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Fragile Box

Buying and 

                                 Selling Antiques Online

                                       Updated Nov 2023


We seem to be purchasing more and more online these days, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are some nice things out there, and some great prices. We may also be tempted to sell our items on to others. But how easy is all of this, and is there something we can do to ensure the process is a smooth one? Online transactions can be easy, while some are fraught with difficulties. This is due to the fact that, as buyers, we are not present to actually see, hear and feel that item. Both buyer and seller can run into complexities they never dreamed of. Here are a few brief pointers for online buyers and sellers.

BUYING: a few years ago, I purchased a bicycle from a well-known internet selling site for use in our "Stamford in Bloom" event at Hoptroff & Lee. The previous summer I had done exactly the same, the bike arriving on the train, and wheeled straight into my garden from the courier's van. The next bike was not as straight forward! It arrived in a large box having first been dismantled by the seller into several constituent parts. How this was done I will never know as it was a very old bike and one look at the spanner would have made it fall apart. Whatever had happened between pressing the purchase button and subsequent delivery, the fact remained that it was now not the item I had seen in the images, furthermore it was in a much poorer state than was described and fit for nothing but the tip!  It had been described to me as a perfectly good bicycle needing some TLC. It brought to mind a group of men who sawed off the legs of a priceless Hepplewhite table so that the buyer could fit it in his truck! (an episode from "Tales of the Unexpected"). I am not suggesting that a seller would dismantle a good piece of furniture for example, but it just goes to show how important a good description and images actually are. The description was sparse, the photos not sharp, I should have asked more questions and demanded clearer images. Not all couriers take bicycles without a box, another point I needed to pursue.

As a buyer, expect to find a clear description and several clear photos, including ones showing damage, however small. Judge the seller on whether they respond to your questions and are willing to submit further images. After all, it is a simple enough task. If they cannot be bothered, pass them by. 

Eye test, anyone?! For some online sellers, an eye test is long overdue! So many sellers apparently fail to notice anomalies in their listed items and I, personally, have been caught up in this. Obviously, some people just try to trick you, think you won't notice or won't bother to return the item, but some individuals just cannot see clearly, it's a fact taken from my former career in Ophthalmology! 

I purchased a collectable set of porcelain cockerels online and when they arrived the tail on each one had been broken and re-glued. It was a good repair but not a restoration and the crack lines were quite visible. The items had been described to me as "perfect". When I informed the seller he refused to believe me and accused me of breaking the items myself and then repairing them before returning them to him. Following  several days of (his) anger, he went quiet. I thought he had either died or his wife had informed him that she had broken and mended them in 1958! Or maybe this was just the result of the online selling site dealing with my complaint about abuse. This seller had poor eye sight causing both of us a lot of aggravation, and leaving him with a financial loss when he was ordered to take the items back for a full refund!


SELLING: all of the above applies to you as a seller. When listing an item for sale online, ensure you are including the full details, not just the bare essentials. No time? Tough! You want to sell the items don't you? You want a satisfied customer don't you? What is this item really like? Where did it come from? How old is it? What markings are on the base? What is the actual condition? What size is it? How will it be mailed? This applies to every item you list. You MUST tell the buyer what they need to know, not just what you want to tell them. This is in accordance with Distance Selling Regulations, in other words, it's the law. On Ebay for example, the buyer is very well protected by this, but they come down hard on the seller on occasions so watch out! Don't try to fool your buyer either as a shrewd individual will make sure you get the item right back! At your expense too!

On a practical note I would say don't buy or sell items in the late evening when you are tired because you will miss/omit details and make mistakes!

