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Antiques In A Small House Or Flat
There is one final problem to be considered, and it is admittedly a difficult one. Is there any way in which the collector can triumph over the space-restrictions of a small house or flat?
There is a solution, but to some the remedy may seem more drastic than the complaint. This is to collect in relays, i.e. to buy and then slowly discard, buy and discard again, much in the same way as a dealer does with his stock. The difficulty with this is that most collectors are sentimentalists at heart, and once a piece has been acquired it is hard to part from it without tears. As for slowly parting with everything one possesses simply in order to possess more, the very though will induce heart failure in some.
But there is no need to adopt a policy of wholesale removal; it can be done with discrimination. Every collector, if he is honest with himself, will admit, after a year or two's collecting, that he has made some mistakes. He will have bought pieces that he thought were genuine Dresden which turn out to be copies, or he will have paid twice as much for a small painting as it is really worth.
These are the prices one pays for knowledge; it cannot be acquired automatically and one has to learn the hard way. Then why not get rid of these expensive errors of judgement and put the money you can realise on them towards purchasing better bargains? When once you have found these pieces out in their iniquity they are not likely to give much more pleasure. They will be a constant reminder of something that should not have been done, and there are few more irritating things in life than to have daily mementoes of one's past mistakes. This, then, is one way in which you can begin the process of pruning when your possessions threaten to choke you by their very number.
In the next grade above obvious errors of judgement come those pieces which you bought simply because they were a bargain. There may be nothing wrong with them; they were in fact a bargain just as was originally thought. But things bought solely for this reason are seldom permanently satisfying. It was the cheapness, rather than the intrinsic quality, which was the attraction. Again, these can be slowly discarded as the opportunity presents itself.
Thirdly, there are the objects which are good of their kind and which still give pleasure, but are definitely not of the first quality. Most collectors who have begun recently will have had to buy some of these, unless they are extremely wealthy, for all top-grade antiques are not only expensive but genuinely difficult to get. Much porcelain and many pictures come into this class. It may be something of a wrench to part with them, but if it means acquiring better pieces, why be sentimental about them?
A threefold process of thinning-out of this kind will be a salutary experience, apart from providing some more muchneeded room. It will help to make a yardstick with which to measure just how good and how careful your judgement has been in the preliminary stages of collecting. Care in buying is the most desirable of all qualities in a collector, but it must be admitted that it is not always possible to take one's time in coming to a decision to purchase.
For example, many towns have excellent market stalls where, often enough, most attractive pieces of porcelain and old silver can be bought. Their dealers are frequently very shrewd and knowledgeable people who, by dispensing with costly shop rents and rates, can pass the benefits on to their regular customers. I have bought from one of these for several years and have hardly ever had cause to regret a purchase.
But it is necessary to go early to these stalls and naturally there are other collectors who can get up early in the morning too. By half-past eight there may be a small knot of them, and there is no time for elaborate inspection of the choicer pieces. They must be snapped up at once; a walk round for ten minutes to make up one's mind may be fatal. For this reason you must cultivate a quickness of judgement which is not, certainly, very easy to acquire. In the course of acquiring it you will be bound to make some mistakes; you would like to be careful, but there isn't time.
Some of these `snap' pieces, then, will be sure to be poor bargains. As you discard them you will be learning not to make similar errors again; this is a further reason for adopting this method. Clearly, there is no need for ever discarding your `perfect' purchases, but you will find, on serious examination, that their number is in fact rather less than you had thought. We are all apt to flatter ourselves, at the time of buying, that we have done the right thing. It is nature's way of bolstering up our self-esteem in some of the more reckless moments of life. But time has a relentless way of showing up the faults in human judgements, and it would be a bold collector indeed who could boast that he had never made a mistake. Such a collector would, in fact, be sure to be a bad one; anyone so pleased with himself would have no real standards of self criticism or criticism of art either. And if care, as we said, is the most desirable of all collecting-qualities, selfcriticism is almost equally important.
