The Trouble With Vintage

0 2 21 November, 2014

I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the support I have received for my art work over this last year.

As most of you probably already know, the items I use to create my pieces are all antique or vintage, even down to the threads I use for sewing. I love reworking lost or unloved items, and often when working with them I wonder about their past lives, when they were once treasured. All of these items are unique. Non have ever travelled the same journey, not even similar items, and they will show wear in different places. I often fall in love with objects I find. I am highly inspired by these items. Rather than composing design ideas in my head, and then venturing out to find the items I need, I work from the inspiration I find in the items I procure. As such, I never quite know what I will be making from one week to the next! But that works for me, if not seeming rather haphazard to the more organised of you!

One dilemma I often find myself faced with quite often, is that most of the pieces of work I produce are unique. Normally I only find one of every item I use. I keep hoping for large stashes of delectable items, but it never happens. I have so many people who see my finished pieces, which have sold, and request the same to be made for them. Here starts the dilemma.

1. Am I even able to source the same items that were used in the original piece? Most of the items are impossible to find again.

2. How much time is profitable to spend looking for these items, and when does it become a wild goose chase?

3. I will very rarely find the same vintage items at the same price. Unfortunately, when I look on the internet or in shops for the same or similar items that I previously stumbled across locally, they are nearly always invariably more expensive. Sometimes they can be a LOT more expensive.

So the dilemma then intensifies. When the interested party originally asks if I can make them a similar piece, they have usually seen the price of the original that sold, or have asked what it’s price was.

In the past I have then taken on commissions to remake pieces, at the same price as the original, only to be caught out by finding that to re-buy the same vintage items, it may cost me £10, £20, £30, sometimes on the rare occasion, even £50 more than the first one I acquired. In the past, I have swallowed these costs, which has meant that I have used any profit / my fee for producing the item, in the purchasing of the original supplies. No one can, or should, work in this way. It basically means you are working for free, or even worse, are completely out of pocket. I have always felt really embarrassed at having to ask for more money for quotes I have already set, hence why I have ploughed on with the work, regardless. But I have children and a lot of animals to feed, and I can’t work in this way any more. So, from now on I shall be informing buyers that the cost of their piece is not set in stone, until I have acquired, or resourced, the necessary vintage objects to make it.

Here is one particularly startling example for you:

This is one of my beautiful doll story boxes, “Kiss the Frog”. Everything that makes up this piece is vintage. However, the one item that left me completely out of pockets for reproducing it was:
…… the frog (yes, that tiny blue thing at the foot of the girl, after which the whole theme of the box is named)… rather like this one pictured below.

I purchased it in a lovely local antiques centre, for £4. It was cute beyond words. I use this particular antiques centre for a lot of my supplies, as their prices are very reasonable. So, I bought all the other items I need to re-make the box (the doll was also difficult to find and more expensive). Then I started searching online for the frog. It took me a while to find out what it was – then I found out ….. it was old – really old – c.1890’s. It was pressed glass, and was originally a cracker charm, made in Czechoslovakia. So, if that isn’t bad enough, I then find out that there is a huge amount of people that collect these adorable Victorian charms very seriously, and my goodness do they put up a fight in online auctions. So how much does it cost me to acquire my cute little glass frog? £35!!!! £31 difference in price for just that one item! All you then need is for the doll to be £10 more expensive, and the box to be £4 more expensive etc, and before you know it you are pushing around £50 in extra costs!

So, that is the trouble with vintage items. There is no wholesale supplier, no constant selection of one item, from a handful of people. It is a real game of chance – and that includes the prices you end up paying.

Many people often ask me how I manage to procure so many gorgeous little items. I wish I could say there is a quick answer, but there is not. It is seriously hard work. I would say that I spend 50% of my time making, and 50% sourcing the right items at the right price. That means hours each day on eBay, and other online auctions nationally, scouring online shops, and visiting my local antiques dealers a couple of times a week. It’s hard work, but luckily I enjoy it, even if it can be frustrating sometimes! I have had times when I have bought a box or a cup, made a piece with it, and then gone on to find that one particular item was worth more than the final piece I made and sold! But, that is the luck of the draw! I can’t research every item I purchase to see if I could make a significant profit just be reselling it straight away, after all, I am an artist, not an antiques dealer!