Packaging is very important and I, personally, am more likely to buy from someone who actually states that they view packaging as important. I received a pair of expensive china dogs on one occasion wrapped only in an old towel and rattling about in a large box. Needless to say they were both broken causing disappointment, more work, time and expense. Fragile items, and items you particularly value, will not survive the post or courier if they are not properly packaged so always use a box as opposed to loose packaging. In cases of china and glass, use a double box, no matter what the cost, get the item there safely because it will cost you more in the long run. There are videos on Youtube that teach you how to pack a parcel and are very informative. I stood behind a woman in the post office  who was querying the sufficiency of her own packaging of a pair of shoes. The post mistress stated that it "looked fine". Except that it clearly wasn't fine. It was a thin bag taped at one end and clearly revealing the tip of a shoe. The very weight of a pair of outdoor shoes is going to cause a problem, let alone fragile packaging. They were clearly not going to reach their destination.  All you need to do is watch the TV documentaries about how parcels get thrown around in the course of being delivered to know that packaging has to be more than adequate.  Pack it tight with plenty of packing material and ensure it does not move inside the box. 


Good luck!


Image by tanvi sharma

Keep your plastic in its place! 

December 2022

Recently we have tried to decrease the amount of plastic items available for sale. Many pieces manufactured during the late 20th century and later have at least one plastic component in their structure so it is inevitable that these items will still be found and sold in large numbers. These pieces are OK to purchase. It is the use, including the disposal of the items, by the purchaser, that needs to be given particular consideration.

Plastic was put into mass production after the second world war, reaching its height of popularity during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s, single-use plastic was among the many forms of this material that revolutionised our lives. These days there is a drive to reduce the amount of plastic we use, and quite rightly so when we hear that it is one of the greatest threats facing our planet! Plastic takes a long time to break down and it is finding its way into the oceans and other water courses in both macro and micro forms having a devastating effect of wildlife. Plastic gets into the food chain and also releases, during breakdown, chemicals and toxins causing cancers and neurodevelopment disorders in humans.


Recycling of plastics has some way to go so we must be extra careful about how we use these items. Keep your plastic items and use them over and over again, or recycle them by passing them on to others. Don't just dump your things in your dustbin hoping for the best because they will almost certainly go to landfill and you will be adding to the environmental problems for sure. When you do have to tip plastic items please ensure you get the correct advice and always tip at a Council site. This will also apply to the packaging of your item when you buy it.


At Hoptroff & Lee we use recycled bags and bubble wrap that have usually been donated to us. It is not always bio degradable so please ensure you reuse it or tip it responsibly.

For the future we are aiming to use other forms of wrapping including bio degradable products.


Spirit Levels

Collecting Tools 

July 2023


Vintage and antique tools are a popular and growing field in the collecting world. It is easy to collect old tools, they can be found everywhere including auctions, flea markets, car boot sales, charity shops and internet sites like Ebay. These are all good places to start. You can expect to find bargains for just a few pounds, or you can pay thousands of pounds for some pieces like a rare Norris plane, so there's something for every budget.


Tools are often collected by craftsmen themselves who still use them, old tools were very well made and looked after and they function better than their modern counterparts. So the craftsman or woman can rarely pass up the chance to add to their collection!

Other collectors just look for rare examples for their aesthetic qualities and manufacturer's history, and would perhaps never use the tools they find. There is also a growing trend for people to collect old tools for decoration: old beech planes make great doorstops, and interesting farming and agricultural tools look good on a wall as a rustic feature, making an interesting talking point. So tools make great home decor!


Tools come in all types and from different trades, but whichever your preference a good guide is to look for interesting features: ornate decoration, brass and hardwood fittings and handles, Sheffield steel blades etc. These are all signs of good quality. Planes for example can be hardwood such as beech or steel, and can be for moulding, grooving, combination, rebate or smoothing. Makers such as Stanley, Lie-Nielson, Mathieson and Norris are all great finds.

Chisels are another popular choice to add to a collection, and turned wooden handles and specialty curved blades are all good points. Makers like Marples, Ward, Sorby, Henry Taylor, Addiss and Isles are quality makers to look out for.

As your collection builds you will find many interesting items from rosewood and brass spirit levels to leather-bound tape measures. Even when you have been collecting for a while you will have tools you do not know the use of but that's all part of the fun of collecting and researching!

