There are many antique shops and dealers in antiques throughout the country. Often they belong to the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) or to the London and Provincial Antiques Dealers’ Association (LAPADA); there are also more focused local groups, such as the Cotswolds Antique Dealers’ Association, etc. It is not so easy, however, to find dealers in antiquities. Antiquities call for a high degree of specialist approach and, whilst many people would love to own an antiquity, they are often cautious of buying by virtue of their own lack of knowledge or knowing where to go for what they want.

It is not often realised that just because an object may be centuries, or even several thousand years old, it does not have to be financially inaccessible. The relics of past civilisations are still generally available, subject of course to the laws governing their export, which have been introduced in many of the modern countries that were once the home of ancient civilisations. Despite these restrictions there is an ample supply of objects from older collections that are always being broken up and dispersed, usually through auction houses.

What to buy or collect is one of the big questions facing anyone who wants, literally, to handle the past as represented by its material culture, be it a stone sculpture, small bronzes, jewellery or simply small domestic items like everyday pottery or personal things such as a Roman toilet set with tweezers, cuticle pushers, and so on.

Most people come to antiquities through reading books on ancient history or archaeology. It is quite easy to acquire, for example, a decorative Greek vase made in the Greek colonies of South Italy in the later fourth century BC, around the time that Alexander the Great was pushing eastwards against the Persian empire, carving his way into history and legend. Roman or Palestinian pots and pottery oil lamps made in the early years of the Christian era do not have to cost the proverbial “arm and a leg” and earlier, really attractively shaped and complete pots from Palestine of Old Testament times are easily available at well under £100 a piece.

Enormous range of prices

Obviously, the prices of antiquities cover an enormous range, depending on what the item is. The great Roman silver “Sevso” treasure of 14 silver vessels that was in the news in recent years has been valued as a collection at around £40 million, but that is at the extreme of the available market. Large bronze “crossbow” brooches (fibulae) of that same Late Roman Period, worn like a modern safety pin to secure a cloak or other clothing, can range in price upwards from £30 or so whilst larger, fine examples, naturally command more money, in the region of £200 to £300 each. The point about collecting antiquities is that they provide the opportunity to reach back across the centuries and actually handle the past to, if you like, feel a rapport with the original ancient owner. There is tremendous scope for individual taste in collecting and, not least, for research.

Many “amateur” collectors have made a particular area their very own by detailed study as they have built up their collections. Their knowledge will often surpass that of a curator in a museum, who invariably has to take a broader view, or of the dealer who supplied the items. Buying antiquities, like antiques, tends to be a personal thing. Collectors get to know dealers who stock the items that interest them, and not least, the dealer gets to know his client’s requirements and keeps an eye on the market for available pieces. The dealer will often get as much pleasure in securing items for a collector, helping and watching the collection grow, as does his client – and they both enjoy and learn from the contact.

Most of the antiquities dealers in the UK belong to the Antiquities Dealers’ Association (ADA), and also quite a number of foreign dealers as Corresponding Associate Members. By membership the dealers keep in touch, broaden their own expertise and can collectively act under the Code of Conduct of the ADA, guaranteeing all the objects they sell to the best of their professional knowledge and expertise to be as they are described and of the date stated.

Peter A Clayton
The Antiquities Dealers’ Association