Advice from a Living Antique
I don’t claim to be an antiques expert. In fact, I’d be the first person to argue otherwise – but I do consider myself to be a buyer and owner of beautiful things, and a logical one at that. So without further ado, here is my novice advice on antique shopping in the wonderful area of Portsmouth and Southsea.
I think the most crucial part of preparing for a day of antique shopping is getting dressed. Not simply to avoid a charge of public indecency, but also because what I wear has a huge impact on my confidence – extremely important when there are potentially snobby antique dealers involved in the day’s proceedings. Wearing my 50s style dress, Mary Jane heels and fabric flowers clipped into my vintage ‘do, I immediately felt able to haggle, ask questions and bluff my way through the day with my beginner’s knowledge. If all else failed, I aimed to stun people so much with my outfit that they’d forget what they were charging.
Of course, the day would never be as fun if I didn’t have a travelling companion, someone to laugh at the bizarre and admire the wonderful with, someone who would hold me back from impulse buying one minute, and encourage it the next. Who better than my newest friend, the delightful Deanna?
Our first stop of the day was the South Coast Emporium, something I’m ashamed to admit that I dismissed with a certain smugness. After all, its huge steampunk-y skull-adorned sign and selection of oddities in the windows were not what a traditional antiques shop should be. I was sure that there would be nothing of quality inside.
Well, naturally, I was wrong, and whilst there were definitely some less, well, traditional items stocked (nipple tassels, anyone?) the majority of the shop held the sort of smile-inducing wonders that would fascinate anyone.
My favourite item was a souvenir compass engraved with a picture of the Titanic, which I actually do have a fair knowledge of, but at £22 for something that had nothing more to do with the event than having a picture of it on the case, I promptly walked away. Deanna and I quickly decided that it would be safest to scout around all the shops before parting with our money, something both my purse and I were very grateful for.
The next street was my favourite. At first glance, it seemed to be made up of conventional-looking stores and shopfronts. But then we looked closer, and could see the tell-tale dim windows with trinkets shining like stars, like winking eyes, and we knew that something inside was just waiting for us to find it.
Langford Antiques was the first ‘proper’ antique shop we visited, or at least what I consider to be proper. My first thought when stepping into it was ‘Yippee, this looks more like it!’
My prompt second thought was ‘Oh God, I am going to smash something to buggery.’ There were curiosities hidden in dark corners, paintings covering the walls, beautiful brooches displayed next to grotesque figurines, and chairs stacked up and up, like some bizarre game of pick up sticks. It was the truest description of chaos, and I was terrified of touching anything. Quite rightly, it seemed, as when I attempted to examine a sword, the great clattering of metal hitting the floor had me running away and hiding among the piles of furniture.
An embroidered mirror seemed particularly inviting. I picked it up and wiped the dust away with my sleeve, which I instantly regretted when my cardigan gained a huge grey smear. The mirror was definitely worn, but that’s what captivated me about it. The tarnished metal of the handle showed the hundreds of times it must’ve been held. Who owned it? Were they a narcissist, or perhaps just self-conscious? How did they feel when they saw themselves? Was it a gift from a sweetheart, or a self-indulgence that was saved up for? It’s so easy to forget that these items have a history, and are more than mere junk.
We found a photo album in one shop, and the pictures showed people lost in the past. For one moment, while we flicked through and saw men standing proudly in their military uniforms, women with their hair perfectly coiffured and children playing merrily, we remembered those we had never known, and they lived again.
Never think that you’re not knowledgeable enough to enjoy antiques shopping. All that’s required is a simple love of objects, be them historical or unique, bizarre or bold, and a respect for those who once owned them.