At Hoptroff & Lee we love old tools and always have a selection of carpentry and seasonal gardening/farming tools available. So if you are just starting a collection, buying or selling we are always happy to help and talk tools!

Caithness Jewellery 


Updated December 2022

I was introduced to Caithness jewellery early in my life when I worked as a Saturday girl, aged 13, in a gift shop! The shop owner impressed upon me the quality of these pieces and she was right because they still carry that quality today and the earlier pieces particularly are much sought-after by collectors.

The Caithness company is better known for its desk paperweights and other glass products, some of which fetch very high prices indeed. You can be a slave to Caithness because their designs are all so beautiful and so varied. So, too, with the jewellery. Each piece has a Sterling silver setting with a miniature glass paperweight at its centre, known as the "stone". Its secret lies not only in the fabulous detail of the mini glass cane millefiori paperweights, but in the fact that every single piece of item of jewellery is hallmarked silver, that's a full British hallmark issued by a British assay office. Due to the addition of the hallmark the pieces are considered true Sterling silver and can carry a good price. Add to this the choice of all types of popular jewellery pieces in a variety of designs from different artists and you can see the quality shining through! The official launch of this range was in 1970 and you will find hallmarked pieces throughout this decade, falling well into the vintage range today. The designs are now very retro being Celtic and Modernist and with a 1970s vibe.

Paul Ysart is a name associated with Caithness and indeed Paul had experimented with the creation of paperweight jewellery. Together with other designers he created the first pieces from around 1968 to 1970. Many pieces for sale today in online stores are attributed to this artist but Paul was with the company from 1963 to 1970 so only these very early pieces can be attributed to him, and they appear to be quite rare. Here, I should advise you to always check the hallmark of the piece of jewellery to ascertain the possible artist. Colin Terris was a later designer while MacBeath, Thomson, Holmes and Deacons are names associated with making the glass stones. It is worth mentioning that the maker's initials may not appear on the jewellery, sometimes just the initials CJ for Caithness Jewellery. 

When you are buying Caithness jewellery be sure to check the above details on the silver settings and also the clarity of the glass stones as many of the jewellery pieces will have been worn and will show signs of use.

What is tobacciana? 

Updated July 2023

Tobacciana refers to tobacco and smoking bygones. Many people are fascinated by these items as fun collectables! True tobacco bygones can bring back nostalgic memories of Dad in front of the fire with a pipe, novelty cigarette dispensers or popping to the corner shop for the household tobacco supplies. Most people smoked in the mid 20th century, you see it in old films of the era, on vintage posters and in magazines. As children, we had sweet cigarettes, sweet tobacco, chocolate smoking outfits, and some of this confectionary also provided tantalising colourful cards to collect. This is why there were so many smoking-related items manufactured and why we still see them surviving today.

Cigarette dispensers, the type with the little bird or other figure that picks up the cigarette still fetch high prices if they are rare. If they're damaged or advertise themselves as a souvenir,  this lowers their value. They were probably cheap, mass-produced items and the word "novelty" says it all. They were fun and still are if you can find them. 


Some of the large decorative Meerschaum pipes featuring faces or animal heads are much sought after, and we are now paying small fortunes for pipe rests, cigar ashtrays, and smoker's cabinets, particularly those bearing famous names. Cigarette lighters are very collectable, especially the older novelty ones. If they are in their original packaging, all the better, especially if they carry a famous name like Ronson and Colibri, for example. Cigarette cases were mass-produced in the standard base metal, with many more painted, enamelled, jewelled, shell-coated, lacquered, looking like bank notes and maps! Value is determined by condition and rarity, and those all-important brand names! Other than the really well-known names, some of which had integral lighters, the popular names on cases include Tremblay, now scarce,  with Leatherlite, Har Bro, Tallent, Sylvacrome and Emu possibly being the cheaper brands, but fine examples all the same. People have many alternative uses for cigarette cases now: display, jewellery boxes, credit card holders and photo stores.

