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Flog It

Interview: Flog It Presenter Paul Martin

BBC antiques show Flog It! is coming to the historic surrounds of Bristol Cathedral this month. Presenter Paul Martin urges anyone with an item of interest to come and chat to the team; and has been offering Emma Payne a few tips, too…

You know how the ’70s have had a real revival in the fashion world over the past couple of years? Well, they’re all the rage in the antiques sphere too now, which is something we didn’t know. In fact, there’s a lot of things about antiques we don’t know – so it’s a good thing we had antiques dealer Paul Martin on hand recently to fill us in ahead of Flog It’s valuation day at Bristol Cathedral, which he’ll be heading up on 14 January…

So, tell us what goes on at valuation day – can anyone bring their vintage items along?

Yes – we pick a historical venue and have four experts on camera and about eight off camera, behind the scenes, working hard with researchers as well. There are about 35 team members, so it’s a big, major event. We film it live, and give each programme a different thread with a different insert in the middle.

“We’ve had tribal memorabilia, Aboriginal shields, which sold for £40,000…”

Half the fun is hearing the background behind the pieces, isn’t it?

It is – it’s the personal stories, the unique finds, and the link to the past. We don’t get masses of valuable items. We’ve had tribal memorabilia, Aboriginal shields, which sold for £40,000, and Tibetan artefacts selling for £160,000, so we do get some big value items, but we also get documents of social history dating back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods. They tell us how craftsmen worked in different regions, about the materials and tools they used and their techniques, pottery, and art. Without the members of the public, their stories and their items, our programme wouldn’t work.

And, of course, Bristol has a wonderfully rich history…

Oh gosh, yes. As a trading port, it’s a melting pot of everything really. You’ve got Bristol Downs, which date back to the 17th century; Bristol blue glass was very popular in the 19th century; you’ve got the Great Western Railway linking London to America via the ss Great Britain, and everything that was imported – sugar, tobacco, wine and port… We’re very, very lucky.

Flog ItThe Flog It valuation day is coming to Bristol Cathedral on 14 January, and everyone is invited to bring their items – new or old – along

If we were scouring the attic for something to bring along to valuation day, what would we be looking for?

Well, we’re looking for anything that goes right up to the 1960s and ’70s. As long as they have a good design, are strikingly made, with great craftsmanship and an iconic look, these are the antiques of the future. We love 20th-century modern, so we’re looking for plastics, contemporary pottery, studio pottery thrown by local artisans, up-and-coming masters and makers of the future, and anything to do with our maritime history. You might look in your attic and see a spear or boomerang and think it’s tourist ware from the 1950s, but it could date back to the 18th century! And that’s the idea, we want you to bring along something you think might be worth something so we can unfold those stories.

People tend to think of antiques as a Victorian grandfather clock and the like, so it’s interesting you mention ’60s and ’70s….

It doesn’t have to be 70 or 80 years old; we’re looking for contemporary design and British 20th century modern. Early Habitat is very collectable! Ercol furniture is very collectable. These things hark back to the early Arts and Crafts period and the rebellion against mass production. It’s well made and there’s a degree of craftsmanship. Because of course, now this is what everyone is calling ‘retro’.

“Good design transcends decades and periods in history, so you can mix and match – George I’s furniture with 1960s whacky glass and a Queen Anne bureau!”

We never thought we’d hear an antiques expert say that!

Habitat is now reproducing it’s own 1970s designs – the bubble chair, the egg chair, the globe chair. People want that clean look with sharp contemporary lines. ‘Antiques’ is a word that isn’t really used that often any more. Good design transcends decades and periods in history, so you can mix and match – George I’s furniture with 1960s whacky glass and a Queen Anne bureau! Antiques have got to be exciting, and the old drab look is gone – be radical!

If we were furnishing our flat, could we buy antiques online with sites like eBay and Gumtree?

Don’t! Go on eBay by all means to get your comparisons, and then look in magazines and auction rooms to find things you like. Go online and look at all the lots coming up, compare to the prices on eBay and in antique shops, and then have a go at buying something in auction.

Attending an auction can be overwhelming, with fast-paced bidding and mounting prices. Do you have any advice for a first-time buyer?

Talk to the auctioneer about the piece you’re after, and ask them if it looks like an investment or just something to furnish a house. Take a tape measure and make sure it fits the space you’ve got at home, or you’ll be stuck with it. Make sure you’ve got transport available up to two days after the sale, or you will be charged for the storage. Stick to your limit and don’t get carried away, because there’s always another piece on another day. There’s no panic at all, there are auctions all over the country. Check out thesaleroom.com for every single auction happening this year. All the images and dates will be there.

Flog ItPaul ran an antiques stall in London’s Portobello Road when he was 22 and always wanted to work with furniture

How can a budding collector spot a quality piece, and avoid fakery?

If you want to get serious about antiques, go to a specialist shop and pick the dealer’s brains. Get to know them and their stock, because you need to see good quality before you buy anything. Also, ask the dealer how to inspect a piece: turning it upside down, looking inside, looking at the way the grain runs, spotting extra handles, chips and alterations. Just be on guard and ask – the antiques trade won’t lie, they’re not trying to pass off something duff for lots of money. If it’s cheap, there’s something wrong with it!

What do you take into consideration when valuing a piece?

We research the item to see if something similar has been sold last month, and that’s what we base the valuation on. Things that were flying eight years ago are now down in the dumps, and vice versa.

Do think we have the same level of craftsmanship now as we did in the past?

Yes, but you have to pay for it. You could buy a very high quality 18th-century Cuban mahogany chest of drawers for £400, or you could pay the same price for a new walnut one of average quality. Because craft skills cost, and then there’s sourcing the wood! Antiques are ‘green’ – paint things, stick new knobs on it, upcycle!

“The strangest thing we’ve ever had was a Victorian taxidermy two-headed kitten in a glass dome…”

Some people might be scared of altering or painting an antique…

The market dictates what’s rubbish, what’s collectable and what’s recyclable. If you get a chest of drawers for £200, it’s not a sought-after collectable. Rip it apart, change it, make something – you’re giving it a new lease of life.

What drew you to the antique trade?

I ran a stall in Portobello Road when I was 22. My uncle was an antique dealer and I didn’t want to do anything else. I wanted to work with furniture and make things – I was quite creative!

What’s the best thing you’ve ever found on the show?

Oh, that’s a tough question. It’s constantly changing. The strangest thing we’ve ever had was a Victorian taxidermy two-headed kitten in a glass dome. But my favourite would have to be a Mary Pheasant painting. We put £800-£1,200 on it and it sailed away for £3,000. Simplistic and bold, with bright colours; that was something I would have loved to own…

bbc.co.uk; bristol-cathedral.co.uk