04 November 2015

This gets my heart racing.

Calypso is very well, thank you to all who have asked.

This will be a real quickie, because as I type I’m supposed to be 1) preparing some furniture for Collectorama, and 2) writing a book.

So what am I doing?  Cybering to you, of course. 

How dare you secretly think Procrastination Princess.  I’ll have you know I’m the Procrastination Queen. 

And anyway, it doesn’t count as procrastination if it’s something you really have to give priority to.  And letting you know about Collectorama is important, right?

If you’re planning on coming, it’s on Saturday 7 November 2015, 7am -2pm.  I have been painting up a storm to get a bunch of distressed furniture ready to offer.  I’m pleased with my efforts, so we’ll see if the public agrees.

I’ve included pictures of some French cafĂ© chairs I’ve worked on, which are much more distressed looking than they appear in these photos.  Two in blue, two in red that are c1970 ($45 each) and one in a lovely pale green eau-de-nil colour that is c1960 (also $45).   

Plus I’ve got some Art Deco shelves which I hope will be well received.  At the last Fair my Deco shelves were snapped up, and I could have sold them several times, so hopefully these shelves will be equally sought-after.

I’m also offering a painted metal vegetable storage bin, a cool retro stool with a wooden seat, five genuine Austrian Thonet chairs in original vintage condition (yes, that's a very good brand), and a few other nice things.  All will be revealed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to attend an antiquities auction in Brisbane recently, and it was a lot of fun.  These types of auctions don’t occur in Australia very often, and this one wasn’t advertised – you just had to know someone who knew someone.

And yet a whole lot of people knew someone, because the room was packed.  People had flown up from Sydney to attend.  I only found out about it because I received an email from one of my British antiquities contacts.  And then I unexpectedly ran into the auctioneer so I had the chance to ask lots of questions about the event.  It sounded fascinating, so naturally I had to go to have a look.   

It costs nothing to look, right?

A few hundred people attended the auction – how did they all find out about it?  I’d say it was evenly split between collectors and dealers, and boy there was some serious money in the room.  The pieces were part of the estate of a senior Australian diplomat, and during his career he had postings all over the world.    

On offer were incredibly good – clear and intact - American fish fossils, large trilobites and ammonites, ancient samurai swords, seriously old rifles from the Middle East with inlay and engraving, lovely Roman pots and Egyptian artifacts including ushabtis with a lovely turquoise glaze, and very old and rare leather-bound French books.  Also available was a very old metal Buddha head, although his topknot was missing, and three pieces from Ban Chiang, the most important archaeological site in south-east Asia.

There was a whole lot I really, really wanted.  Unfortunately, so did everyone else in the room. 

One woman, a Sydney dealer, bought all the samurai swords.  She just wouldn’t be beaten.  No matter how high the prices went, she went higher. 
It was amusing to watch her, because she appeared to agonize over every single bid.  She would contort her face, pull down the corners of her mouth, scowl like she had a really bad belly ache, glare at all and sundry, and then bid again. 

It was quite the performance, and slowed down the process considerably.  Which was of course her intention.  I’ve attended hundreds of auctions and seen most bidding tricks, but rarely one played so blatantly.  

Sometimes, professional buyers will purposely slow down an auction, particularly when there are a lot of cashed up ‘normal people’ in the room.  That's because cashed up normal people can get over-excited, caught up in auction fever, and sometimes they can get awfully competitive and take the mere thought of losing an auction as an affront to their honor.  

It sounds bizarre, but it’s true.  I’ve seen it time and again.  All professional buyers have.  When you get a bunch of collectors, or just normal people who are bidding for themselves, caught up in the excitement of a really good auction, silly money starts getting thrown around.

Two of the Thonet cafe chairs ($120 for the 5)
So sometimes a professional buyer will use delaying tactics because it gives normal people, who are not used to auctions, a chance to calm down and realise OMG I’m bidding A LOT of money here.  And then they get totally psyched out, and stop bidding.  Then, yay the prize is yours.

It’s not a tactic that will work on other professional buyers, who know exactly what you’re up to, but it can work a treat on amateurs.   

It’s such an effective tactic that some of the big auction houses like Christies or Sotheby’s won’t let bidders play this type of game with their rivals.  Kill joys!  But this was a little auction house in Brisbane, not somewhere swish in London, and they mostly let the crowd determine how bidding progressed.  That can be a lot more fun (for the crowd), especially when professional buyers are up to their shenanigans, but it does make for slow progress.