Small brass items, like animals for example, standing on a flat round base were most often made as pipe tampers, a decorative form of the tool used to push the tobacco down into a pipe. The familiar brass fly with lift-up wings or tortoise with hinged shell lid were home decoration items which doubled as ash trays, keeping cigarette ash out of sight. Some of these incorporated a match striker beneath the lid. Today they are known affectionately as trinket boxes and used as such. Look out for a variety of little metal and porcelain pots which were manufactured as decorative spill holders, spills being twists of paper used to light your pipe or cigarette. We should also remember the vesta case, a match holder with integral striker, because these are one of the most fascinating items in the vintage and antique tobacciana range. They would have been fastened to your watch chain or kept in your pocket. They came in a variety of decorative shapes including moon faces and animals, although there are now many modern copies. They may be base or precious metal. Any of these in good order are highly collectable and the silver and gold varieties fetch big prices.


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Caring for your items

Vintage and Antique items are old, so signs of age and wear are inevitable, so try to keep them in the best condition you can by cleaning your items the correct way. Normal age-related wear will happen naturally through use or inadequate/lengthy storage. In addition, materials just deteriorate with age whatever you do with them. Due to this, items may have a shorter lifespan, so they need gentle treatment and should not be expected to do everything they once did.

Ideally, your collectable will be positioned out of direct sunlight or any fierce heat source. This preserves colour, veneers and surfaces.

Immersion in water over several minutes, either hot or cold, is a no-no as this can cause glaze crackle and other surface alteration. It warps wood and lifts gilding. If you need to wash ceramics, like pots, the choice is to either wipe over with a damp cloth or wash very gently in water that is not too warm. Be quick and get the item dried off as soon as possible. Using a cloth is preferable to an abrasive pad. Of course, it goes without saying that the dishwasher really is one to avoid for your antique dishes, glassware and cutlery!

Water should never be used on these items:

*Mercury glass Christmas tree baubles: you will lose any delicate colour

*Face powder compacts: they rust, and water gets into the mirror

*Metal items of any kind: they will rust

Dealers will tell you that harsh cleaning chemicals are to be avoided but there are some gentler alternatives: a small amount of washing-up liquid for example will not usually harm glazed porcelain, whereas a powerful kitchen cleaner will probably damage most antique materials. A proprietary brass, copper or silver cleaner of a trusted make is perfect for cleaning these metals, whereas a gritty abrasive chemical will potentially ruin shiny surfaces, sometimes leaving a dull bloom and scratching. Often we reach for the nail polish remover to get rid of sticky patches left by labels and tape. This is a harsh choice for plastics, metals, veneers, melamine and varnishes as it instantly melts the adhesive, spreads it and leaves an opaque scratched surface. For wooden surfaces, advice must be taken on cleaning materials as sometimes only beeswax polish will do, and at other times you may do well to leave the wood untouched except for a light dusting. Always ask your antiques dealer or a trusted hardware store. Metal also requires advice regarding cleaning. Old tools for example and other metal items like a Godin stove tend to respond well to a gentle working of wire wool followed by a coating of oil.

Safety first! Today's cooking appliances are more efficient than in the past, now having a greater choice of hob surfaces, flame settings etc. Ovens are generally fiercer and reach higher degrees of heat, and of course our microwave ovens work quite differently to the old stove or cooker. Caution must be taken with all kitchen gadgets such as a vintage percolator, antique copper saucepan set, or stove kettle originally made for the appliances of the day. The same applies to pie funnels and oven proof dishes, always use carefully or display your pieces rather than use them. Ceramic jelly moulds and teapots should also be tested carefully with boiling water, although these are often bought for display and teapots particularly can be used for dispensing cooler liquids.

