I have never acquired so many large cuts of hammered from one set before! While hammered glass was commonly used, finding it in a “decent cut size” is another matter. It’s finds like this which remind me why I get a buzz out of this trade. Most people would look at old windows like these and assume no value given there’s no stained glass. It’s like a well kept secret.
One of my regular trade customers from the USA recently confirmed safe delivery of another big shipment. It was for 57 framed leaded lights and 24 frameless. I will always give a discount if someone is buying in this sort of quantity. On this occasion the treasure was sent in three crates. Here I will explain how such a shipment is put together. First I have to work out the size of the crate(s) before I can obtain a price from the manufacturer and the cost of carriage from the shipping company.
Whether the customer has selected individual items or a set from my trade category, I will provide a fully itemised packing list. Not only does this assist me and the buyer but it can be used should customs take an interest or in the unlikely event there is an insurance claim. There is a column for “condition” so that there can be no misunderstanding, given that the item listing on my website may be deleted after purchase.
All that involves a fair bit of time before I physically start the packaging process. Once the crates arrive I will pad with 50mm thick polysterene all round.
The great thing about buying toplights is that they are roughly the same size, which helps for streamlining the packaging. As they are already framed there is already some protection and so they don’t need padding in addition to the lining of the crate.
If you are still reading, here comes the really interesting bit! Despite all my planning it usually happens that there will be some empty space. I then offer to sell more to the customer. I will already have discounted for the original selection, I don’t offer a discount on any additional items but do not charge anything extra for the shipping. It will typically be small frameless pieces as these fit into the various nooks and crannies between the framed pieces.
Everything is double-checked. First when it is retrieved from storage and then when put in the crate.
Just in case the external address labels become detached there is another inside.
Many people assume that I have an abundance of space. That is understandable given the quantity of stock listed on my website – some even ask if they can visit a “yard” which I don’t have. I thought here I would explain the realities of dealing architectural salvage in one of the world’s most expensive cities for real estate. Also why I operate exclusively as an internet order business offering only delivery or “click and collect”.
Like in any of the London Boroughs, whenever I see an empty old industrial building in Harrow, which I think would be suitable for my business (and possibly affordable), it is soon replaced with flats.
People admire my range of stock but few appreciate how much space is needed for storage let alone suitable space to offer a browsing experience. I am often given the helpful suggestion that I should build a shed at the bottom of my garden. Of course I am lucky to have a garden but even if I were to let the public wonder into the back of my house it would not be big enough.
I understand that with the demise of the high street and online shopping being the default there is a demand for consumers to have an “experience”. Unfortunately there is no way I can afford to hire a modern industrial warehouse in Harrow to accommodate this. As you can see from the above photo of one of my storage rooms, for health and safety reasons these spaces are not appropriate for visitors.
Classic TV comedy
A romantic perception of Londoners dealing in salvage is derived through television. This starts with the 1960s – 70s BBC sitcom Steptoe & Son in which, an eccentric father and son double-act live at their yard making a living as a rag-and-bone-man business. The perfect device for farce as situations arise from their dealing in unusual items. How wonderful to have a “yard” that big in the suburbs of West London where members of the public can just turn up. They do so unannounced which is of course a dramatic tool but not practical when operating a modern business staffed by one person. I need an Albert Steptoe but my father, while supportive, does not share a passion for dealing in other people’s rubbish.
Harrow is a bit further out from where Steptoe was fictitiously set in Shepherd’s Bush. I think it ironic that the old BBC Television Centre has been converted mostly into luxury flats as Steptoe & Son lived nearby and the episodes were recorded at those studios.
In the 1980s Only Fools and Horses depicted another pair of London traders who lived close to the breadline. One of the comic principles is that they have even less space than me. Trotters Independent Traders (TIT) was based in a high rise council flat. With no internet this would have made the logistics of trade completely unviable but this vital aspect of a small business operation is glossed over. As a long-term fan I cannot recall a scene where someone actually buys a physical product within the flat! I can relate to the absurdity as a trader having stock in your lounge. There are times when it is not funny as we all need to be able to switch off from work. Recently many more people are working from home but at least they can put their work away by merely folding down the laptop.
Getting around London
Like all London based wheeler-dealers one must have an iconic form of transport. I have a 25 year old Japanese import Toyota Lucida which I bought years ago for £900. It is starting to look odd among other vehicles. But I don’t care. It is fantastic for zipping around London and large enough to collect whatever I want in one day’s travel. Suffice to say it is not ULEZ compliant so that’s another cost I have to absorb given I am in London. I hire vans for occasional collection trips across Britain. Even if I could afford a new large van, where would I park it? There is no way I am discarding a reliable automatic vehicle of this size but its full merits are probably the topic of another post.
