Antique Dealer

The Job and What's Involved

An antique dealer buys and sells antique objects and collector's items. To be classed as antiques, objects are usually over one hundred years old. Increasingly, dealers are handling high quality 20th century items, for example Art Deco pieces from the 1920s and 1930s. This is a retail job with a difference as there are no set prices. Items are priced according to their exclusivity and condition.

Antique dealers may specialise in a particular area, such as jewellery, ceramics, furniture or art. They may have an interest in a certain period or style. Some dealers are involved with valuations for insurance purposes. They may work as a sole trader or for a small independent business.

The work is varied, but usually involves some of the following:

  • Visiting auctions, auction houses, private clients, markets and trade fairs.
  • Assessing and buying items.
  • Researching the background and potential value of objects.
  • Selling items directly to the public, through a shop, rented retail space at an antique centre or fair, or from home.
  • Selling items online, on their own website, online auction site or through a specialised antique portal.
  • Developing a rapport with customers.
  • Providing a high standard of customer service.
  • Negotiating the price of objects either with sellers or buyers.
  • Carrying out minor restoration work.
  • Completing accounts and business administration.
  • Packaging items for postage or courier transportation.
  • Developing a network of contacts.

As a result of sales on the Internet, in the last few years there has been a change in the way people deal in antiques. There are now numerous online galleries and antique portals for both buying and selling antiques. This has developed the market place and dealers may find they are working with more overseas customers.

The working week is irregular and there are no set working hours. Dealers need to be prepared to work unsocial hours, including evenings and weekends. The job offers flexibility, which can fit around commitments such as family, further study or other business opportunities.

A reasonable amount of travelling may be involved to attend auctions and fairs, and to visit clients. Nights away from home may be necessary. A driving licence is usually essential.

The work may also involve lifting and carrying.

The basic starting salary may be around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

As antique dealerships are usually small independent or family-run businesses, it is not possible to put an exact figure on the number of dealers in the UK. Based on membership from The British Antique Dealers' Association (BADA) and LAPADA - The Association of Art and Antiques Dealers, it is thought that there are around 8,000 antique dealers in the UK.

Competition for entry is fierce, with more applicants than vacancies. Opportunities can be found throughout the UK. Currently the outlook for antique dealers is stable.

Vacancies are rarely advertised. Those interested in getting into this type of work may find the best way in is to visit shops and salerooms or write direct to relevant organisations.

BADA produces a newsletter that includes job vacancies. The Antique Trades Gazette also has a vacancy section.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, but applicants must build up knowledge and gain relevant experience before entry.

It is possible to gain relevant experience from:

  • Taking a stall at an antiques market, one-day fair or car boot sale, or trading on the Internet.
  • Working as an assistant to a dealer (sometimes unpaid) - it may be useful to gain experience with different sorts of dealers, for example with those specialising in ceramics, furniture or silver.
  • Working in an auction house as a porter, saleroom assistant, counter assistant or secretary.
  • Visiting museums, country houses and fine art sales.

London-based auctioneers, such as Sotheby's, Bonhams, and Christie's, offer summer work experience and recruit a small number of graduate trainees every year. Applicants usually need a degree in a related area such as art or history of art.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Some employers would expect GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), especially in art, design and history.

Entry requirements for degrees are at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, or equivalent qualifications. A portfolio of work is usually also required and some institutions may expect applicants to have completed a Foundation Course in Art and Design as well as A levels/H grades. Specialist university courses include:

  • BA (Hons) Antique and Design Studies at the University of Central Lancashire.
  • Degree courses at Southampton Solent University in their art, design and culture scheme.

There are various part-time qualifications in arts subjects such as history of art, fine art and decorative arts available. Further details can be obtained from local colleges.

Training is usually on the job and involves working alongside more experienced colleagues.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Antique dealers should:

  • Have good valuation skills and experience with fine art and antique items.
  • Have good communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Have excellent sales and negotiation skills.
  • Have good judgement and be prepared to take a financial risk.
  • Be able to make quick decisions.
  • Be creative, with an artistic flair.
  • Enjoy learning about history and be prepared to carry out further research.
  • Have good eyesight (with or without spectacles).
  • Be physically healthy and able to move stock around.
  • Be happy to work on their own.
  • Be able to organise their workload.
  • Have good business skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no promotion structure for self-employed dealers. Their success depends on increasing sales and profits, and expanding their business.

A few opportunities may exist with auction houses, which want to recruit staff with expertise in types or periods of antiques.

Get Further Information

The British Antique Dealers' Association (BADA),
20 Rutland Gate, London SW7 1BD
Tel: 020 7589 4128

The Courtauld Institute of Art,
Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN
Tel: 020 7848 2777

LAPADA - The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers,
535 King's Road, Chelsea, London SW10 0SZ
Tel: 020 7823 3511

Sotheby's Institute of Art - London,
30 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3EE

Southampton Solent University,
East Park Terrace, Southampton, Hampshire SO14 0YN
Tel: 023 8031 9000

The University of Central Lancashire,
Preston, Lancashire PR1 2HE
Tel: 01772 201201

West Dean College,
West Dean, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0QZ
Tel: 01243 811301

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