Alternative uses for antique and vintage items 


Face Powder Compacts 

Compacts are fascinating things and mirror compacts (without the powder tray) are still being manufactured today. Nothing beats those face powder compacts of the past, that chic stylish little ornament that you slipped out of your handbag to powder your nose anytime, any place, anywhere! They were made in all sizes and designs, and not just round and square but in the shape of pianos, globes, hands and watch faces, to name but a few. They were pretty, stylish, neatly petite, ludicrously garish, and tatty towards the end due to excessive use! Many still survive intact, some completely unused, and that's why I advise looking out for a bargain while they are still around.

 Of course, make-up has changed and we rarely see anyone powdering their nose in public anymore, but compacts make great display items and can be used as solid perfume holders  and trinket boxes. Youtube and Google are littered with information about compacts from dating your cosmetic holders to refilling them, so you won't be short of a good read, but here are a few basic facts. 


Good British names, like Stratton and Kigu, manufactured great quality compacts using the top materials. These pieces are usually of good weight with a sound lid enamel; of course, their overall appearance will depend upon how they have been treated by the owner. Long term storage in a damp place, like the attic, has ruined many a good compact by causing "foxing" or mistiness of the mirror inside. It also makes the foam puffs deteriorate leaving a real sticky mess. 


The date of the compact can be told, roughly, by the engine-turned pattern on the base, for eg., concentric rings and stars were used in the 1960s and 1970s, and a hatched pattern came later in the 1980s. The earliest compacts dating back to the 1920s had steel mirrors and were for loose powder with the creme puff solid powder coming along in the late 1950s. You can tell if your compact is for loose or solid powder by its appearance inside. 

The loose powder compact has two special things: a powder sifter like a thin gauze circle, and an inner metal lid. You put your loose powder in the powder well (bottom of the compact) with the powder sifter on top and close the solid metal inner lid down on top and your powder puff on top of that. This is all designed to keep your powder in place and also keeping it in a pristine compressed state. Opening the inner lid is a stroke of genius in the case of Stratton who invented the self-opening (inner) lid. Just extend the main outer lid of the compact back very carefully beyond the vertical, and the inner lid pops open, fasten it in place again manually by bringing the lid forward again and pressing down the inner lid until you hear the click of the little clasp. 

 A convertible compact is one that takes both solid and loose powder depending on your preference. This type of compact has an open powder well into which you put a solid creme puff powder insert in its own metal tray. It will just sit in place quite firmly until empty. Some creme puff compacts have a tiny hole in the base to insert a pencil point and poke out the used tray from the underside. The convertible compact will, in addition, have a deeper style of powder sifter with a plastic edge. When you want to use loose powder, just use the sifter as before. Then (in some quality compacts) there is an additional open metal ring which closes down on top to keep the sifter in place. The puff goes on top of this. 

Collectors pieces are the unusual shapes and designs plus the limited editions, but whatever shape it is your compact is best with all of its parts intact, including its outer packaging, and of course the clear display of a good name. You can get replacements on certain websites for sifters, puffs etc.  Chemists and pharmacies sell some nice-looking powder puff replacements too. 

Compacts make sweet little gifts like thank yous at weddings, and collectors pressies. Every girlie girl will love a pretty compact! Look out for all types of vintage compacts but also for the collector's pieces of the future like Estee Lauder solid perfume compacts in the shapes of animals. Avon is also good at producing some unusual bits, and selected compact mirrors are also becoming collectable. 


Clay Bottles

Roll out the barrel! What exactly is Breweriana? 

The word Breweriana explains its meaning to some extent but is a little colloquial! It basically means collectables from the world of the brewery, pub, inn or bar. Barware is an alternative word. I have to admit I love these types of collectables and have many in my own retro bar (another colloquialism!) You, too, can have a bar by exploring the many different items under this broad heading. With the advent of the covered outside bar area (heated in winter!) becoming the popular spot for a lively cocktail party, barware has become THE thing to explore and gather. At Hoptroff & Lee, breweriana is amongst the most popular things we sell. 