My internet research leads me to conclude there are no generic architectural salvage “yards” in London where you can just turn up and rummage through a pile of unsorted “stuff”. No one in this city has time or space to hold onto a variety of goods which come under this generic term. Even if they did I don’t know how this model would be financially viable. A Google search will direct you to interesting looking London businesses which make reference to the key words “architectural salvage” but looking past the glossy homepage photos they, like me, tend to specialise. Doors, flooring and furniture being the main offerings. They tend to offer a service in addition to products, examples being fireplace restoration and interior design. They lure people in with fantastic photos of architectural salvage but, like me, also offer a bespoke service as the reality is you will not find what you are looking for if you cannot be flexible with size.
I just deal in window glass partly since people know to come to me for that. It has always appealed to me because, while it can be large and extravagant, it is a compact product and thus relatively easy to package (see my examples). The storage of items such as cast iron bath tubs, furniture, shop fittings, flooring, railings, etc is one thing – it also requires at least two people to handle. Obviously staffing is the greatest cost for any small business.
All the large antique and collectible dealers I know of are based somewhere rural where space is affordable. In a post Covid e-commerce world it does not matter where in Britain you are based just so long as the major parcel courier companies are prepared to collect from you. Another traditional format of British architectural salvage trade is (was?) the huge international fairs. I have only been to one in my life. The idea of paying astronomical pitch fees to lug a van load of goods to a wet field for a 5am start never appealed to me. How are the international buyers going to buy now? It will be interesting to see.
The website experience
Browsing a website might be a static experience but it is a practical way of finding things quickly and Ebay is another reason why there are no one stop-shop “architectural salvage yards” in London. I still try to offer an experience through my website. It is not just about selling. There is this blog, an ever growing gallery of customer reuse ideas and in my listings I try to tell a story of the item’s past (see this example). The website also has a basic archive of sold items. In time I intend to develop this as a resource for 20th century domestic stained glass history as certain patterns and glass were uniquely used in particular areas of England. If I have bought directly from a homeowner then I have logged the address – in time it could be a proper archive searchable by geography as well as pattern and glass type.
Why don’t I sell up and move away?
There are of course advantages to being in London. There is the customer footfall. I am a very short walk from an underground station but for many items I advise people not to collect using public transport. Again people have a misconception of how large and heavy architectural salvage is (and glass is fragile!).
I would love to sell up and move to an old farm which I can repurpose somewhere near the M25 or M1 but I stumbled upon this trade by accident. With a still young family there is no way we can uproot and I don’t want to commute.
Of course there is speculation that with the sudden decrease in the use of central London office space these buildings will need to be repurposed. That is the same for my local high street, but anyone dealing in architectural salvage needs parking space for themselves and their customers. London is not motorist friendly (not that I am saying it should be). As pretty as my stock is I need people to be able to take it away!
I have not written this blog post as a complaint. I am simply trying to explain why I operate the way I do. Since the pandemic I have set up a “click and collect” procedure which means customers don’t have contact with anyone at the place of pick-up. It seems to work conveniently given the restrictions on my time, so I am doing that permanently. But who can tell what will happen in the future. I am going to finish with some wise words from Steptoe & Son. I was partly prompted to write this post as one of my regular customers referred to himself as Albert Steptoe but declined to provide a photo of himself in costume! In researching I have started watching every episode from the beginning with my eleven year old son who, I was surprised to find, enjoys it. I noted this bit of transcript from episode 5, “The Diploma” first broadcast on 5th July 1962:
Harold: What you don’t realise is that the future of the rag and bone businessis dependent on the total economy of the overall condition of the country as a whole.
Harold: You didn’t realise that, did you? I mean, you don’t read the Financial Times.
Albert: What’s that got to do with it?
Harold: You’ve got to know what it’s all about, you’ve got to keep abreastof current events, you’ve got to know what’s going on in this world.I mean what do you know about the Common Market?
Albert: Well, it ain’t around here, I can tell you that!I know all the markets around here and it ain’t around here.
Harold: Oh, you ignorant old man!Oh, it makes you want to weep, straight it does.It’s been in the papers every day, they’re going to ask you to vote as to whether we go in or not.What’s the point of them asking you, you think it’s a row of stalls up and alleyway.
Albert: What is it, if you’re so clever?
Harold: I’ll tell you what it is, the Common Market is Europeall getting together and flogging things to each other.
Albert: We do that now.What about that bloke that comes round every week with the onions?
Harold: That’s different!You mark my words, the Common Market’s going tomake a great deal of difference to the totting business.
