Monday, January 22, 2007

Collectors' Fairs

A brisk, cold day today, with white sunshine just enough to warm you out of the wind: exactly what January ought to be. So to Chichester for the Antiques and Collectables fair held there every three months or so. There's nothing quite like the spire of a Southern counties cathedral pushing into a white-blue sky on a sunny winter day to make one feel good about the world.

So, in that mood I entered the bear-pit which is a Collector's fair. This one is held in a leisure centre, as if to deliberately point up the difference between normal human beings and 'collectors'. While the queue for the fair builds up and out the door in an orderly but slightly grumpy middle-aged kind of way, the normal folks, the people who look under 35 and reasonably fit, and like they may have a life to live come and go with very active looking sports bags and towels and smiling children in tow.

When you finally get inside you have to be prepared for a number of things. The first is that all these predominantly middle-aged, middle-class people who want to look at stalls full of postcards and porcelain (because there's precious little else at a collectors fair these days) are also some of the rudest people you will ever meet. The fact that it's a busy fair will only make this worse. No one will speak to each other, they simply move back and forth along the aisles of stalls, silently manoevering themselves as close to the front of the stall as possible. Should you have the termerity to stop and look at something, ten to one that someone will come and stand so close to you, nudging gently, somehow without actually touching you, that you get inexorably pushed further and further from the thing you wanted to look at. No one ever says 'excuse me' or 'could I just reach past you', all is silent and subliminally agressive.

The second thing you have to be prepared for is bad body odour in large quantities. Strange little, silent men in suits and thick-rimmed glasses who spend hours flicking through pile after pile of postcards in some kind of zen trance whilst poisoning the air around them.

It's the postcard collectors who are the worst. They will approach a dealer's stall, mumble "Suffolk", or "Hampshire" or "Shipping" or "Military" and the long-suffering dealer (many of whom have their own body-odour and courtesy issues) will hook out a pile of cards from a clearly marked section called, 'Suffolk' or 'Military' etc. (which the thick-rimmed glasses are clearly not able to discern) and pass them over, the collector then seems to become bolted to the floor for the next tweny minutes inspecting hundreds of cards at great speed - perhaps once or twice pausing or refering to a battered red notebook to see if they have 'L.L. 205 Portsmouth High Street' because they remember L.L 206 and are getting them confused... and I could go on...

But it is not all so horrible. There is one incredible up-side - particularly for a dealer like me who is looking in particular for things made of paper - books, photographs, ephemeral items... (and yes, the occasional postcard) and that is the objects themselves. For all that the inside of the sports hall had sapped my will to live after four hours, I have some truly fantastic things from today's excursion and I shall be blogging some of them shortly.


Ben said...

Your vivid description brings back happy memories of attending collectors' fairs in Bath over a decade or so. It's a habit I've fallen out of, but I imagine I'll be back at some point. You're right that the quality and quantity of stock at these events has been diluted over the years. I guess many hobby dealers are now too decrepit to travel up and down the country each weekend, and those who may have replaced them are conducting most of their business on line, away from the jostling and the body odour.

About Postcards said...

A wonderful description of the delights and horrors of the antique and collectors fairs. As someone who is now exclusively selling online I have mixed feeling about the slow decline of the fairs. I think one of my customers got it partly right when she wrote....... I find, on ebay. Some things go for about 10 times what I think they're worth and others for about five times less. The trouble is that ebay really is killing off the antique stall business. In Islington, near where I live, Camden passage antiques market is now a shadow of its former self and shrinking daily and Bermondsey Market has shrunk by three quarters. Not good. Within another generation, no-one will know enough about certain old things to want to collect or buy them. It was the stall-holders who gave me my education in beautiful things.................

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