Antique Collecting advice from Quinney

Found- a small, rare pamphlet Don't: some concise and useful hints for the collector by Thomas Rohan (Bournemouth: A. Rohan, 1933). Rohan was a dealer in antiques and wrote many books on the subject (Old Beautiful, Confessions of a Dealer etc.,) He is said to be the original of Quinney the antique dealer hero of the novel and play (and movie) Quinney's by H.A. Vachell. At one point there were 5 antique shops in Britain called Quinney's and there is still at least one. His hints for collectors are still of use:


So many just for the want of thought go wrong in collecting, commiseration is of little help, after the event, so I thought just a few concise words of advice, set forth in brief paragraphs would be of help. Recently a gentleman said to me, 'I shall never forget what you said at your first talk to the Alton Art Society - never purchase anything however old it is, if it has not been beautifully made - Age will not add value to bad craftsmanship.' I suppose I have made this remark hundreds of times. 

DON'T buy anything unless you can always live with it.

DON'T be in a hurry to purchase anything, however pleasing momentarily to the eye - meticulously examine the article whether it be furniture, china or glass.

DON'T be satisfied with the name of a supposed make, be quite satisfied that it is of the period of the maker -  for example - a piece of furniture by Chippendale, feel quite sure by its make, colour and patina it is of this makers period.

DON'T buy "bargains", they are nine cases out of ten a snare and a delusion. One only has to consider that collectors of Antiques have been depleting this country for years. From all parts of the world they come, so necessarily there must be a scarcity. It is easier to buy a diamond ring of any carat than it is to find a rarity in antiques. 

DON'T be led away by gushing or specious advertisements such as genuine sale of antiques, closing down, rare bargains. I have seen these notices in 'junk shops' for years.

DON'T be afraid or nervous to ask a dealer his opinion of the goods he sis exhibiting, a reputable man is only too happy to give you help, telling you the periods and makes and the reason they are of that period or make.

DON'T forget to always get an invoice of your purchase, with the guarantee from the dealer that your purchase is of the make and period stated by him.

DON'T go to sales to buy your antiques unless you are a very good judge, in the first place I regret to say the auctioneers in many instances have little or no knowledge of antiques, he is out to sell his goods, the description given in misleading, probably he is told by the seller that the article in antique and the auctioneer is protected by the conditions of his sale whereby he gives no guarantee. Far better go to a reputable dealer you can trust and buy on his judgement.

I could go on enumerating many more "don'ts" but I think this will suffice, it certainly ought to be a a little help. My books I am glad to say has saved many from the pitfalls of error and put them on the right road of pleasure, because there is no pleasure like possessing beautiful things.

One would despair sometimes when you see the pitfalls easy for the unwary. I remember some years ago, I was in the South of London with an Irish dealer, all of a sudden he caught hold of my arm saying, look at that -  pointing to the contents of a shelf in a window of a junk shop on a big placard was Genuine Waterford Glass for sale, a great sacrifice - it was common rubbish. My Irish friend said with a laugh, "there's another injustice in Ireland". When you read the word sacrifice, you may rest assured the unfortunate buyer is going to be sacrificed.

Finally remember this dictum - the joy of collecting is to be absolutely sure your possession is genuine.

4 thoughts on “Antique Collecting advice from Quinney

  1. Anonymous

    What wonderful advice! It is fascinating how timeless this is. As a relatively young collector, I think all of it is most helpful and spot on, but it is the market that has changed. Like most book collectors, I collect antiques too, and the markets for both books and antiques seem drastically different from the one my parents experienced twenty and thirty years ago. Modern firsts are the "thing" for most collectors it seems(not for me, thankfully), and antiques?…Well, mid-century modern and Swedish design and all that seems to beat out "'old brown furniture". I suppose the rules apply rather well regardless of one's taste, but it surprises me just how much "taste" has beat out "rarity" and, even more important, "quality." This shift of "taste" has aided me in my collecting as I have a love of "old brown furniture" of high quality and now it is sometimes more affordable than poorly produced modern things. I somewhat disagree with him about auctions, as I think a good eye and a good look over of the lots in question can lead to bargains. But I would be far less confident in one of the elite auction houses bidding against "experts." Though I think antiques that are not currently "fashionable" are now quite affordable for those of modest means, I still think books are overpriced in the market. Even books that do not fall into the categories of what is "hot" right now tend to keep the high prices they have had for years. Unlike antiques dealers, book dealers are highly unlikely to discount books for those not in the trade. I doubt this is because, unlike, say, furniture dealers, they don't have a need to move stock to make room for new stock. Perhaps you have some insight on this as a dealer yourself? Or is that part of the secret knowledge? Love your blog, regardless.

  2. admin Post author

    Thanks Anon for great positive input. I agree with you about auctions, a great source of some of the better things. Rohan had that antipathy to auctioneers that you still see among dealers. They feel they should have got the stuff directly and resent the 25% buyer's fees. Dealer's however often know more about their wares than auctioneers as they risk their money at every buy, not so for the auctioneer..

  3. admin Post author

    As for books, in my experience they are now a lot cheaper than, say, 10 years ago (and mostly still falling in value). Many times we buy old collections and are amazed at the prices people paid for books or the prices dealers wanted in the 1980s and 1990s. There are exceptions in trendy collecting fields like photo books, some modern firsts, 60s stuff and punk stuff and the right art books.. Dealers will often reduce the price for anybody asking pleasantly, money is always needed!

  4. Anonymous

    Thank you for the reply about books, especially. I do find that good bookshops with proper dealers are the best place to go for collectors. Sadly, there are few such shops open to the public in most places and online shopping doesn't quite lead to the same relationship-building as visiting a shop again and again over time. When I have tried to upgrade parts of my library by selling books I purchased years ago, I was lucky to get 50p to the £ of the original price paid, and only for the best of the lot. All the more reason to collect books out of love rather than as an investment. Thank you for your advice and for your lovely shop, one I only wish I could visit on a more regular basis.


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