Albert: How? Harold: Well, they can come and go as they please. you wait till they build this tunnel under the Channel, that’s what you’ve got to worry about…all them foreign rag and bone men, a great queue of horses and carts stretching under the Channel, pouring out at Dover, stripping the country of its junk!
I know it looked fantastic. You might ask why, especially if you know how passionate I am about retaining old leaded lights. Several of the panes were cracked and the lead structure was wobbly which is not unusual for such large frameless pieces. Sometimes I have to make the difficult decision whether to:
1) Sell in current condition
2) Have someone restore it
3) Dismantle to sell the parts
When I acquire a piece like this I will spend a few days pondering what to do. While I could sell in current condition it could take a long time and London storage space is at a premium. If repairing I have to lug it to the restorer and back, may still have to store long-term and the shipping costs associated with a piece this size may make it harder to sell.
With a piece like this I know all the parts can be utilised. I anticipate the background glass (large non coloured panes) will be used as spares by people fixing an existing window/door.
The remaining parts I predict will be used by someone creating a new leaded light but wanting some nice original glass since all types in this were discontinued from production decades ago.
Part of my decision to dismantle will be informed by how easy I think it will be – this comes from experience and feeling the lead structure. At worst I know that I will not loose money if I damage in the process. A frameless piece this size I will not have acquired as a single item. It will have come from a job lot – probably the other items were smaller. A1210c were from the same house.
It is a hard decision to make but nothing goes to waste!
Many times I acquire a set of salvaged stained glass windows and think to myself – they look so good as window sill ornaments there’s no way I could sell! This particular set (two of which would have been part of a Victorian pulley sash system) sit snug within the main section of my 1920s bay window.
They are not just there to look pretty. They afford privacy while I sit at my desk writing these bizarre blog posts. I find this more practical than net curtains and I can change the view. I always advise that if people get bored using these as ornaments they tend to hold value – you don’t loose money if you want to sell on.
For half of the day I have the curtains drawn as the front of my house is south facing. I think they also look good on a white background, providing external decoration.
But there will always be another pretty window in need of my rescue.
Today I cancelled my subscription to QuickBooks. There are several big brand accountancy products being aimed at the self-employed and small business. They all seem to have condescending advertisements* claiming to offer a simple solution for saving time. This post shares my experience should you be contemplating QuickBooks but I suspect some of my issues are worth considering for any web based accountancy product.
First I should make it clear what I was using QuickBooks for. I have about 50 sales transactions a month. These occur direct through my website and from other selling platforms such as Ebay and Etsy. I need to account for the gross sales from these platforms as well as the fees charged and other overheads mostly relating to stock purchase, mileage, packaging and shipping costs. I was not using QuickBooks for invoicing**, VAT and staff payroll. I was using the most basic/cheapest QuickBooks accountancy product offered called Self-Employed and started doing so from November 2020.
The customer service, via Twitter, was free and mostly prompt. The operatives were knowledgeable but could only provide solutions within the perimeter of the product’s functionality.
There is no long-term subscription. You pay monthly and can cancel when you like.
One of the reasons I subscribed is because once linked with a PayPal account it almost instantly accounts your transactions from this payment provider. This automation is a luxury.
At a glance you can see how much income tax including national insurance contributions you will owe.
Automation QuickBooks cannot automate with all payment providers. The most frustrating example being Stripe. Stripe is what I use to offer my customers an alternative payment method to PayPal as it let’s them pay with all major credit cards. Stripe has to be one of the world’s biggest payment providers so it is astonishing there is no automation available with a brand like QuickBooks. It also does not automate with Virgin Credit Cards. I only discovered this after repeating the authorisation procedure several times as prompted by QuickBooks. It was Virgin Credit Cards who finally confirmed they do not link with third parties so then I had to change credit card company.
Importing CSV files QuickBooks are always quick to advise that if you cannot automate transactions then you can import this data using a CSV file. I carefully followed the QuickBooks instructions ensuring that I only imported four data columns “date, description, money in and money out”. This is not “quick” but I would not mind if it worked. I experimented with different data sources. The trouble was that only one of the “money in” or “money out” sets of data appeared in my QuickBooks account. With Stripe it only showed “money in”. With Etsy it only shows “money out”. I explained this problem to Quickbooks on the 29th December 2020 but this was the only occasion I did not get a reply.
Renewing linked payment providers Every few months you have to renew permission for QuickBooks to link to your payment providers. Apparently this is a legal requirement which I appreciate. Be careful because this process is confusing! I am not referring to the instructions set by the payment providers but the way QuickBooks lays out the renewal options.
