Everyday Antique Trader Vocabulary and Terminology

Updated on February 15, 2020
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Ben has been a collector of old and interesting things all his life. In his mid-twenties he owned an Antique and Collectors shop.

The Antique trade encompasses a wide range of goods and collectibles.
The Antique trade encompasses a wide range of goods and collectibles. | Source

Working With Antiques - a Wide and Varied Trade

Antique dealing encompasses a wide array of activities. These range from traders who focus on the hustle and bustle of flea-markets, car boot sales, and garage sales —to those who prefer to buy and sell their collectibles using on-line platforms and those who enjoy trading from a shop, purchasing collectibles from private vendors, auctions, and customers.

Underpinning all of these, the love of old things, the stories that these objects hold, and the desire to own or act as custodian of beautiful things remain at the core of an Antique Dealer’s activity.

Flea-market Scene

The typical hustle and bustle of a flea-market
The typical hustle and bustle of a flea-market | Source

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 in the pursuit of 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 realise 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, for those in the trade, it is more a way of showing that you are an insider, knowledgeable, and familiar with the role.

Terminology and Language for People Involved with the Antique and Collector’s Trade

  • Early Bird

A potential buyer who turns up early to a sale. Usually well ahead of the appointed opening times, in the hope of beating the opposition to the gems on sale. Most often said about yard sales or car boot fairs.

  • Privates

Non-dealers (general public) standing at a fair, are called privates.

  • Junking

Looking for vintage collectibles or old stuff at a second-hand market stall or flea market.

Let’s Not Haggle Over These Antique Dealer phrases

As you might expect, there are many Antique Dealer terms relevant to the purchasing or negotiation of the desired collectible.

  • Haggling

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.

  • Barter

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 that they both 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 are asking 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 is reminding 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. As an 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

Said when being offered a very good deal by another trader.
Said when being offered a very good deal by another trader.

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 on 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 realises 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

  • Bauble

Slang for costume jewelry.

  • Smalls

Vintage or antique ornaments that are small in size are often referred too as smalls.

  • Restyle

To give an object a face-lift or new cosmetic appearance. Done without changing the basic use or function of the object.

Small Collectibles

"Smalls" - vintage collectibles that are of a small size - ideal for display cabinets and shelves.
"Smalls" - vintage collectibles that are of a small size - ideal for display cabinets and shelves. | Source

More Vintage Jargon for the Antique Expert

  • Difficult to earn a coin from

Said of a collectible that the dealer is struggling to find a suitable buyer for. This may be down to that traders particular market place or a change in the demand for the item.

  • Harlequin set

An unmatched set of objects with a theme. An example would be a set of dining chairs.

  • Sleeper

The name given to an item that has been undervalued or mislabelled. It is every antique dealers dream to find such an item as the returns can be lucrative.

  • Cabbage

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 too.

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?


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