Antiques expert David Ford on owning shops, unusual items and the world of television

David Ford

David Ford - Credit: TBC

A regular on the popular TV shows Dickinson’s Real Deal and Secret Dealers, Guildford-based antiques expert David Ford is also a senior valuer with John Nicholson’s at Fernhurst. Here we put him under the Surrey Life spotlight...

David Ford

David Ford - Credit: Various

The low-down:

Name: David Ford

Age: 76 (I know, nobody believes it!)

Hometown: Guildford


How did you first get involved in the world of antiques?

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Having come out of the Royal Navy in the early ‘60s, I tried my hand at several things but had always had a love of antiques and art so had a go with a stall at Bermondsey market – and never looked back.


We understand that you once owned seven antique shops? Do you own any now?

I am pleased to say I don’t have any antique shops now as the market has changed dramatically in recent years with the growth of the internet. My first shop was in Thames Ditton and I called it Fern Cottage Antiques and lived above, eventually moving out and turning the entire premises into a shop. Fern Cottage was so successful that I was able to buy three more shops adjacent and created what I believe to be the first antiques centre. I had two franchise operations in Bentalls Kingston and Bentalls Worthing, and a retail outlet in St Helier, Jersey. Twenty-five years later, the very successful business had been sold and I owned the Old Post Office Antiques shop in Compton.


For the last 15 years, you’ve been an independent valuer, focusing on probate, insurance and division valuations. What’s been the most unusual item you’ve valued?

At one appointment, in a modest bungalow locally, I discovered a painting by Frances Hayman of the Samuel Richardson family (one of the earliest English novelists who wrote Pamela) and also a Gainsborough full-length portrait of a gentleman from Bath. The owner was not aware of the true value of these paintings but with my guidance arranged for the sale of them through John Nicholson’s Auctioneers at Fernhurst, where I also work as a senior valuer, achieving a record of £750,000 for the two. I recently saw the Hayman in all its glory in the newly hung Tate Britain.


So tell us what it’s like taking part in ITV’s Dickinson’s Real Deal; that looks like a lot of fun!

I never expected to be a minor television celebrity, but having said that, I have been on the programme since show one, seven years ago, and loved every minute of it. I never know what is going to turn up on my podium and the off-screen dealers are told not to help us, so one has to have a very broad knowledge across the entire spectrum of antiques and collectables – which could be anything!


What’s been the most interesting item that you’ve seen on the show so far?

Some curious things have turned up – including a very early pump-driven vacuum cleaner – but one of the things I was most excited to buy was an original letter written by Lord Nelson (which I have kept).


You’re also a regular on Secret Dealers where you identify forgotten treasures in people’s homes?

Secret Dealers is a very different concept. Three dealers compete by leaving sealed bids to buy items in people’s homes. This is a lot of fun, as there is no presenter breathing down our necks, so the show is far more interesting and personal as we are in effect the presenters as well. The competition to buy can become quite fierce between us and of course the seller – at the end of it all – doesn’t have to sell! Secret Dealers is a huge success and series seven starts filming this month. If any readers would like to take part in the show, please get in touch.


What’s the most common item in people’s homes that tends to be worth a bob or two?

Gold, silver and jewellery seem to be the most common items in people’s homes that makes the most money, although occasionally we discover wonderful collections of porcelain, furniture or the odd painting that will make a lot of money.


How do you think the antiques market in Surrey is faring?

In my opinion, the antiques market has changed dramatically but is probably more active than ever before due to the expansion of marketing through the internet, boot fairs, markets and fairs operating throughout the county. The whole business is made even more popular by the explosion of TV programmes about art and antiques. Unlike the ‘60s when I started, and there were lots of undiscovered treasures, now the feeling is that everything is valuable even if it isn’t!


Do you have a favourite fair or auction that you like to go to?

I always visit the antiques fair in my hometown of Guildford, which recently took place at G Live, but I also like the big fairs such as Ardingly and Newark and the smart ones like Grosvenor House. I just love antiques and never miss a chance.


What does your own home look like? Is there a period of antiques that you particularly like?

By the very nature of what I do, many items in my home don’t stay there very long unless my wife really likes them! I like the 18th century because it seemed to produce classical items across the whole spectrum of antiques: furniture, silver, paintings – but that is not to say I own any – they get sold too quickly.


If people were going to invest in an antique here in Surrey, what would you recommend?

When going out to buy antiques, ask yourself these three questions: Do I like it? Can I afford it? Have I got somewhere to put it? If all these are yes, buy it. I wish I had a crystal ball as I would then be buying up the next big thing.


Finally, tell us something about you that we don’t know…

I had a narrow boat moored for some years in Farncombe and have been up and down the River Wey many times. And I used to be great friends with George Harrison who was one of my original clients at Fern Cottage.