“My speciality is 17th Century – 18th Century oak and country antique furniture. Early metalware such as base metals, copper, brass. Also treen – small wooden objects – and almost anything that is interesting and high quality.”
Antique furniture is the topic of discussion with Mark Seabrook. Mark is the owner of Mark Seabrook Antiques, which began its venture in 1996. Mark’s speciality is in 17thc / 18thc Antique Oak & Country Furniture, Antique Metalware, Antique Treen, Delftware, & Early English Pottery. After selling at expensive London Fairs and making no profit or valuable contacts, Mark began selling with iacf antiques fairs and “never looked back”. We sat down with Mark at our antiques fair in Newark to discuss everything antique furniture, selling with iacf antiques fairs and of course – meeting Will Young at Newbury Antiques Fair!
What brought along your passion for antique furniture and other antiques?
“I used to be a farmer’s son and I grew up alongside these items, which is lovely.
“I had a passion for antique furniture and since I have also found out my grandfather and grandmother, who came from Yorkshire, owned a fabulous Windsor chair with my mother’s maiden name stamped on the seat, at the base, obviously one of my relatives was what they called a “bodger” – a bodger is someone who makes Windsor chairs out in the woods.
“That gave me the idea that my love for antiques and antique furniture is in my blood – that’s where I get it from – I have a gene.”
Mark goes on to explain how on his day off from the farm, on his Saturday’s after he’s fed the cows, he would get showered and then go to work for an oak dealer’s in his shop. This allowed Mark to gain valuable information on how the furnishings were made, learn about the patination and the colour – the things you simply cannot learn from a book.
So what was the final push for Mark to start his own venture?
“What I didn’t realise is that I was learning and learning by training my eye on all these beautiful pieces coming through the door, and getting a fantastic sort of tuition from him. And after tea, I’d go down the road and meet with his father who was an engineer – and had an antiques shop full of metalware – and suddenly I had two of the best teachers you could ever have“.
For anyone starting out in a new industry, it can be a scary thing! When discussing how Mark felt at the beginning of his career, he emphasised how much support he received from other iacf antiques dealers at the fairs and to surround himself with others who have a lot of similar interests as Mark!
“I (Mark) walked over to one of the other stallholders’ stands at the iacf fairs and I felt like I had come home… I really did, because I just loved the early furniture, especially the 17th century stuff which is amazing quality and amazing value for money at the moment”.
Take that little table over there (see picture above), I just offered it to a gentleman – it was a beautiful table made in 1770, out of oak, for £475 – but as I said to him, you couldn’t go to a guy and say “make me that table, in that size, out of english oak, hand made for £475!” and he said to me “aw I’m not sure about it, I think the top isn’t completely round, and I said well it’s all handmade!”
Growing demand for Treen, Metalware & Antique Furniture
When the industry for brown furniture was struggling, Mark emphasised that without iacf antiques fairs, he wouldn’t have a business today.
“Because of brown furniture going out of fashion very quickly, no one wanted it. Without iacf, I am certain I wouldn’t have been able to carry on. iacf antiques fairs allowed me to get my beautiful brown furniture in front of the people who still wanted it.”
There is always a worry when an antiques dealer attends a fair to sell their items and Mark mentioned how when he attended BADA antiques fair where he paid £10,000 for one stall and sold nothing. But when Mark attended an iacf antiques fair and paid a fraction of that price and ended up breaking even in his first hours of trading, Mark was reassured that there is hope in the demand for his items that he sells, he just needed to be at the right priced antiques fairs to do so!
Mark has noticed the growing demand for metalware and antiques in buyers’ demands recently. He expresses how it’s because “they are so of the moment.”, perhaps suggesting why the younger generation are getting more interested in shopping antiques, “they are all handmade, they’re green, they’re not throw-away items, they are good value for money, they’re English and made out of natural items”.
The benefits of buying early antique furniture and metalware go back to how much consumers’ buying habits have changed in the recent years to match an ethically driven shopping behaviour. There’s no surprise why the interest in Mark’s items are on the increase! With the interest in antiques growing throughout the younger market as well, there is further emphasis on how the demand for early furniture and metalware has only just begun.
Mark further goes on to express how the increase for ‘treen’ has significantly grown and throughout lockdown Mark was able to reach customers looking for antique treen through the online marketplace, LoveAntiques.com. “There’s always been a very strong market for good treen. I noticed throughout lockdown, where I developed my online side through portals such as LoveAntiques.com, who offered me 3 months free to start off, which was extremely appreciated from the trade, and wow that’s given me a wonderful online presence”.
It can be a shame that although there is a growing demand for these items, not all people truly realise the value and the beauty in these items, which is why attending iacf antiques fairs and shopping antiques online can help raise the awareness for the value in these incredible items.
Throughout lockdown, all of iacf antiques dealers were offered 3 months free on the online marketplace to sell their items to customers. Mark was one of these members who joined the online marketplace and found the experience brought him on par with his competitors.
“By joining LoveAntiques.com, that has allowed me to be put in front of all the world-wide customers out there, something that I would have struggled to do on my own. This is because LoveAntiques.com is world-wide and by joining it this allows me to cover this sort of world!”