GLASSES: Consider vintage branded drinking glasses, a great addition to any bar. Remember they don't make them with the old nostalgic names anymore, well not the ones you remember when you had your first drink! They are all very different-looking these days and its just nice to possess and use the old ones! Firstly the Babycham glass. Really sought after, especially at Christmas for celebratory champagne parties. These glasses with their iconic "saucer" shape have a variety of logos on the foot and the side of the glass. The white fawn logo usually indicates the 1950s, one of the earliest Babycham glasses. The yellow fawn with the blue bow, prancing left is around the 1970 mark. Other fawns prancing right will most likely be the 1960s when the drink, often considered to be a lady's beverage, was in full swing. Then there are some later logos like the fawn in the top hat, on a Martini shaped glass, these are the Millenium collectables, limited edition 2000. Stem shape also makes a difference, with the hexagonal versions being present on the white fawn glasses of the 1950s. So there's lots to look for. 

All of these glasses are highly collectable and fetch a lot of money if they are in great condition or boxed. Guinness has a huge amount of collectables, including glasses in all shapes and sizes. The earlier ones plus the early merchandise generally, bottle and labels, are very collectable, and the glasses from the 1970s with the handles, and stems, are very desirable. For Guinness, it's best to join a specialist collector's club to get to know the ins and outs of all of the merchandise over the years and you can chat and ask questions if you are a member. There's a lot of fakes out there so when you are purchasing the old bar figures, often made by Wade or Carltonware, you need to know your stuff, so join a club now, it's often quite reasonable in price and you learn a lot.

BAR FONTS/LIGHTS: read my previous blogs on safety when buying electrical items as bar fonts feature a lot in this area. These are great to own.

BAR TOP ADVERTISING FIGURES: again, read my previous blogs about fakes and buy these items from reputable dealers only. These items are SO nostalgic, and from a more relaxed era. Take the Booth's Gin red lion or the Gordon's Gin glass boar head. Very stylish and great home bar decor. You will pay a bit extra for these as there's so few around now that are intact, but they are well worth it. Babycham again...great bambis or fawns, whatever you like to call them, they are in all different poses depending on the year/decade. See my blog (coming soon) about Babycham. 

DECANTERS and LABELS: porcelain decanters are great fun. They come in so many different shapes and sizes. I especially like the Sandeman Port Don in his black cloak and hat. Did you know that he can be "glass in left hand" or "glass in right hand"? Important to the collector.  Also important is the colour because sometimes the Sandeman Don is all in white, known as " Moonstone", and he is the rarer one, although not necessarily the most popular. Small or large, decanters come in the shapes of eagles, drunks, dogs, cats, woodpeckers, and many more. The Famous  Grouse and Dubonnet animals have taken a particularly high price hike! I am no expert when it comes to the crystal variety but these can be researched online. I do know that there are some very attractive pressed glass decanters which enhance any decanted drink. These are often very low in price and are an attractive addition to your party. Don't forget your decanter labels: so many different ones to choose from. Porcelain, base metals and silver designs are among the countless decorative designs. Those bearing the name of unusual drinks like "Hollands", 

"Madeira" or "Drambuie" are those fetching good money as they are rarer. Slip the little chains over your decanter (or bottle) for a great drinks trolley display!



Defining Antiques, vintage and retro


We are often faced with those confusing terms "antique", "vintage" and "retro", which attract a variety of definitions depending upon who is using them and at what time in history. When you take a look on Pinterest, items on "retro" boards suggest anything from the 1960s to 1980s. But the word has also come to encompass new items that look like the original, so perhaps we should change that "t" for a "p" as in repro!  

