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Frank Wilson's Expert Eye on British Antique Formal Furniture

Posted July 11th, 2017 by Grant Nicholas IACF and filed under Dealer Corner

Wilsons Antiques was founded by Frank's father in 1936 and he has worked in the business for the last 50 years, since leaving college. Together they have bought the antique contents from over 5000 local homes in West Sussex and have sold over 100,000 pieces of English and continental antique furniture during that period. Frank has been a member of LAPADA for over 30 years, and he regularly exhibits at Olympia, quality fairs in the south of England including Petersfield, Petworth, and Wilton House and show ground fairs at Ardingly, Alexandra Palace, and Newark.

Over this period of time Frank has learned to appreciate the quality, the craftmanship, the timbers used, and the wonderful designs of British period furniture which has been copied throughout the world, over the centuries.

Can you define your speciality - what kind of items, and from what era are collectors interested in?
We deal mainly in British antique formal furniture, as opposed to country furniture, from the mid 18th century to early 20th century, in mahogany, walnut, rosewood, and satinwood. Collectors are generally interested in buying pieces for their homes that suit the style and age of their properties.

What kind of items might the entry-level collector look for?
Simple practical furniture like Georgian/ Victorian chest of drawers, side tables, desks etc. Please take a careful look at the condition of pieces as 100 – 200 years of wear may need considerable restoration, which can be expensive.

Try and buy pieces in good condition, having a nice colour, no damage to the timber, and no woodworm.

Can you give some idea of the range of prices one might expect to pay?
How long is a piece of string? A nice simple Victorian chest can start around £150 and go upwards, whilst a good Georgian mahogany chest can be bought between £500 and several thousands of pounds. This can often offer better value than new furniture supplied by John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
Be careful about buying pieces in poor condition that appear cheap. I recently bought a pair of 18th century chairs for £15 and am having to pay £500 including vat to restore them.

Are there useful publications/websites/public collections that you can recommend?
There are two books to look for from the Antique Collectors Club - ‘British 18th century Furniture Designs’, and ‘British 19th century Furniture Designs’.

I am also happy to recommend - the largest trade organisation in the UK, and of course our own website 

Photographs can be misleading, so be careful and ask questions about the piece and possibly ask for more photographs. Ask the seller about any restoration, if he is a member of a trade association that has a code of conduct. Also enquire about carriage costs (the expense incurred for the moving of goods from one location to another).

Try visiting National Trust properties and see the bedrooms as well as the grand rooms for ideas for your own home.

Should I go to fairs, auctions, specialist dealers or take my chances online?
The larger antiques fairs like Olympia and the NEC are vetted for quality and correct descriptions where you have a larger choice and can compare prices. The large showground fairs offer a tremendous selection, mainly in the middle to lower price ranges.

Take a careful look at the condition of the pieces and be careful of buying furniture from outside stalls on damp days.

The salerooms can be a good buying area but look carefully at the condition and be aware the price you bid will be increased by 20% -30% because of their buyers fees. 

If buying genuine antiques online try and buy from a dealer who is a member of LAPADA or BADA or a major collective and ask their guarantee policy. 

What are the traps and pitfalls to be avoided?
Only buy online when you can see good photographs from a trusted source. Check the joints on chairs and look for woodworm under the frames. Always ask for a receipt with contact details of the seller and a description of your purchase with a circa date. Remember you have the protection of the Trades Description Act.

Do you have a personal favourite designer/maker/item?
The designs by Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton both 18th century appeal to me, and some of the revival furniture using their designs in the 19th and early 20th century.

Frank Wilson will be exhibiting at Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors Fair at the South of England Showground on Tues 18th - Wed 19th July 2017. For more info go to:

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