Anyway, although she was amusing to watch her strategy only worked to an extent because other dealers were also bidding, and they weren’t swayed by her theatrics.  And yet in the end she prevailed, and carried off every single sword or sharp pointy thing on offer.  She spent tens of thousands. 

I did not.

I had my heart set of a variety of things, and I got in there and mixed it with some of the big boys in the trade, but mostly to no avail.  And I must say, even though I’ve attended hundreds of auctions, when you’re in the middle of an epic battle and you’re in with a chance, your heart rate really goes up.  Sometimes my palms get a little sweaty and my mouth goes dry.  And this is after I’ve been bidding at auction for almost 30 years.  It’s still pretty exciting.

And this time it was personal, because there were a number of things I really wanted to get my hands on, because I knew the chance was unlikely to ever come up again at a price I could remotely afford. 

Big Ban Chiang pot, broken and repaired
At one point, in the middle of a tense battle, when I had seen off all comers except one guy who just wouldn’t stop bidding no matter what Jedi mind tricks I tried on him, I whispered to Doug Look at my hands!  They were shaking. 

Fortunately, my Nemesis couldn’t see me – remember the room was packed and I was seated near the front and he was standing at the back.  Lucky I didn’t have to speak, because I think I would have just croaked.  I get nervous and excited in tense auctions as much as the next person, but I don’t recall being this nervous before.

And what was the result?  Victory!

In your face Nemesis!  Bazinga, Nemesis!  I was The Winner, Nemesis!

But not for long.

Oh yes, I might have won that battle, but he was in it for the long haul.  And he had a whole lot more money than me.  So I walked away with two of the Ban Chiang pieces (from around 1500BC, people!), one gorgeous Roman marble pot from the time of Herod (about 1BC), and a beautiful orthoceras nautiloid fossil.  I’ve included photos of my spoils – the Roman pot is in front of the Ban Chiang bowl. 

But everything else I wanted, there was no chance.  Never a hope.  When an auction’s opening bid is well above your absolute, outer extreme, now-you’re-just-being-stupid limit, that sucks.  And a bunch of stuff started exactly there.

Large Ban Chiang bowl, perfect! And Roman pot.
But what fun it was.  It reminded me just how much I enjoy buying at auction.  In fact, I’ve decided to include a few words on buying at auction in the book.

Remember I’m writing a book?  I’m approaching 100 pages so it will be ready soon.  

And when I reach that point, I shall seek all of your opinions on what the cover should look like.  I’ll present some choices, and you can let me know what you think.

I’ve already changed the working title.  It’s now The Antique Hunter’s Essential Guide to Free Travel.  I was going to use the word Shopaholic but the reality of Google searches has to be acknowledged.  And more people are likely to search for the word antiques than shopaholic.  That’s my logic.

14 orthoceras nautiloids in one fossil bed - fabulous
It’s going to be a book of two parts.  Part One will be a precise How To guide, detailing exactly what to do when planning and undertaking a buying trip, where to go, what to buy, how to ship, dealing with the bureaucracy, sensible unpacking and the selling options.  It will be for people who want to:

-      undertake full-on antiques buying trips to entirely offset the costs of the trip by selling their finds; or

-     do a partial buying trip, recouping some of the costs of the trip – sufficient that it will be the cheapest European travel they’ve ever had – but avoiding most of the work involved in selling it all once they get it home; or

-    buy a variety of lovely things for themselves, because going directly to the source can be so incredibly cheap they can make enormous savings.  And those savings can be more than the cost of their airfare, at least.  So for this option the book will be useful to talk about some seriously good buying sources, and give details on how to get it all home safely, even if you don't want to or need to offset all of the expenses involved.

Part Two of the book will be more of a Travelogue, with individual chapters on selected locations.  So far I’m calling Part Two A Closer Look.  I’m looking in some detail at the quirks and benefits of selected venues, devoting about 2000 words to each.  So Part Two will be more along the lines of the Secret Source articles I’ve been writing for the magazine Antiques & Collectables for Pleasure & Profit. 

Artemis doesn't often pose nicely for photos, but here she is.
There, that’s my plan so far.  You are the first to know.   

If you have opinions, ideas, anything at all to say, your views are welcome.  I know the comments facility on Blogspot doesn’t work if you don’t have a Google account, so feel free to email me directly at ddpalmen@yahoo.com.au.  I want this book to be informative and entertaining, so if there is something you think I should include, do tell.

Meanwhile, see you at Collectorama.

01 October 2015

I'm a Photographer, Not a Miracle Worker!

1940s Tapestry Footstool, $45

So said the lovely Kim Davies, my photographer, who had bravely taken on the unenviable task of photographing me for Indulge magazine’s contributor’s page. 

