With a such a diverse range and large number of events up and down the country, there has never been a better time to visit a British antique fair. But with so many to choose from, knowing where to begin can be a daunting prospect, even for more seasoned collectors.
So our team have put together this helpful, on-going, guide to what is available throughout the UK. We examine some of the pros and cons, and other things you might consider such as buying antiques online. From time to time we spotlight a variety of fairs, looking at what they have to offer, as well as sharing handy tips. So keep popping back.
The first thing to consider is the sheer range of events. From the luxury, higher end fairs, with carefully selected and heavily vetted dealers; to vintage, salvage, collectors fairs, flea markets right down to car boot sales.
There truly is something for everyone. So it really is worth doing a little background research around the event first, to see if what is on offer tally’s with your personal requirements for the day.
If you are looking for very fine and more specialist furniture for example, or rare collectable items, you may prefer to visit one of the higher end fairs such as Chelsea, Buxton, The Northern Antiques Fair, Linden Hall or The Arts and Antiques Fair at Olympia as a starting point.
The advantage of these kinds of events is that you can rest in the confidence that each dealer will have been very carefully vetted; and that each item will have been checked for authenticity by experts.
Even if you do not intend to buy at first, these higher end events can be an excellent, inspiring entry into the world of antiques and antiquities. There will be a wealth of knowledge and learning opportunities in one place, and a feast for the eyes.
Items will tend to be in a higher price bracket. However there is something for everyone, with prices at Olympia varying from as little as £30 to well in excess of £1 million. Exhibitors at Olympia sometimes spend the entire year putting together their collection for this one event, making for a wonderful and fascinating day out for everyone.
The Arts and Antiques Fair, Olympia, London
This annual event happens over an entire week at the end of June, a fabulous time to visit the capital city, making it especially attractive to international dealers and collectors alike.
A number of the carefully vetted dealers only exhibit at this fair, giving it an exclusive and fascinating feel. The Fair draws a number of serious international collectors. So you really will see things there that you don’t stand to see elsewhere.
What to Expect
Quality. All items are carefully vetted by experts, however, this comes at a price. From collectable, rare items of antiquity, to unique but affordable collectables and everything in-between. Lovers of fine antique furniture and arts will not be disappointed.
Expect diversity, a few surprises & excellent curation, with a programme of talks and tours of exhibits. As well as cocktails & entertainment at a spectacular, classy indoor venue. The New-York Times referred to this event as: “The grande dame of London’s summer fairs”.
Indoor and chic, comfortable venue, with late after work openings. Easy to reach by public transport. London’s longest running fair comes at a price, with preview day entry costing £60. However, standard advanced entry is priced at £15, which for a day out at Olympia, with over 50,000 exhibits and entertainment is pretty reasonable for London.
For More Info
The Annual Buxton Antiques Fair, Derbyshire
The Annual Buxton Antique Fair takes place over a long weekend towards the end of May.
What to Expect
A charming, well established, and highly respected fair featuring carefully vetted exhibitors from across the UK. As at Olympia, each piece is carefully authenticated. Expect fine antiques dating from the 16th century onwards, alongside decorative accessories and rare, fine collectables.
The fair is set in the beautiful Pavilions Gardens in the historic spa town of Buxton; often described as the cultural heart of the Peak District.
Entry to the fair is only £5. There is pay and display parking, coach parking; and the venue isn’t far from the local railway station.
For More Info
These higher end events do generally tend to have more of the exhibits displayed indoors. So you don’t need to think quite so carefully about wet weather as with some fairs. However bear in mind that pets are less likely to be welcome; and that event spaces can still be quite large, so comfortable footwear is still advisable.
Most events provide food vendors, and some have extra attractions such as music and can make a fun day out for the family. However if you are a serious buyer you might want to consider leaving distractions such as children, pets, etc at home.
If you are looking for something a little more diverse. some of the larger antique fairs such as Newark, Peterborough, Ardingly, Malvern, Shepton Mallet and and Ally Pally, really have it all. You will still find a smaller selection of the rarer and finer, more formal antiques, alongside a wide range of pre-restoration, country and shabby-chic furniture, collectables, outdoor and vintage items.
These events also make a great family day out, with outdoor stalls and attractive outdoor areas. Some allow dogs, but it is worth checking. Not all do. If it is the rarer finds that you are looking for; it is really worth getting to these larger events very early, before more sought after items are snapped up. Bear in mind these are also often quite large events to get around.
Newark International Antique and Collectors Fair
6 fairs per year. (Almost back to back with bi-monthly, Lincolnshire, another long established local fair)
Newark takes place in historic Nottinghamshire.
What To Expect
This is the UK’s largest antique fair. Newark attracts many international, as well as domestic, buyers, interior designers, dealers and the general public. A large and lively event that is well organised with a great atmosphere; and a number of indoor and outdoor spaces.
This is a world renown event, and was featured in the book ‘ 1000 Places to See Before You Die’. A very wide range of collectables. Expect to find many items for the home and garden, that you just wouldn’t find in regular shops, alongside genuine antiques. With over 2,500 stalls, over an 84 acre site, this is an experience as much as an antiques fair.
Size is the main consideration. The site is large, albeit compact, and you will experience queues and crowds at least to some degree. However, the event is well organised and the atmosphere pleasant. Be prepared for an outdoor event.
Each item will not be carefully vetted as with the more luxury fairs, so it pays to have some knowledge and a good eye, especially when buying for investment or collectability. But that is less important if you are buying for the home, for a gift, or on whimsy.
For More Info
The sheer size of events like Newark, Sunbury and Ardingly for example, makes comfortable footwear, and dressing for the season essential. It is also worth planning which day to visit around what you hope to get out of the day.
If you have strong bargain hunting aspirations, it is best to pay the higher first-day entry fee and get there early on the first day. If you are looking for a few nice items for the home or garden and a relaxed day out, best to perhaps save some money, and go later when the frenzy has subsided and the entry fee is far lower.
In recent times, some have criticised some of the larger fairs for the quantity of replicas, as well as on pricing of certain replica shabby-chic homeware style items. However, again, it comes down to what you are looking for.
And of course, at these larger, slightly less vetted events (and this extends to flea markets and even car boot sales), there is always that rare chance to unearth some real gems, which couldn’t possibly go unnoticed under the watchful eyes of the highly experienced antique dealers at the more high end antique fairs where each item is so carefully vetted.
At Sunbury Antique Market on the outskirts of London in Surrey, one buyer haggled a vase down to £80, to then fetch £60,000 for it at auction at Bonhams. So you never know, at one of the less exclusive fairs, you might find yourself a real treasure.
In the next article we will be taking a closer look at some of London’s hipper established and emerging antique fairs, flea markets, and pop-ups.