On the island of Ireland, sport is often praised for its unifying power between north and south. The Irish antiques trade is also borderless, with dealers moving easily between both jurisdictions to do business.
All this could change if a ‘hard’ Irish border materialises post-Brexit.
This was the major concern for Northern Irish dealers stalling out at a bijoux collectables and antiques fair in the Victorian seaside Dublin suburb of Dún Laoghaire (pronounced ‘done leary’) on Sunday, August 11.
Organised by Vintage Ireland, the event at the Royal Marine Hotel is one of 20-plus fairs it holds a year. (Ireland’s major fine art and antiques fair, organised by the Irish Antiques Dealers Association, takes place on September 12-15 at the RDS, Dublin.)
Janet Greeves, a dealer with a shop in Greyabbey, Co Down, 20 miles from Belfast, explains Dublin’s appeal. “It’s a capital city, with Europeans and Asians based here, whereas my customers in Co Down are from 30 miles away,” she says. “The Chinese in particular buy here – gold, ivory and jade – to take back home.”
Some 30-40% of dealers at Vintage Ireland fairs are from Northern Ireland. “No deal could mean import tax for dealers from the north and that would be a problem,” Greeves says.
Another Northern Irish dealer, Des Gallagher from Bangor, was selling 18th, 19th and early 20th silver and carved ivory, including netsuke. Hopeful of encouraging southern-based dealers to Belfast, he is setting up a new fair (see box right).
Sisters Eileen Staley and Carol McCullough run vintage American costume jewellery business Strictly Vintage. “If you do business with the south, the idea of Brexit is really stressful,” Staley says.
Darcy Owen, fair organiser at Vintage Ireland, agrees it will be “a relief” to know the details of Brexit when they finally emerge.
“There’s a community of traders, north and south, who have done these shows for 30 years and it’s upsetting to think there may be a threat to that community,” he says.
Meanwhile the organiser is working hard to make its fairs as accessible as possible, digitally through a location-based mobile phone app and physically through its choice of user-and dealer-friendly Irish venues.