Developing a taste for buying antiques

Steve 'Salami' Williams, one of the owners of Good Game

Steve 'Salami' Williams, one of the owners of Good Game - Credit: Archant

Any connection between buying quality produce and seeking out fine antiques is not obvious and yet, as Devon-based TV star CURTIS DOWLING reveals, it’s time to think again

The same rules apply to picking good produce as they do to picking good antiques

The same rules apply to picking good produce as they do to picking good antiques - Credit: Archant

Do we realise sometimes how lucky we are to live in Devon? After six months living in Hollywood I do. Not just our stunning countryside, a slower pace of life and low crime but also our artisan tradesmen.

'Pepperoni' Pete Woodham Kay and 'Salami' Steve Williams with a side of hog and an air dried ham

'Pepperoni' Pete Woodham Kay and 'Salami' Steve Williams with a side of hog and an air dried ham - Credit: Archant

Of course they have town centres with shops but in LA you have the all American mall, like Camarillo, 40 miles from the city and the same size as the whole of Exeter. The car park holds 100,000 cars, and, honestly, you still cannot get a space!

The two things I missed most about living in the US was the array of antiques we have in our country and artisan food producers who genuinely love everything about the products they produce. It got me thinking, the novice antiques hunter can identifying good quality antiques by applying the skills you would use to buy the best quality food. Confused? Well then let me explain

In years gone by we bought antiques from the antiques shops that lined our high streets, we bought our meat and sausages from the butcher’s. We had a relationship with the seller, we got advice and education about what we bought, and we enjoyed the experience.

Yes, we paid a little more but from the antiques shops we only ever got the best and the same with the butchers and on the rare occasion it was not perfect we took it back. Now we buy meat from a faceless supermarket and our antiques online or in vast bric-a-brac warehouses.

Since being back in Devon I have been buying sausages and charcuterie from a small company I know based in Topsham called Good Game. This has made me realise we need to get back to supporting these local, passionate companies so they do not go the same way as the antiques shops. They are by no means alone as there are many quality producers of food based in Devon but what I like is buying from people who are the experts in their field.

Most Read

I live in a 400-year-old house and the local furniture makers then used local trees to make their furniture and the food producers I am talking about do the same, and in Good Game’s case they try and shoot as much of their ingredients themselves as possible, so let’s support these artisans and make sure we get the best out of living in Devon.

If you want to know more about them then take a look at their website: have the skills, transfer them. You think you know nothing about antiques? Of course you do. If you buy, like I do, from artisan food producers just think about the skills you use when doing so. The skills you use subliminally.

Your five simple tips

1-You get to know the seller, you work out pretty quickly if you can trust them, if you like them, and if, like most passionate experts, and they love to pass on their knowledge. We use the word expert to talk about us antiques people like a good deal of professions but not your local food producer, but think about it, they are just as expert.

2-You buy the best you can get for your money, if it’s too cheap you already know why, and with food you do not even question it. Antiques are no different. If it’s too good to be true, it is.

3-Education is everything. You know what questions to ask about sausages, learn the basic questions to ask about the antiques you like to buy. Have a simple list of half a dozen questions so the seller knows you have done your homework.

4-Handle as much as you can. The more you do this the more you will know what is should feel like. Texture, weigh, proportions. Why is it every time you order a joint of pork from the supermarket online it’s not great?

You cannot be 100% sure it’s what you want because you have not looked, smelled, touch. Do you think Steve at Good Game buys the meat for his chorizo without advice from his expert supplier or from the internet? Of course not. You shouldn’t either. Providence is the most important thing with food - and antiques are the same. If you cannot touch and handle it, don’t buy it. If you know its life story you won’t go far wrong.

5-The price is the price. Now I know I am as guilty as the next man, having spent a few years before going to America making Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Cash in the Attic - in fact all those classic BBC shows in which you see me and my fellow presenters never paying the ticket price for anything.

Would you ever haggle in the butchers? The supermarket? No, but we have shown you that you can with antiques. Yes, of course you can ask, and some dealers will take off 10%. Remember two things though. These people have to make a living or they will go out of business and also if you are regular and constantly refuse to pay almost the asking price for an item you will not get offered the ‘best’ items when they come in. And that means if you are a collector of a certain thing you will always be the second or third call from the dealer, never the first.

Now get out there

Antiques are not a mystery, its anything old. That’s it! Look around, touch, feel, talk, enjoy. You could say the only difference between food shopping using artisan food producers is if you get it right you are making a good long term investment but I guess with food you are investing in your health and the economy of the county, but to prove my point let me finish with a little story.

I was asked recently to pop over to a man’s house locally. He was retiring and wanted me to value his collection. We sat and chatted over a cup of tea and then I asked to see what he had but there was nothing on show in his house I could see worth anything.

He took me to the loft and there before me were boxes and boxes of candlesticks, mostly brass. He had been buying one or two every month for 30 years. He had made some good relationships with local dealers who called him first with their latest candlestick finds.

He paid full price on nearly everything, but good antiques appreciate in value. His first at full price was in the early 1970s and he paid a massive £4, but it was now worth £800. Like your first home, it seems like a fortune at the time but 20 years later for the price you paid for that first property you could not buy a good second hand people carrier. A week later after cataloguing them all we found a buyer in the USA and our local man picked up a cheque for £150,000.

So get out there, have fun and start your non index-linked pension today, our county is perfect for it.

Curtis Dowling is the star of Treasure Detectives, the CNBC reality television show featuring the search for expensive paintings by a group of art collectors. He has also appeared on numerous BBC, ITV and Channel 4 shows.

This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at or call 08448484217

Comments powered by Disqus