The Dealer: Why it's shrewd to spend in a recession


Our resident antiques expert Ian Butchoff says prices are still falling but not for much longer. Now is the time to land a worthy investment

Hausburg Cabinet

The Hausburg Cabinet

Every time you switch on the radio, TV, go online or pick up a newspaper, it’s doom and gloom.  “The worst recession since 1929”, “double dip recession”, “stagflation”… it is seemingly never ending.

How depressing can it all get?

Having been in business for nearly 50 years I have to say that I’ve seen this all before – in fact this seems to happen every 10 years or so.

The first reaction of most people is to pull in the horns, even if on the surface things aren’t that bad.  But after you walk around for a year or 18 months without the sky falling in you realize that life goes on, we aren’t getting any younger, and maybe we should go on a holiday, buy a new car, or refurnish the house after all.

Actually, if you think about it, the old business adage to buy when everyone else is selling, and sell when everyone else is buying may still ring true.

How this is affecting my industry is very interesting.

There is a definite demand for the best pictures, best furniture, best ceramics – the rich only want to buy the very best pieces on the market – you can see that through the price records which are broken on a near daily basis. 

Last week a Lowry painting sold for over £5 million. There is a finite quantity of this “best” in the world and more millionaires created every year which surely means that prices for the very best will continue to rise.

“For less than the cost of a modern reproduction you can buy the real thing”

But what’s the story behind the headlines, what is happening to the runners up, the stock graded A – or B +? The nice, well crafted, decent pieces that normal people can afford?

The price of this level of stock has dropped significantly, and in some cases to such an extent that prices are back to a near 30-year low.

Not good news for people who have bought in the last few years perhaps, but a wonderful opportunity for people who want to dive in now. For less than the cost of a modern reproduction you can buy the real thing. 

Something beautifully handmade and in many cases unrepeatable in today’s modern, machine made world.

Something that has the patina of time and history.

Of course, it’s not all about money. I think it’s wonderful to be surrounded by beautiful antiques, pieces that were made with true craftsmanship, sometimes regardless of cost, as in a cabinet I sold recently that took 17 years to make. 

Yes, that is not a typo – 17 years. It was so impressive in fact, that the well known furniture maker, Christies Chairman and nephew to the Queen, Lord Linley made a video if it – some accolade indeed. 

“Auctioneers say their buying in rates – when an object has failed to reach its reserve price and isn’t sold – are falling, and prices are hardening” 

That particular piece, called The Hausburg Cabinet (pictured top) was never made for profit. It was made by a German émigré who was not prepared to compromise. In fact he couldn’t bear to part with it and it was bequeathed in his will to his wife.

I have also noticed that for the first time in a number of years, interiors magazines are leaning away from bland minimalistic white decor.

Instead they are reintroducing colour, individuality and antiques.

What’s more, I believe we’re near the bottom of the curve and prices are not going to go down much further. 

In fact, auctioneers are telling me that their buying in rates (when an object is bought in by an auction house it means it has failed to reach its reserve price and is not sold) are falling and prices are already hardening. 

So get ahead of the game. Treat yourself to something unique and individual that will not only turn your house into a home, but in time will prove to have been a shrewd investment.

There has never been a better time.

Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street . He entered the trade aged 11 and is today recognised as a leading authority on 19th century furniture. He is a co-founder and board member of the dealers’ association, LAPADA, and will be writing a regular column for Londonlovesbusiness.com.