Hello one and all! Thank you for joining me once again for my Monday blog post!
If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I've been catching up with industry legends to find out how they got into the trade, about their favourite finds and their biggest regrets, and to get some advice for myself and for anyone else thinking of getting into the trade. These short interviews will continue to come out over the course of the next few months, depending on who I can persuade to take part.
So far we've chatted to 'Dickinson's Real Deal's' very own Tim Hogarth, 'The Urban Vintage Affair' and 'The Bidding Room's' Natasha Francis, 'Bargain Hunt's' Gary Pe and 'Hoof Brocante' and 'The Bidding Room's Adi Higham.
This week I had the pleasure of chatting to Isabel Balmer, whom some of you will recognise from popular BBC antiques show, 'The Antiques Roadtrip'. Not only that, Isabel is an auctioneer at Wessex Auction Rooms in Wiltshire, so I'm sure some of you will also recognise her from there.
It's another good one! So get that kettle on, settle in and let's see how Isabel got into the trade and what catches her eye in the world of antiques...
Q. How did you get into the antiques trade?
I completely fell into the antiques industry. I’ve always had an interest in history but I never pursued it at school choosing to go down the route of geography over history (back then you could only do one humanities GCSE). I went to university to read Geography and after 3 amazing years I discovered I still had no idea what I wanted to do, but far worse, nowhere to live, no money and no job. So I moved back to Derby and back to Mum and Dad’s (I’m sure they were delighted!).
I found myself a part time job in a vintage shop and after about 9 months of still not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, my mum suggested I do some work experience at the local auction house. I did two weeks there at the end of which they offered me a full-time job. In all honesty the prospect didn’t fill me with excitement – I knew nothing and therefore was only capable of the mundane jobs such as sticking stamps on envelopes, boxing up items to take to the post office, unpacking boxes of items as they entered the building etc. But I also knew I couldn’t go home and, as we all sat around the table having dinner that evening, announce to everyone that I’d turned down a full-time job offer that had been handed to me on a plate.
So, I accepted the job, for which I am now eternally grateful, and so was born my love of antiques. As each day passed I realised there was much more to antiques than the dusty old boring items I had originally thought them to be. Each item means something to someone and holds its own story.
Q. What is your current genre or speciality?
I specialise in Jewellery – I’ve always had a love of jewellery and all things sparkly. Aged 7, Mum and Dad took my brother and I to London for the day, and we went to the Natural History museum. My brother loved the dinosaurs; I loved the rocks and minerals room. Feeling unqualified for a job in an auction house with my Geography degree, I decided to go to evening classes and study for the Gemmology Diploma and following this, the Diamond Diploma at the School of Jewellery and Assay Office in Birmingham. It was fascinating and once qualified, it gave me the confidence I needed to hold my head high in the auction world.
(Image: Glenn Phillips)
Q. Who or what has been the main influence on your style?
I’m not sure I really have a ‘look’ or a particular inspiration on my style. I like what I like and this varies depending on my mood, but my biggest influence would have to be the generic ‘vintage’. I like to take inspiration from the different decades - pick and chose the bits I like best. And even with vintage clothing, none of it is entirely unique – designers take inspiration from earlier centuries and reimagine those ideas to create a ‘new’ look.
Style-wise I absolutely adore some of the 18th century dresses, jumping then to early 20th century clothing, particularly circa 1910-1920, and the transition period from structured restrictive clothing to looser, more fluid clothing – I’m thinking Paul Poiret, the Callot Souers, Jeanne Paquin, Mariano Fortuny’s Delphos dress to name but a few.
And then there is the 1930s – you just can’t beat the glamour, sophistication and ease of the 1930s fashion.
Q. What has been your favourite find?
My favourite find remains a brooch discovered in a box of costume jewellery that a client brought in to sell at Wessex Auction Rooms. I’ll always remember their parting words “there’s nothing special in there, it’s all costume jewellery”.
Now I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t go through every piece of so-called costume jewellery that comes through the door. Nine times out of ten it is purely costume jewellery, but on this occasion, buried amongst all the necklaces, bracelets and earrings was a large silver brooch that, immediately, I knew was a good thing.
Set with moonstones and blue sapphires and lots of tiny enamelled leaves, the brooch screamed Arts and Crafts. Unsigned, it took a fair bit of research to discover who the maker was, but finally, I was able to attribute it to George Edward Hunt, one of the Birmingham Group key Arts and Crafts jewellery designers. The vendors were absolutely delighted when this rare brooch sold in our specialist jewellery auction for £2,100.
Q. Has there been an item that you have regretted not buying?
There are plenty of items that I regret not buying at the time, but to be honest, my mantra is that there’ll always be another or something else will come along. And if I really like something, I’ll always buy it. At the end of the day, I don’t have the space to buy every item that I like and so I try to only buy those that I truly love and make me happy.
Q. Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into the antiques and vintage trade?
For anyone looking to go into the antiques and vintage industry, or simply want to take it up as a hobby, I would offer the age old advice of getting out there and handling and seeing as much as you can. Go to fairs, auctions, shops and centres, ask questions, and, if you’re feeling brave, buy a few bits and see what you can sell them for. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s how we all learn.
Well, that's it for this week folks! I hope you've enjoyed finding out a bit more about Isabel. As one of my subscribers commented recently, "I enjoy your articles...the interviews make them relatable to the television viewers", and that couldn't be truer in this case, so thank you, Isabel.
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Until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!
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