One place to start is the Cotswolds Art and Antiques Dealers’ Association 40th Anniversary Online Exhibition (November 12-December 31), which offers viewers a chance to electronically ‘meet’ 30 of its members.
Offering everything from Canaletto and Chippendale to Lowry and longcase clocks, most participants are seasoned online sellers and feature in the catalogue a selection of three objects a piece that are quintessential examples of their stock.
For campaign furniture dealership Christopher Clarke, for example, the selection includes a high-quality mahogany ship’s chair with a swivelling seat, removeable cushion and strong carving of acanthus leaves to the arms. Like many of the items the business offers, says dealer Sean Clarke, it features wonderful design with an eye to practicality and a link to a distinct type of user in history.
Clarke estimates that around 75-80% of his trade is conducted online and he appeals to visitors to the website by making his passion for, and knowledge of, the field evident in the cataloguing.
As a rule, he adds, “buyers should not avoid purchasing objects over a certain value online. But they should have an idea of who they are buying from.” Generally, once a purchase goes well, he says, trust is established between parties and it is possible to build a relationship, even remotely.
“I have Face-Timed with clients from overseas and walked them around the shop so they could get a closer look at the handle of an object or the surface of different woods. That got them excited about the shop and has led to them visiting in person,” Clarke says.
While the CADA show is predicated on online shopping, it is also aimed at raising awareness of the Cotswolds, which organisers stress is “home to the largest concentration of art and antiques dealers outside London”. CADA chair Alex Puddy organised the exhibition and calls it a “first”, adding: “This online exhibition represents, in our profession, a fresh and modern approach to presenting fine art and antiques.”
“Buyers should not avoid purchasing objects over a certain value online – but they should have an idea of who they are buying from
It is also a chance to catch a glimpse of the personalities behind the stock. Each dealer is allotted a page-long interview in the catalogue, covering their history, their outside interests (which among them include kick-boxing, acupuncture, Arctic exploration and spoon carving) as well as tips for new collectors.
Visitors will be linked directly to the dealers’ websites by clicking on the objects pictured.
For English pottery dealer John Howard, objects include a c.1700 slipware dish and a c.1685 English Delftware charger, representing two of his specialist areas, and a saltglaze stoneware bear jug reflecting his enthusiasm for pottery figures.
“I’ve been in the trade for 45 years and these represent where I am today. I try to buy the best and rarest example I can find, and for this show I tried to choose pieces that reflect what we do and what we are known for,” says Howard.
He estimates that about 80% of his business is online, and although he stresses that nothing really replaces seeing items in person, his clients are now a mix of those who met him and then bought from him online and those who found his website first. Since the majority of his clients are from the US, it has long been a welcome outlet.
Fellow English pottery specialist Andrew Dando trades exclusively on the web (he has an online exhibition of his own opening on December 1). For his selection he went for pieces “that were bold images, something that would jump out of the page”.
Among these is a 19th century English porcelain jug with a coaching scene. The coach is inscribed Robert Hadley and the initials RH also appear, suggesting that it may have been made as a presentation piece marking Hadley’s anniversary or retirement.
Elsewhere, David Harvey of WR Harvey Antiques offers a Chippendale period architect’s table and other pieces of English furniture. For him, the online show is a chance to get the name of both his business and the association out to a wider audience.
“Quality is always what people want and the dealers of CADA are of good standing and importance,” he says. “It is always good for clients to establish a relationship with a dealer – but this can start with just a phone call. Dealing online is an ideal way of getting the pieces to the people.”