Taking a headshot, they call it in the industry.  Taking a headshot in a different life in another industry involved using someone’s head for target practice (though more often a simulated someone’s head).  In all honesty I can’t say which process I enjoyed less.  On balance, probably the photographic session.

So anyway, I shall now peer out at you from Indulge’s contributors’ page, and you’ll get the chance to judge my writing and my hair in the same package.  How good is that? 

I thought about showing you the picture now so you could get your guffawing over with and just settle down before the official publication.  But then I thought, Why humiliate myself for free?  So you can jolly well buy the magazine.  Just, please, one little thing – don’t spray bystanders with your mouthful of coffee if you’re flipping through the mag in your local coffee shop.  No good ever comes from drink-laughing.    

White cane Gothic Revival setting, c1900, $260
Notwithstanding what she had to work with, it must be said Kim the Photographer’s bedside manner could stand a little work.   

We went from the “not a miracle worker” quip, proceeded through “Oh my God that’s hideous” when reviewing photos, and finished with “we can probably use this if I crop a whole lot from your bosom”.  I do have an ample bosom, but you will be amazed at the magic of cropping. 

Meanwhile, in addition to posing a career challenge for Kim the Photographer, I have been having a bit of fun with the distressed paint effects I’ve been applying to various pieces of old furniture.

Extra large picnic basket c1940, $32
Crackle-glazing has been a big failure so far.  Big failure.  All I’ve done is burn myself quite badly with the concoction you’re meant to apply.  It’s amazing where you unconsciously touch yourself, and then learn about it when you’ve inadvertently applied something caustic to those surfaces. 

Before your eager little imaginations run riot, it was my face I touched.  But just imagine how bad things could have been.  Makes you downright wince. 

So anyway, my burns are healing and I’ll approach that more cautiously and have another go.  But the painting bit is going well.  So far I’ve sold everything I’ve worked on, but it’s slow work.  Maybe it’s Beginners’ Slowness and I’ll get better.  Maybe I’m just a slow painter and should just chill about it.

Wooden painted box, $70
But chilling is good, and I’m finding that painting furniture is a very Zen experience.  You lose track of time, you don’t focus on anything except the piece in front of you.  Even with Calypso yowling in the background, because if I’m outside how dare I be outside without her, I eventually zone her out, or she gets over it and goes back to bed.

I’m hoping to have some nice pieces ready for the next Collectorama Fair, on Saturday 7 November, but I’ve been selling a good amount of painted things at the Peregian Beach Market.  So I shall paint like the wind, and see if I can get a stockpile ready in time for Collectorama.

Last Collectorama, in September, went really well for us.  We sold lots, and almost everyone was lovely.  Almost.  You know if you’re weird you’re going to get blogged on, so why are people weird?  To give me blogging fodder, clearly.

So our one blog-worthy encounter at Collectorama was a guy who complained – he actually approached Doug and waited patiently until Doug was free – to complain that our prices were too low. 

Is there no pleasing some people?  No there is not, is the answer. 

Another wooden painted box, $42
Doug said if he wanted to pay more, if that made him feel better, that would be fine with us.  But no, he didn’t want to pay more, he just wanted to have it officially recorded that our prices were too low.  Things can’t be real when the prices are so reasonable, apparently.

News for you, weird guy, our stuff is real and reasonably priced.  Get over it.

Meanwhile, the Spring edition of the magazine Antiques & Collectables for Pleasure & Profit is now on the shelves.  It’s a good mag, and in this edition you will find an article by me about the joys of travelling to Helsinki for a spot of shopping.

Sept edition
As much as I enjoy writing for Antiques & Collectables, it’s only published four times a year.  So I’ve decided to write a book. 

Several books, in fact, but the first one shall be called something like The Shopaholics Guide to Free Travel.  Maybe The Shopaholics Essential Guide to Free Travel. 

In it I shall reveal exactly - exactly - how to buy antiques and vintage in France and England, where to go, what to buy, how to get it home to sell it, so you can go and do it again.  And seeing how you always work Play Days into buying trips, you'll have fun shopping and fun sight-seeing and playing, and when you sell your purchases you will recoup the cost of the trip.  Maybe even turn a profit.  Sound like a plan?  It works for me.

What do you think?  It shall be a Kindle book, and don’t worry if you don’t own a kindle because you can now download a free app to read eBooks on your computer, phone or tablet.  More on this as it progresses.

