A Beginner’s Guide to Antique Collecting by Jermaine Gallagher

I remember the first thing I bought when I started collecting: a wrought-iron herringbone candlestick I bought for £3 in the boot of my car in Battersea. Fourteen years later, I now have a collection of 70 (and counting) candlesticks and candlesticks. There is nothing in this world that excites me more than scouring the antique market for my next treasure. I may convince myself that this is the last time I’ll ever buy something, but let me tell you, collecting is highly addictive. Fortunately, there are worse vices than collecting candlesticks (or decorating cats, another obsession of mine), and I have yet to meet a collector who has been able to quit the habit, or who has never wanted to.

I may have been a nuisance at the antiques market at Campton Park Racecourse – running around with a flashlight at first light, getting in and out of the back of dealers’ vans before they could unload – but it was because I was a slightly excited collector that launched my career in interior design. I made a mistake becoming a design dealer. One day I could barely open my house because my boxes were overflowing with market finds: I realized I had to start selling some of my beloved collectibles.

Fashion designer Rejina Pyo doesn’t consider herself a collector, but after carefully studying her collection of chairs from the 20th and 21st centuries, I beg to differ. “I’ve always been interested in all aspects of fine furniture and art, not just fashion,” says Pyo, who grew up in Seoul. Her Soho boutique features custom-made furniture by furniture-maker EJR Barnes and metal artist Barnaby Lewis. Pyo attributes her love of design to her mother. She used to be a fashion designer, but switched to interior designer in her 30s. She was brilliant at DIY, and as a child I remember questioning why things weren’t as clean and fresh in our house as they were in other homes. I now know how cool she is.”

Pyo’s Chair collection includes some of my all-time favorites, such as Mario Botta’s 80’s Seconda Metal office Chair and Audoux-Minet’s 50’s Rope Chair. The work is exquisite, but when we meet at Pyo’s Finsbury Park studio, she comes across as refreshingly relaxed and earthy. I hate the idea of not touching things. Things in my house are meant to be lived in and used, not bought and sold. It’s the same with my clothes. They are designed for people to wear every day, not just for special occasions.”

Quietly excited by the constant presence of trendy collectors on Instagram, I recently visited the east London showroom of Jess Maybury, who runs the archival world of textiles. The model, who grew up on the outskirts of Oxford, has starred in campaigns for Marni and walked shows for Erdem, Di Petsa and Feben. “I’ve been collecting and trading properly for the past six years, but I got my start because of my mother – she’s been working in interior decoration and textiles for 40 years,” Mayberry explains. In her small Hoxton Street showroom, the walls are lined with her collection of luxury travel items, from Japanese indigo dyed linen nets to Kashmiri Krusel embroidery wall hangings to Halkin printed etiquette dresses woven by the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“My mother is half Pakistani and one of the first things I collected were Pakistani Ralli quilts. Under the window, I found a tall pile of colorful quilts and gorgeous embroidery, and I had an urge to tear them apart and rummage through. Fortunately, Mayberry got there first. “Provenance is very important to me,” she explains. I believe that when selling works from other countries and cultures, there is a responsibility to share their history and tell the story of the people who made them.

Seeing her surrounded by her own collection of textiles made me think about the importance of being able to coexist with what I collect. “You have to be passionate and interested in discovering something that leads to something else,” she agrees.

Thinking about collecting some precious accessories? First, get to know the dealer. Buying online is one thing, but going to markets, antique fairs and auctions and building real-life relationships is priceless. Seek out your community because you’ll find people who, whether you’re looking for cushion covers or pottery, will become acquaintances in your collecting career. Don’t be a know-it-all: ask lots of questions, dig deep, do lots of research – it’s all part of the fun.

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