Simon got the lowdown on his antiques from his hero Drew Pritchard from Salvage Hunters. Image: Discovery Communications
Antiques are more than just a hobby for Norwich vendor Simon Gravell – they are a path out of homelessness.
Simon was homeless for a decade, living in a tent near the All Saints Antiques Centre in the Norfolk city that piqued his interest in wheeling and dealing.
When he was finally housed, Simon started watching antiques TV programmes to pick up tips and even had a small cameo on the BBC’s Antiques Road Trip in 2018 when he made a sale to presenter Philip Serrell.
But the pandemic has set back Simon’s plans to move into antiques full time. The vendor was saving his Big Issue sales to cover a vehicle so he could transport his wares around until his income plunged during Covid.
“There’s no point having a shedload of antiques if you’re homeless. So I basically had to start again,” said Simon.
So when The Big Issue asked Simon if he would like to speak to an antiques expert for a piece he quickly identified his “all-time hero” Drew Pritchard of Salvage Hunters as his top choice.
The pair met over Zoom to review Simon’s stock and to share top tips (while Simon made a cheeky attempt to flog his finds).
Simon was told the miniature portrait he bought was of one of the Persian tsars. But he had a problem: “I’ve had a look at the Persian monarchy and it doesn’t seem to exist.”
Drew wasn’t so sure.
He said: “It doesn’t look like that to me. It looks pre-partition, 19th-century Indian. You need to research the head dress.”
The Salvage Hunters expert told Simon the piece could be worth between £40 and £300, to which Simon replied: “I should have spoken to you about three years ago.
You would have saved me hours of my life.” Simon followed the advice after his meeting with Drew and concluded the portrait was actually Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram, better known as Shah Jahan.
The photo of the fifth mughal of India, who reigned from 1628 to 1658, is worth around £250, according to Simon.
“This is something I’m quite proud of,” said Simon, as he lifted the biscuit barrel up to the camera on the Zoom call for Drew to see.
“I was really hoping it was silver while I was cleaning it down – all of the glass was so nicotine stained that I was quite surprised how well it had survived.”
Simon’s initial assessment of the £10 purchase found the barrel was crafted by RM Johnson and Co of Sheffield, courtesy of a small plate mark on the bottom. But Drew dashed his hopes that the item was made out of silver. “It’s stainless steel,” said Drew.
“If it’s silver-plated then it will have to say on it somewhere. It’s too shiny – have you polished it?” When Simon admitted he had, Drew warned the vendor: “Never polish silver ever. Clean the glass, clean the inside but always, if you can, leave it alone as that gives it more value.”
There was better news on the glass on the inside – “That’s in really good condition.
“That’s called brilliant cutting and it’s very tricky to do” – as Drew concluded it was a “very good quality piece”. His verdict? “If it was silver you would be looking at about £1,500 just in the silver alone but as it’s not it will be £80 to £100.”
“How much would it have been if I hadn’t have cleaned it?” Simon asked. The reply: “Probably 20 per cent more.”
Kevin Francis figurine
“One of the things that I have been having a lot of success with now – you’re probably going to go ‘Urgh!’ as soon as I show you – is this, believe it or not. Are these Kevin Francis figurines?” said Simon.
“Oh god!” was Drew’s response. Simon has enjoyed sales of the figurines in his antiques cabinet in Norwich as well as others from Clarice Cliff and Charlotte Rhead, more than doubling his money on some. But he has been forced to take a step back as demand has driven up prices for the pieces.
Drew said: “They’ll dip again. Then you will face the decision whether you want to buy at the bottom of the market again.
“I always buy when they’re at the bottom of the market. I’ll buy like crazy.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.