Cute little pigeon holes, $38
Our next outing will be at the Peregian Beach Market on Sunday 4 October.  I’ve painted a variety of boxes and baskets in preparation (some shown here), and maybe I’ll have another chair or two ready by then.  I hoping to have a smallish glass fronted wall cabinet ready – having instantly sold the last one to another dealer at the last Peregian Market – but you know how slow I am at this.

03 September 2015

Brazilian Glitter, Designer Labels & Egyptian Pampering

Computer glitches have kept me out of the cyber-sphere for a while, but it appears I’m back in action.  Technology is a wonderful thing, until it carks it.

Creating a distressed paint effect
With hopefully enough advance notice, I’m letting those in the vicinity know that Collectorama – the big antiques fair at the Nambour Showgrounds on the Sunshine Coast – will be held on this coming Saturday, 5 September.  Come visit us!  I've included some random photos in this post of a few bits and bobs we'll be offering.

Last week I did a course on how to create a distressed paint effect on furniture, which was terrific fun.  Chateau Chic we called it, and that indeed shall probably be the title of the article I’m now going to write about the experience.  Until a sub-Editor minion decides to change my headline, that is.  Have I mentioned how sub-Editors are the bane of my life as a writer?  About a thousand times? 

Uranium Glass Shaker, $40
Anyway, when making furniture look old and distressed it is helpful if the piece you’re working on is already old.  So I have a head-start because the pieces I’m now working on have all been dragged out of the we-really-should-do-something-with-that pile of antique and vintage furniture from our garage. 

Perfectly good English Edwardian and French country pieces, with nice lines but in need of tarting up, or just plain brown and so looking drab, are now being zhoozhed by me.  I have already sold one of my first pieces, so yay for that.  The other pieces I’ve so far worked on shall be presented starting from Saturday.

You can come and critique my efforts at Collectorama.  But only if your critique is OMG this is wonderful!, or Wow, girl, you are so good, or I really must buy every single piece.  I will be offering utter bargains, because this is a test to see if my ability to do this type of painting stands up to public scrutiny.  It’s not as easy as you might think and it takes ages, but it’s quite a lot of fun so I hope it works out.

Meanwhile, we tried out the Aladdins Fair in Brisbane last Sunday.  It’s nowhere near as big as Collectorama, our space is limited to three tables, and the Fair only operates from 10am – 2pm.  But it went well enough, and we sold a number of vintage wooden items and lots of pictures.  We’d want it to be a whole lot better before we commit to becoming regulars, but we’ll try it again in October and see how it goes.

Royal Winton ceramic jug, $32
Somewhere we do attend regularly is the Nights on Ocean market at Maroochydore, and we’re enjoying it.  It’s held on the 2nd Friday night of each month, and runs from 5pm to 9pm.  So we’re packing up and heading home just as all the clubbers and restaurant-goers are starting to get a bit tipsy.  That’s a good time to leave, especially when you’ve got antiques on display.

A great addition at the last Nights on Ocean market were the Brazilian Hari Krishnas.  If Brazilian Hari Krishnas wear little but glitter and feathers and gyrate a lot, that is. 

Apparently they were supposed to be Carnivale Samba girls.  But a friend who knows about these things watched the goings-on with her hands on her hips, a sneer on her lips and a great deal of snorting.  There was No Way, she informed me, that such cavorting was anything like the Samba. 

But I think she might have been the only one to notice that.  Everyone else was noticing a whole lot of wobbling glitter and feathers.  Whatever they were doing, it sure got a lot of attention.  And wherever they went, everything came to a stand-still. 

Large Vintage French Wooden Balls, $15 each
And drums, there were a lot of drums.  For every hip-swivelling glitter and feathers gel there were multiple accompanying drummers.  We reckoned there was probably a wait list to be a drummer, following those wiggling, glitter-dusted bare bottoms down the street. 

So with all that drumming and enthusiastic squirming-that-was-not-the-Samba, I figured they could only be Brazilian Hari Krishnas. 

I am sure you will agree, as usual my logic is impeccable.

The only other news I have for this post is that, yay, I have been accepted as a writer for a glossy magazine called Indulge.  It’s a beautiful magazine, focussed on lifestyle and food in south-east Queensland and northern NSW.  My first article will appear in the Spring issue, out soon, but I’m not sure if it will be the on-line magazine or print magazine.  Either way, I’m happy and will announce when it’s published.

Women's Winner, King of the Mountain
My role writing about the King of the Mountain Festival has now wrapped up, and the Festival was a lot of fun.  A lot of fun for those of us not schlepping up a whacking big mountain and back in 30 degree heat.  It was the hottest July day on record in Queensland, so it was tough going for a lot of the competitors.

I was poised to get a great photo of one young man who had made it safely up and back down the mountain, but just as I was about to get the shot he vomited everywhere. 