A few days later to my horror I discovered that I had inadvertently duplicated two of my payment provider connections rather than renewing (credit card and bank current account). This meant that all transactions were duplicated. I only realised this after I had approved a large number of these duplicated transactions. Although you can remove linked payment providers all associated data will be lost. As I was unsure which account was the duplicate I did not want to take the risk so had to spend an hour carefully reviewing all transactions for the last month.
Using on Android I repeatedly tried to log into the QuickBooks App on my android phone, carefully checking my log-in details but it did not recognise my account. I only wanted this for the mileage tracking function. I did not ask QuickBooks for help as there always seemed to be bigger issues I needed to address.
What I am doing instead
This experience has reminded me that CSV files are easy to generate for calculating income and outgoings within a specified period. If I was going to continue using QuickBooks I would still have to generate several of these once a month. Given I already pay for Microsoft I have decided to get my money’s worth with Excel. Once a month I simply copy totals from each CSV file pasting into Excel with simple formulas to calculate grand totals by month and tax year.
The cells in yellow I will copy when calculating each month’s total. Cash can be a nuisance to account for but since Covid-19 I am using less of it so I don’t anticipate there will be many of these transactions. I have to keep a separate tab of my mileage and enter the total once a month but I had been doing this for years anyway.
QuickBooks takes credit for the luxury of informing how much tax you owe but all you need do is paste the following formulas into Excel if you are a UK basic rate tax payer in 2020/21:
Income tax formula =SUM(B13-12500)*0.2
National Insurance Class 2 You don’t need a formula. As long as your annual profit is above £6,475 you will be paying £158.60
National Insurance Class 4 =SUM(B31-9500)*0.09
QuickBooks also offers to store your receipts. Remember credit card statements are a record of receipts and my Microsoft package comes with 1TB of cloud storage.
This product is not suited to small businesses which operate exclusively in online product sales. Perhaps it works better for self employed people who are selling services. No doubt there are workarounds to all of the above issues but I doubt many will be “quick”. I think more testing should have been done before this product was launched as a generic solution to small business. As a self employed person my experimentation with QuickBooks has taught me to consider the capability of existing resources before making another investment.
*In the interests of balance here is the condescending UK advert from Sage Accounting. I know I am the boss and I simply need my expenses accounted, not “smashed”. ** When a small business sent me an invoice using QuickBooks I noticed it was simply an email referencing the bank account details of the sender. There was no option to pay by credit card or PayPal. I don’t know if it’s possible to do that but as I already have an ecommerce platform, WooCommerce, I simply invoice customers by sending a link to a hidden webpage like this which offers my standard payment options. I will know when I have been paid as WooCommerce will instantly send me an email and the data will in turn show in my PayPal or Stripe CSV file.
The great thing about dealing in old stained glass windows is that I can change the view from my lounge window anytime I like. That said, these things tend to hold value so if you get bored with one just sell it on! I have several of this design, with worldwide shipping or collection welcome. To view details of all please scroll down my 1 metre horizontal + category and look for set R820.
I can still ship to the EU! At the moment when you add an item to my checkout you will find that there is no shipping option for you. This is temporary. If there is an item you are interested in please ask me for a shipping price. This photo is of shipments despatched today!
As the UK has made the decision to create barriers with the world’s biggest free trading market (which is on our doorstep) it has meant changes in shipping price. Right now this is not as much a concern to me as the amount of time I have to spend reprogramming my website to account for revised pricing in every size category, given I have a diverse product range. I cannot do this until I am sure shipping prices have stabilised. One shipping company is setting different prices for EU countries, whereas before there was a standard price for any destination on the mainland continent and Ireland. (If there had been more notice of this trade deal then small businesses like me would have had more time to prepare…)
Apparently I now have my “sovereignty” but I would rather not have this administrative task which is at least a week’s work.
I have never acquired so many large cuts of hammered from one set before! While hammered glass was commonly used, finding it in a “decent cut size” is another matter. It’s finds like this which remind me why I get a buzz out of this trade. Most people would look at old windows like these […]
One of my regular trade customers from the USA recently confirmed safe delivery of another big shipment. It was for 57 framed leaded lights and 24 frameless. I will always give a discount if someone is buying in this sort of quantity. On this occasion the treasure was sent in three crates. Here I will […]
Many people assume that I have an abundance of space. That is understandable given the quantity of stock listed on my website – some even ask if they can visit a “yard” which I don’t have. I thought here I would explain the realities of dealing architectural salvage in one of the world’s most expensive […]
Last month I dismantled this leaded light. I know it looked fantastic. You might ask why, especially if you know how passionate I am about retaining old leaded lights. Several of the panes were cracked and the lead structure was wobbly which is not unusual for such large frameless pieces. Sometimes I have to make […]