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The 16th survey conducted by the British Antique Dealers’ Association was returned by more than half (52%) of the 400 members, including top names from the cream of the British trade such as Eskenazi, Richard Green, Mallett and SJ Phillips.

Overall the number of BADA dealers experiencing an increase in turnover during 2004 grew in comparison to the previous year (up from a mere 19% to 27%) while the number of members who suffered a decline also fell (from 55% to 47%). However, a less positive spin on the statistics is that again half of the UK’s top dealers found business even worse in 2004 than they had in a poor 2003. Spot checks were made with Companies House to check the accuracy of the information.

No great long-term changes are discernible by region, but BADA dealers in Greater London experienced some of last year’s greatest gains and the greatest decreases – 27% were up, but 53% were down – and dealers in the South West were worst hit, with 78% of respondents reporting a fall in turnover. Furniture dealers were among those badly affected and contributed to the 7% decline in the combined annual turnover of BADA members on the figure reported in 2003.

Nevertheless, at £658m, this sum remains impressive and BADA believe it is a greater sum than the annual turnover of any of the large UK auctioneers.

The positive impact of special exhibitions was among the more encouraging findings.

Interestingly 41% of BADA members now hold specialist exhibitions on their premises as a means of bolstering income (accounting for an estimated 7% of total sales) with 82% of such dealers saying the extra effort does have a significant impact on their bottom line.

Shops and galleries still remain the most important point of sale (accounting for 59% of total sales) but this represents a substantial decline from 2002 where 59% of business was done through traditional outlets. A quarter of business is done through fairs (at which 75% of members exhibit) with overseas events (23%) increasing in importance every year.

Indeed the export market remains key to the UK’s leading dealers. Although the problems in this area are well documented – and overall figures are down – an estimated 53% of all sales in 2003 were destined overseas, many of them (32% of total sales) travelling to the United States.

Although many dealers now have a presence on the web, internet sales – once the great hope of the antiques trade – remain a minor force at just 3%.