Vintage has become a buzzword for anything remotely old, including cars and clothes! On Ebay, sellers insert the word "vintage" in a listing for any item that is "used" and may only be a few days old. Most websites and shops of any calibre, including Etsy, and Hoptroff & Lee of course, will insist that vintage means a minimum of 20 years of age. For true vintage lovers, the word vintage roughly means the 1940s to the 1960s. This suggests that the 1970s and 1980s are not really falling into any camp, which brings us back to the word "retro" again. Personally, I think that's where the 1970s sits at the present, although time and fashion will probably change it. True retro, in my own opinion comprises the stylish items of the whole 1970s decade: remember Tupperware and Pyrex? Some of the designs are unequalled. If you are familiar with Gaydon Argosy (melamine), you will adore the different colours in their harlequin tea set. Arcopal had some great glass ware designs. Carlton Ware was very popular both for its style, functionality and price. Carlton Ware money boxes are now very collectable, as is Caithness jewellery, and the work of designers such as John Clappison (Hornsea pottery), Jessie Tait (Midwinter) and the designers at the former Briglin Pottery. For me, the 1980s isn't old enough to be in any category just yet but it has its followers.

Lastly "Antique". Also a debatable term. Antiques dealers, and this includes the experts on the various TV antique shows, say that an antique has to be in excess of 100 years old to qualify, and they can be pretty serious about it. The terms "Quality", "True" and "High-end" antiques, making a further division in the definitions! 

One thing that's useful to know is that if you see a sign for an antiques shop you must remember that this is a very fluid term in today's market. The shop may contain items that some will consider vintage, collectables or retro! 

STOP! Before you throw out that old stuff that apparently has no use, think again. It's "on trend" now to use things for different purposes than they were originally intended! There's a lot of people finding themselves having to clear their parents homes and just don't know what to do with everything that has accumulated. The best thing to do in this case is to hand it all over to a sale room, ensuring you check the costs beforehand of course. But wait...some of those lovely items can be used again...this is real recycling, or even upcycling if you make it into something else completely. Here are a few ideas that you can try, or buy, from Hoptroff & Lee!


Retro and vintage drinking glasses: are really popular again with the advent of the vintage home cocktail bar and the Man Cave. Babycham glasses, liqueur and Martini glasses have become all the rage. Use them for champagne cocktails and Prosecco parties. Retro drinks like sherry, gin and tonic, Martini with olives, are all back in vogue. For home decor use your glasses as tee-light holders arranged on a dresser or outside in the garden.

Quirky planters for the garden, house or conservatory: almost anything can be used as a funky plant holder. Here's a few examples: baskets, copper and brass buckets,  chimney pots, enamel bowls and buckets, oyster bins, plant stands, church style flower holders, old lamp bases and stools, old garden ornaments, shells, old garden implements, milk churns, bread bins, samovars, tyres, sinks, dolly tubs all make great planters. All you need is a little imagination.

Cigarette Cases and Compacts: in the U.S., cigarette cases are used as photo stores, photo display for your desk and as business card holders. They are a stylish way of impressing your clients, something out of the ordinary. Compacts, the old face powder holders from the 1950s/1960s, can be used for their original purpose and you can still find powder inserts for certain makes, but as make-up has changed so much, they can be used as pill holders and earring stores. One of these in your evening bag makes you feel special and will be admired by many. In this age of reenactment, compacts really come into their own, along with preloved evening purses and vintage clothes. 

Crates: we sold so many apple crates one year, it was fascinating to hear what people were doing with them. One of the ideas is storage, but not just a stacking box system. Apparently they make good bedside cabinets and side tables! They can be left bare or painted and placed on end they provide storage inside for books or a lamp as a light source. See image left for another idea.

Suitcases: vintage suitcases are still on-trend for storage, mainly stacked for effect with the larger ones, like trunks, used as coffee tables. Brides acquire the smaller cases to store their wedding cards and other memorabilia. Cases of all sizes make funky cat and dog beds!

Ladders are still in demand as chic towel holders in the bathroom and rustic plant pot organisers in the garden. This summer it was the turn of the "auricula theatre"! Staying on the subject of wood, old furniture is now taking a new lease of life in the garden: a chest of drawers, or even just the odd drawer are now acting as containers for growing herbs and bulbs. Old chairs are going the same way, as you will see from the Stamford in Bloom examples around town.