Wow, he really shouldn’t have had quite so much lunch before the race.  It was impressive.  It was almost Exorcist-esque in its special effects.  It took projectile vomiting to a whole new level. 

And that, my friends, is why I shall never be an award-winning photojournalist.  Did I get the shot, or did I screw up my nose and say erh-yuck?  

So I didn’t get an award winning techno-spew photo, but last week I did have my final article on the King of the Mountain Festival published in the local newspaper.  The Editor gave me a good run – six full page articles, including the front page on one occasion, and I can’t ask for more than that.  The Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper gave me the cover of their Sunday Supplement one week, and in 10 months they’ve published another 14 of my articles, so that’s going well.

French Art Deco Perfume Bottle, $82
Isn’t it strange, though, that after working so hard to get the attention of various Editors, and having succeeded with many that I have sent pitches to, I have now decided I’m really glad I didn’t choose freelance journalism as a career. 

I spent a good amount of time in my former life being a rooster rather than a feather-duster, and it’s easy to get used to everyone always and immediately returning your calls, and doing as you bid, and seeking your opinion and approval. 

But as a freelance writer I’m very much a feather-duster who has to work hard to get the attention of Editors from the sea of my fellow feather-dusters.  Yes, I clearly have a healthy ego, but there you go.  Being a freelance writer means constantly facing the prospect of rejection and constantly being last priority in any Editor’s day, and that’s not great for anyone’s ego.  But maybe it’s good for me.  Like disgusting medicine is good for me.

But enough musing.  I’m glad I have come only lately to professional writing, and I shall keep doing it while the fun bit outweighs the frustration bit.  And I think I shall focus more on magazine articles than newspapers.  I’m surprised to find that I prefer to write longer features for glossy magazines than shorter pieces for newspapers, which is exactly the opposite of where I thought I’d head when I first started writing for publication.

Armani coat, $140
Is it because I’m getting into the glossy magazine mind-set that I’ve also decided to start offering some designer label clothes among our stock?  The opportunity to get my hands on some very nice labels (Armani, Valentino, Perri Cutten, etc) landed in my lap, so I thought what the heck. 

I sought advice from a friend who specialises in vintage designer labels, and it was very kind of her to help because there are traps for the unwary. 

Did you know, for example, that some big name designers declare their clothes to be a certain size, say Australian size 12, when according to all internationally accepted sizing tables their sizes are actually an Australian size 8?  Talk about fostering insecurity in your customers!  Why would they do that? 

And how many size 8s do you know?  Not many is the answer.  So I shall have to be sure to buy clothes that Mr Armani and his colleagues would consider HUGH but are actually normal person sizes.  And seeing how most people are not stick insects, sizes 12 and beyond are always the most sought-after and therefore the most expensive.

Green Depression Glass Jug, $32
Anyway, it’s an opportunity to try something on the vintage front I haven’t done before, so I’ll give it a go and see what happens.  I’m not sure how I’m going to sell these clothes, but at the moment I’m supplying them to Collective Haus, the nearby shop in Yandina where I sell a bunch of my jewellery and French vintage images. 

And if it doesn’t work out, I shall say Oh Well and move on to something else.  I’m far more sanguine about having my commercial decisions proven wrong when it comes to antiques than I am about having my work as a writer rejected.  Isn’t that strange?  Writing is more personal, but making a mistake in the antiques and vintage trade is far more costly. 

Finally, on a different topic entirely, did you know I was an Egyptian Princess in a former life?  Neither did I until this week.

I finally got around to collecting a mass of rocks that were lying on the terraces below our house, and then precariously balancing wheel-barrow loads of them on the tractor to transport them to a garden-bed-in-the-making behind our house. 

And boy do I hurt now.  My knees are shot, my back is killing me, and even though I wore thick gloves I broke every single finger nail.

Art Deco ceramic vase, $42
So it is clear that in a former life I was not a peasant farmer or some quarry worker, nosiree.  I did not lug about rocks, I was not made of hardy stuff. 

I was clearly a pampered Princess who had slaves create nice little breezes with ostrich feather fans to cool me in the heat of the day.  And they fed me grapes – with no seeds in them, thank you!  And they made sure my nice linen outfits were properly washed – not in the river, thank you! – so I was suitably attired for lying about watching pyramids being built.

It has become clear this week that I was not made for heavy lifting, not in this life or any other life.  I was made for pampering, and nice food, and expensive, high-care garments.  Ergo, I must have been an Egyptian Princess. 

I am sure you will agree, as usual my logic is impeccable.