent at least half of every week standing beside one’s table, having laid out one’s wares in the hope that someone would buy all of it, or at least a decent proportion of it before the day ended.  Given that for the most part, my collection of “antiques” consisted of objects of such dubious attraction as plastic ear-trumpet, broken toys, odd mugs and plates, and occasionally odd bits of militaria this was extremely optimistic.

The other half of my life was spent going hither and thither in an endless hunt for junk to try and sell on my stall.    Going to other junk markets, country auctions, especially the sort where the entire contents of a house were sold and anywhere else where I might find yet another plastic ear-trumpet for my stall.

The militaria was an interesting business however.   I generally had a small selection of German Army stuff, or Nazi party emblems, British uniforms and badges, helmets, swords and so forth.   The German stuff sold like hot cakes, so I was always really happy if I came across an old German steel helmet, cap or jacket, these were worth real money.    Military stuff from other armies was much less interesting to our punters for some reason.  I could never work out why the paraphernalia of the army which lost the war should be so attractive to people.  I would have expected the reverse to have been the case.   But it wasn’t.

Some of the individuals who purchased the German stuff from me were truly strange, and generally rather sad figures.   Hollow chested loners who would buy a bit of German gear from me, go home, put on a full German uniform, including whatever they had just bought from me, take a photo of themselves in all of this glory, and shyly show it to me the next time they came to the market in search of more German stuff to wear in their bed-sitting rooms.

I don’t think any of them were real Nazis, but simply hugely inadequate individuals who lived a sort of inner fantasy life through those bits of Nazi uniform.   But for all I know every last one of them went on to become mildly inefficient mass murderers in due time.

For the rest, our clients were a normal cross section of London folk, tourists in search of a small but significant souvenir of their visit to London, Brits in search of useful items (kettles, mugs, plates and so on) and rubber necking individuals who didn’t want to buy anything, but were simply there to enjoy the atmosphere of it all.

I have to admit I found it all very enjoyable, I loved the bargaining with the punters – all my stock was priced at least 400% more than I had paid for it, so I could enjoy a bit of bargaining, knowing that if I made a sale, I would make at least 100% profit on the deal.

However, finding saleable stock was a time consuming and energy consuming activity, so the day I discovered a small glass bottle factory just behind the market was one of the best days of my time in the market.

They made a whole range of small bottles, with glass stoppers, intended for all sorts of chemicals to be stored in.   They were beautiful bottles, and if I bought several hundred at a time, the price was remarkably low.   So I bought a hundred of assorted small clear glass bottles from them, to see if they would sell on my stall.  They did!

Even before the market had opened,I had sold about half my stock to other stall holders, and then once the market opened I sold the rest before lunch.

Obviously I told no one where I had found these bottles, as I had no desire for my “colleagues” to undercut me.

I was in ecstasy!

So that evening I bought several hundred more bottles, and that was the making of me.

Every day I sold handfuls of those bottles to people, for a 400% profit.    Wonderful.

By the time I left that market to become the lighting guy for The Little Angel Marionette Theatre (more about that in a later post) I had become quite successful in the market with those small bottles.

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