Tools: vintage wooden planes and similar tools are being made into lamps by adding a squirrel bulb at one end to create a funky piece of home decor. Almost anything can be made into a lamp (by a qualified electrician) or a coffee table. This is true an item a new lease of life and saving the environment from senseless waste.

Birdcages: very few of us keep caged birds these days, so use a vintage bird cage as a display in the garden, hanging in a tree with fairy lights, or indoors with silk birds and flowers. Very on-trend! Or remove the base and use as a chic garden cloche. Some of the retro 1970s cages look great with church candles inside. Wedding receptions are also a good place to display an amount of birdcages with candles and flowers.

Crafty ideas: little tins and boxes are great for creating miniature worlds! Decorate the tins on the inside with a theme that corresponds with the vintage lid, like bicycles inside a puncture repair tin. Make them into keepsakes and gifts, decoupage or paint them, or leave them empty for trinkets. Altered art is popular in the U.S. Take an old camera or alarm clock and customise it! Add new surfaces, legs, a head maybe, anything that comes to mind!

Antiques on TV 


Why TV programmes about the purchase of antiques do not reflect real life! 

Lots of customers like to try their hand at bartering for a lower price on shop items often citing their TV viewing as a good reason for doing so, but please beware....the recent spate of TV programmes showing experts "knocking down" the cost by as much as 70% or 80% is an exceptional scenario. TV companies are in the business of making good television and are therefore responsible for some shocking, and sometimes mythical, events. The media is of course a strong motivator and gets us all thinking we can do the same. Unfortunately it only raises our expectations and puts things further out of our reach.

Most dealers cannot afford to drop their prices as low as we are lead to believe. At Hoptroff & Lee, we have been filmed for "Antiques Road Trip" and we can affirm that everything is rehearsed with agreements made beforehand with the shop owners. There's no true bartering, no tricks, no doing-down of traders! The BBC for definite are not in the business of putting traders on the spot, or putting them out of business!

In conclusion, if you think it's worth it, pay the price on the tag or at least don't expect unrealistic discounts. Traders will have their ideal fixed percentage.

Know your silver hallmarks

Updated November 2023

How do I tell if it's real silver? Precious metals like silver may or may not have hallmarks. Not having them makes life a little difficult, and doubt sets in. Having hallmarks gives an age and authenticity to the piece. An assay office is responsible for the stamping of Hallmarks into the metal, and there are various assay offices across the country. In the past there were more offices which are now obsolete but their stamps are obviously still seen on silver. Until 1998, there were 4 compulsory marks including a fineness standard (lion passant), a date letter (there are lots of different styles of letter used, so choose the correct one when searching), the symbol of the assay office used, and the initials of the maker. The silver marks can be researched by looking at any relevant book or internet site. Learn the standard ones if you want to collect silver, or know where to find the correct information. It's a good start. Carry a hand-lens or loupe with you, they are inexpensive to buy, and your book on hallmarks (you can obtain mini-guides). Ask to look at pieces in cabinets and don't be afraid to take your time looking closely and saying if you cannot recognise something. Some hallmarks are worn, cut through, or unclear due to dirt. Prices may need to reflect this depending on the item, so be clear on what you are paying for. Electro-plated Nickel silver or EPNS is not an assayed metal, and just to confuse us sometimes has a set of false hallmarks, all above board for EPNS, but just symbols which do not pertain to much. Silver-plate is as it says, a silver-plated coating over another base metal. This can tarnish or wear off. EPNS is a sort of silver plate. So don't be fooled or get excited by what looks like silver, study the metals carefully. Modern silver, and mass-produced pieces of jewellery, will just be stamped 925 which is the percentage of silver content. (Sterling Silver is 9.25%). It may also be coated to make it shine more, so don't be tempted to clean it in the usual way.


Hoptroff & Lee 2023

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