Ben has been a collector of old and interesting things all his life. In his mid-twenties, he owned an Antique and Collectors shop.
Working With Antiques - a Wide and Varied Trade
No matter which branch of this trade they pursue, those who follow this profession all have something in common: the jargon they speak and the language they share with other dealers and traders.
Underpinning all of these, the love of old things, the stories that these objects hold, and the desire to own or act as custodians of beautiful things remain at the core of an Antique Dealer’s activity.
Antique Dealer Terms and Language
But no matter which branch of this trade they pursue, those who follow this profession all have something in common, and that is the jargon they speak and the language they share with other dealers and traders.
This article provides an insight into the vocabulary and terminology used by Antique Dealers and Traders to pursue their activities. A significant proportion of time spent buying and selling antiques and collectibles is dealer to dealer. Consequently, over many, many decades, they have developed a language all of their own.
Everyday Antique Trader Vocabulary and Terminology
I have spent many years collecting. During this time, I have also traded collectibles, and in my mid-twenties, I owned an Antique Shop. Although I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, I was soon drawn into the Antique Dealers language and quickly adopted the terms and phrases that all dealers use.
Every profession or occupation tends to develop its particular language or terminology. To those on the outside, this often seems like a way of keeping them in the dark.
However, it is more a way of showing that you are an insider, knowledgeable, and familiar with the role of those in the trade.
Terminology and Language for People Involved with the Antique and Collector’s Trade
- Early Bird
Meaning: a potential buyer who turns up early to a sale. Usually well ahead of the appointed opening times, hoping to beat the opposition to the gems on sale. Most often said about yard sales or car boot fairs.
Non-dealers (general public) standing at a fair are called privates.
Meaning: the act of searching for vintage collectibles or old stuff at a second-hand market stall or flea market.
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Let’s Not Haggle Over These Antique Dealer phrases
As you might expect, there are many Antique Dealer terms relevant to the purchasing or negotiating the desired collectible.
Haggling is the art of negotiating in the hope of securing a lower price than that stated on the object. In my experience, haggling is more prominent and vigorously undertaken at car boot sales and between dealers, usually, because the dealer is trying their utmost to secure an item at a price that leaves them with a reasonable margin of profit.
Occasionally, an antique dealer will attempt to trade without exchanging actual money. Instead, they may try to "barter" one or more objects against another dealer's artifacts. I have done this with a collectible that was not selling, and rather than persevere with it, I would choose to try and exchange it for an item that I felt was more suited to my local market. In my experience, bartering works best where both the seller and the buyer have things they wish to try and move on. Sometimes just having something presented to a different clientele would be enough to shift the item.
- What’s the death on this?
A phrase often used to ask for the seller's lowest possible price.
- Can we do a bundle?
When saying this, you ask the seller if they are open to giving a further discount on the asking price in return for purchasing more than just the one item.
- Don’t Low ball me
Often said in exasperation. In this situation, the antique trader reminds the buyer that they know the antique has value and that they shouldn’t try to acquire it for an unrealistically low price.
- Meet in the middle?
A question traditionally asked when the buyer and seller have suggested a price that is not a million miles apart. For example, the seller may be asking £200.00 – The buyer may be offering £150.00 – they may both agree "to meet in the middle" and settle on a price of £175.00.
- He’s throwing us a bone
To suggest that a person is treating you well or offering you an outstanding deal.
What a Good Deal
A Profit is a Profit After All
- There’s a turn in that
To say that there is a margin of profit left in the item. It may not be much, but there is enough value remaining to warrant making the purchase.
- To take your medicine on
A phrase often said when a dealer has to consider selling a collectible for a loss. Sometimes it is better to let an item go at a small loss to keep money flowing into the business. More often said, following an unsatisfactory purchase when the dealer realizes that the object is not as valuable as first estimated.
- I’m Firm on this
The price is the price – negotiation is not an option.
That Antique is an Old Friend – But it is Still for Sale
- Old Friend
An item that remains unsold for a significant period (usually a year or more) is called an old friend.
- A belter
A great item.
- Walkout item
A small collectible that a customer can carry out of the shop.
- Fresh to the market
An antique that has not previously been circulating the antique and collector’s markets or auctions.
Collectible Antiques Come in all Shapes and Sizes
Slang for costume jewelry.
Vintage or antique ornaments that are small in size are often referred to as smalls.
To give an object a face-lift or new cosmetic appearance. It is done without changing the primary use or function of the item.
More Vintage Jargon for the Antique Expert
- Difficult to earn a coin from
Said of a collectible for which the dealer is struggling to find a suitable buyer. This may be due to the trader's particular marketplace or a change in the item's demand.
- Harlequin set
Meaning: an unmatched set of objects with a theme. An example would be a set of dining chairs.
Meaning: an item that has been undervalued or mislabelled. It is every antique dealer's dream to find such an object as the returns can be lucrative.
Antique traders refer to the floral decoration surrounding antique mirror frames as cabbage.
The Yorkshire Dealer, a Video Showing Behind the Scenes Dealing in the Antiques Trade
An Ever-Changing World of Antiques
The language we use and the phrases we adopt are continuously evolving. As the Antique market changes to meet the demands of younger generations and new fashions and trends, then the jargon that runs through this trade will undoubtedly change.
Do you know of any phrases or quips that Antique Dealers use in your area of the world? Why not add them to the comments below?