This question of discarding brings up the related question of how to discard. What is the best way of disposing of pieces that are no longer passionately loved? There are several ways, but it is really best to put the unwanted objects into a good general auction sale of antiques. It is unlikely that, with the auctioneers' commission (which may be as much as 25¢ to the dollar), your original price will be recovered. After all, the pieces you are selling are those which no longer attract you, and it is not reasonable to expect they will specially attract other buyers either.
But surprising things happen at auction sales and perhaps the price you get will please you greatly. Even if it doesn't, you will have had the pleasure of owning the objects for some time and in this way they will already have paid for themselves. Anything extra which is made out of them will be in addition to the value they have already given. And if you make a profit on the whole transaction, as may just possibly happen, then there will be cause for rejoicing indeed. Another way of clearing unwanted items is to ask a dealer to call and offer you a lump sum for the lot. This is seldom so satisfactory as a financial arrangement. The dealer will realise that you are disposing of surplus pieces and he will make a shrewd estimate of their market value. The sum he will offer will not be a princely one, unless you have been an excellent customer of his and may continue to be one for some time. In fact it will probably seem a very poor offer and not at all near to what had been hoped.
But remember the dealer may have great difficulty in disposing of your mistakes and general cast-offs. The profession of dealer carries no pension with it and good profits have to be made on everything in order to put by for the future as well as pay for the present. So the dealer cannot make a proposal which will not cover all possible contingencies of selling, and he will no doubt say so flatly.
However, this method has many advantages if money is a secondary consideration. For it spares the collector the toilsome business of taking his pieces to the sales and paying commission on each item, though of course you can put the lot into one auction and trust to the luck of that particular sale! It also obviates the possible disappointment of `no sale' at the auction, in which case there is no alternative but to take the unhappy objects away again, with a probable bill for transport and auctioneer's `offering fee' as well.
A third method is to advertise the items in a local paper, but this involves waiting in for telephone calls in reply or answering letters, and even then the callers, when they come, may not care for the pieces and so the whole process may be a failure.
In fact, if the primary object is simply removal to make more space the visit of the dealer is probably the best solution. And most dealers will be willing to take your surplus (provided it is saleable at all) in part exchange, and in this way it may be possible to acquire some fresh and really beautiful pieces at a smaller outlay than their face value.
But always try to cultivate an Olympian attitude towards values. Much the most important thing in antique collecting is to enjoy it for its own sake and not to be over-conscious of values or constantly studying lists of the sales. For it is hard to imagine any hobby which will give more lasting satisfaction, more delightful variety, more genuine interest to daily life. Each of its major branches, porcelain, paintings, furniture, metalwork, is a life-time's occupation if entered into thoroughly, so that there is never any risk of satiation.
Opportunities for study, especially in England, are boundless and, with normal means of transport, easy enough to come by. The fascination of the subject is indeed so great that one never seems to meet anyone who can be called an `ex-collector.' Once a collector, the passion remains, the only limit imposed being the space-restriction just considered.
Time and again, certainly, one feels that a stop ought to be made and something else taken up in its place. But the next day a delightful piece of Marcolini Meissen will appear in the nearby antique shop, or a lovely and reasonably priced pair of emerald-green lustres. Passing the market stall with a firm determination not to look, there may be a splendid Canton vase or an Italian Majolica flower-holder, a beautiful epergne or a glittering piece of Worcester `scale blue and exotic birds,' and at once the protective fence of resolution collapses.
With the money expended many other things could perhaps have been done - new clothes bought or some bottles of fine wine. But the clothes would wear out and the wine soon be nothing but a memory, whereas the Marcolini and the Worcester birds will outlast all the clothes and wine of the century.
They have already given thousands of hours of pleasure to their former owners, owners sitting in knee-breeches and flowered brocade, or in pantaloons and crinolines, by candle-light and lamplight, in noisy Hogarthian houses or quiet country rectories. They will outlast your collection also, and they will outlast you. Provided they are not broken, they will still be giving pleasure in the twenty-first or the twenty-second century; that is, if our civilisation survives that long.