“Because of sites like LoveAntiques.com, I could now sit at home and sell everything online and get by – but I’m not that type of person. I love interaction, I love meeting people, and it’s great for my business coming to these fairs… I’ll give you an example at Shepton Mallet I sold a windsor chair to a lovely couple, they said can you deliver it Mark? A lot of dealers may have previously said oh no way, but I said “yes of course I can, I’ll do it on the way home”, they covered my fuel and when I got there, he said, we’re building a house in New Zealand, we are here for a year, I would like you to come and help us build this lovely house, with the finest English Oak Furniture we can find. design a room – in that house we are designing an English Oak room, which we want help sourcing the finest English furniture for that room. We are looking for a refectory table, coffers, chairs, dressing tables etc. and he’s given me a large budget to find these wonderful items. So that’s exciting and that is what happens at iacf antiques fairs, you get really good customers and it puts yourself out there in front of people you never normally see”.
Developing contacts at iacf fairs
We asked Mark if he ever makes contacts with people at iacf fairs who then go on to buy off him at a later date?
“Oh yes, I get a lot of recurring customers from iacf antiques fairs, that’s why it’s so great to come to these fairs to make future connections with people like interior designers, collectors from around the UK and the world, film makers and so many more.
“It’s also very important to have your business cards and your branding with you. I have all my cards here and my website is very important too – say you came without your partner and you liked that table, well tonight you might go back and say you liked this table and then you can put your laptop on and there it is – you’ve already seen it and you love it and that’s how you can continue these sales, not just at the fair but after too.“
Mark plans to continue all the fairs in 2022 as they are such great places to meet new people who are interested in the items you sell. Not only this, Mark goes on to express how he feels like he wouldn’t be an antiques dealer without the support of iacf.
“I think without iacf that I wouldn’t be dealing still – certainly not on the fairs circuit, I’ve been doing these fairs for about 9 years with iacf.
“My beautiful furniture went out of fashion with shabby chic becoming the new trend. Many brown furniture sellers struggled to reach new customers, and the last big fair I did was ‘Coopers Tattern Park’, it cost me £2,500 for 3 days and I only took £24.50.
“I sold 3 and a half tins of my polish and I came down the A1 pretty devastated, thinking I’m finished, and I thought, ‘No, I’m going to ring iacf…’ and I spoke to the team and explained to them how I’d never sold at an iacf antiques fair before, but I had been to Newark buying lots of times! I thought well I’ll give it a go and so I spoke to a member of the team, and I asked how much for one table in the Lady Eastwood, and she said about £200.
“So I said yes, please can I have it and I would like a wall stand, to which iacf agreed. I got there at 5am, walked around and bought some wonderful items. I was so nervous and I got my little table but the table opposite hadn’t turned up, so I had two tables and by 3.30 in the afternoon, I was so thrilled to have taken about £4,500.
“Now you do the maths Eve, I rang my wife and I said “I think we’ve still got a future”.
After wiping some tears away from that incredible comment on how iacf fairs have helped Mark with his career, Mark then goes on to express how important the iacf antiques fairs are for the antiques industry…
“Without iacf fairs, thousands of dealers wouldn’t be dealing now”.Mark Seabrook
iacf asked Mark about the competition in the antiques dealer industry, and he expressed how at iacf antiques fairs, there is no competition but only room to grow and help other dealers, we try and compliment each other.
“I told a friend who was struggling with their antiques business that you have to come and stand with me at Shepton. It started to work for him very well after the advice I gave, and I also told him that you should specialise in something, but you don’t have to worry about competition as the more dealers you have selling the same antiques as you, the more specialists buyers you have coming to the fair.
“You find that in the antiques world, dealers are great friends and don’t see each other as competition as you are not selling the exact same item, all antiques are different and unique in their own way so you’ll never find any direct competition!
Perhaps that is what makes becoming an antiques dealer so wonderful, and why the antiques trade is so special.
Meeting Will Young at Newbury Antiques Fair
At last, we get on to the subject of how Mark met Will Young at Newbury Antiques Fair, had a great conversation, ended up selling two antique paintings to him and snapping a picture together!
Mark reminisces about the day he met Will Young at iacf Newbury Antiques Fair…
“I was doing this fair and this gentleman came up to my stand and he said, “Oh I love these pig pictures!” and I said oh it’s really funny my daughter loves them as well, she nearly bought them.
“So he said why don’t we take a selfie, so we took a selfie and waved to my daughter. Guess who it was… Will Young! He was so nice. That was at Newbury Antiques Fair. Will Young used to come to that fair regularly with his mother and he’d buy all the security guard’s beers! I always remember that he put enough money on the gate for beers for them – wasn’t he kind. He was so nice and natural.
He just liked decorative antiques and was lovely.“
Tips for Collecting Antique Furniture
Where do you begin when you start collecting antique furniture? We asked Mark for some advice and guidance for people who have no clue where to begin!
Go to Antiques Fairs
When you begin to look for antique furniture, Mark says that you have to be very careful at the start, and try and buy from dealers who are specialists in their subject… “One of the best things to do is walk around some of the iacf antiques fairs and go to specialist dealers and talk to them and they will be very happy to explain and guide to through the pitfalls and problems you can come across because the trouble with early furniture is that it’s been around a long time and can be altered, restored and they will explain and show you what to look for.
Avoid buying the first piece of antique furniture you see
The worst thing you can do when collecting antique furniture, Mark explains, is to go to auctions and buy the first thing because it was cheap! More than likely you get back home to find out it’s got the wrong top on, and all the stretches have been altered… so it’s a minefield.
“Just be careful. You can do what I did… I went and helped a dealer and then I went to all the high quality antiques fairs, fairs like The Festival of Antiques, so I knew what I was looking at, and I knew that the items I was looking at were what they should be!“
Enjoy the learning process
You don’t have to be an antiques expert to attend an antiques fair, or to buy antique furniture. At good quality antiques fairs, such as iacf antiques fairs, you can speak with the dealers about their items, as well as viewing them in person. Never be afraid to attend an antiques fair if you are worried you don’t know enough – learning more about the items you buy is what iacf antiques fairs are all about!
“People say to me, how come you are so enthusiastic about what you do? Well it’s because I love it. This is my job, I don’t have a day job. This is a lifestyle for me, and I feel like I am the luckiest person – I am working for myself, I am dealing with beautiful objects and 95% of the people who come on my stand are so lovely, it warms your heart.”
Mark tells us about a customer who came to his stand, after meeting 25 years ago, who said “I want that, that, that (pointing at a number of items) you have only five minutes to give me your best price and if it matches what I want to pay, I will buy them!”, he went away and Mark did the pricing and the customer came back and said “Yes, I’ll take the lot – now don’t tell anyone who I am, don’t tell anyone where I live, and give me all of Tuesday afternoon/evening, and we have a deal”. As you can imagine, Mark turned up to this place not knowing what to expect, he discovers a beautiful Tudor mansion full of items that the customer had purchased from other auction and lesser fairs years ago, but unfortunately, a lot of it turned out to be wrong. Mark has to replace all the wrong items, and together, they furnished the mansion with high quality country furniture that Mark knew would look fashionable and last for another hundred years.
The customer became a long term friend of Mark’s and regularly asks for his advice and it shows how you can make relationships for life at iacf antiques fairs.
After talking about one of his customers, Mark smiles and thinks of another customer story.
“There was another customer on my stand this morning, a farmer, who rang me up, he’s just built a great big building, vaulted out of old beams, and he said “I want you to fill it up Mark with the cheapest furniture, but the best”… and Mark replied, “Well we have a contradiction of terms there, I’ll get you some of the best but it won’t be necessarily the cheapest”.
Mark said to him, “Although you aren’t paying the cheapest price, but at least you know what you are buying, and that it is good. Come down to London, have a look around the fair, find what items are available to you, and then you can tell me what you like and we can find them.”
So two weeks later the gentleman came down to the fair to see Mark and he said “I’ve bought 3 things”, which Mark responded with concern, expressing how it can be a minefield if you have no experience, and asked him who he had bought them off.
We all know where this story is going, Mark’s mouth dropped open and he couldn’t help but say “oh dear!” when he saw the items in the house. The issue was, two thirds of the items that his customer had purchased were wrong and to show the customer, Mark said to him “take this two piece pence and just scratch the surface of that table”, and when he did so, the surface started to come off like a varnish, and Mark said “that’s because it’s shellac (varnish) and it’s been coloured up… real patination would never flake off!”
That really played into Mark’s hand, because after this conversation, the customer then went on and spent a lot of money having his barn fully furnished, with correct items of early furniture and treen. He also then started collecting treen and metalware, which Mark was very happy about.
Another customer that Mark recalls fondly was a collector in London, who has a villa in Italy. “His wife came onto my stand at a previous fair, she bought 3 things, and said “I’ve got to get my husband to come and see you”, big mistake as her husband fell in love with all of Mark’s antiques and has gone on to buy many many items from Mark and other dealers and has probably got one of the best collections of antiques in the country.
Mark said how it was a wonderful privilege to meet these people and learn from them, and often giving him a chuckle, too! Although Mark learns lots from his customers, he always enjoys giving them the insights about high quality furniture that people tend to throw away. Spreading the awareness for knowing how to spot a high quality piece of furniture compared to one which hasn’t been made with love and care is one of Mark’s favourite things to do, and allowing customers to view the highest quality antique furniture fills Mark with so much joy.
Buying Furniture that comes with History
One of the best things about antiques and antique furniture is that each piece comes with history and a story. No antique furniture is the same, so what may mean nothing to someone probably means a lot to someone else. It’s all about preference in designs and styles, and what is the point in buying furniture for your home if you don’t love it?
Finding items for the home and styling with antiques allows you to display items that mean something to you, for example if you love Napoleon memorabilia and you discover a Rare Ship Wrights Box that was on board during the battle of Trafalgar this would mean so much to that person and that is what iacf antiques fairs are all about, getting those items in front of the right people.
You can find Mark Seabrook and his stunning antique furniture at our upcoming antiques fairs, simply browse our 2022 antiques fairs dates to find an event near you today.