Buying and Selling Antiques| Antique Dealer with 25 years experience reveals insider secrets of buying and selling antiques and collectibles

Importing Antiques From England

We first started importing antiques from England in 1991. A lot has changed since then, and one of the biggest was 9/11. Before then it was much easier to import containers of antiques from England. Let me make sure everyone understands the term “containers.” The containers come in several sizes, a 20 foot, 40 foot (both low and high cube) and a 45 foot container. You can see them being hauled by eighteen wheelers on most major highways. When buying antiques in England, you have to have a plan on how you are going to ship those antiques from England to the U.S.

Like everything, it has become much more expensive to be involved in importing antiques from England, and even more so from some other countries. Just transporting the containers from the port in Houston to Dallas, more than doubled during this period. But the cost is not the only thing that has made it more difficult. The paperwork has become much more difficult. Our customs broker even went so far as to say it may come to a point where small dealers will no longer be able to meet all of the requirements our government keeps adding.Importing Antiques From England

Get a Good Broker When Importing Antiques From England

I mentioned our  customs broker, and I can not emphasize how important it is to get a good broker. There are so many details to doing all of the paper work that must be submitted to U.S. Customs, that the difference of a good broker and a bad one can mean hours of additional work for you. An example to illustrate this was the time we added someone’s household goods to our container. It was someone who had lived in England and was moving back to the states. Their kids had collected sea shells that they had picked up on the beach. The cutoms broker (the bad one) wanted to know the name of every shell the kids had picked up. Number one, the shells were in a box already on the container and on its way to the U.S. So like most of us, who remembers what the shells even looked like any more. Next, even if you did, you have to go to the internet or get a book from the library showing picture of shells so you can identify them. The mother just went on the internet and found the names of shells. I could go on and on with other stories.

Dealing With Customs When Importing Antiques From England

Brokers are not allowed to tell you some things but they can suggest you check the second page closely, hint, hint! But laws and regulations were passed after 9/11 to try to improve the security of our country. Everyone is for this, but there has to be some considerations given to the burden and costs associated with this security. An example is when customs decides they want to look inside your container. First, YOU have to pay them to unload and reload your container, even if nothing was done wrong. Then you have to pay the container people for keeping the container longer than allowed, even though you have no control over how long customs keeps it. I wish I could find pictures to show the way they reload the container and all of the things the customs people broke. And you are paying them even though they break things with no responsibility or consequences. There would be broken legs on furniture, broken marble and glass, and on and on. One box had
“Do not stack anything on top” in large black letters because it had something protruding form the top. It was packed upside down and other boxes stacked on top of it. The piece was smashed to bits.

Then once we were fined because they found some dirt in the bottom of an antique garden urn and they had to dispose of it for safety concerns. When we went to pick up the things that they couldn’t get back on the container, after holding it for a week, I asked about what was found. They said, “I will show you” and took us to a small pile in their parking lot. That was the safe removal, washing it out in their parking lot. You can tell I am not a big fan. But you need to know the possible liabilities of importing antiques from England.

Every item on the container needs to be identified on forms submitted to customs. Other things for each item includes the cost, material, country of origin, and date. You are responsible for all of this information being correct, ignorance is no excuse. If the material is wood, the kind of wood must be listed. The broker must then also put each item in the appropriate category, and there are probably a hundred different categories. There are also other regulations, for instance if a wooden box or crate is needed, like to protect an expensive mirror, the wood must be stamped that it is treated wood. If they discover wood that is not treated, they have the right to send the container and its contents back to the country of origin, which of course you have pay all the costs. So you can see the words you most hate to hear from your broker is, “Customs wants to open your container.”

You are also responsible for not importing prohibited items such as ivory or tortoise shell items, to name just a few. Then there are things like antlers that you can import if you purchase a license. You need to know all of these things because it is not illegal to sell these items in England and don’t expect the dealers there to warn you in advance. A good rule of thumb is to be cautious if it is made from animals or is an animal like shadow boxes with taxidermy items.

They also seem to look at the first container someone imports at a higher rate., but it can be just the luck of the draw. The cost for them opening a container can run as high as $5000 or more if they keep the container very long. Another friend that sells English containers at auction, had three containers opened within a two month period. After two were opened within a month, he complained to his U.S. Senator. His very next container was also opened, a coincidence?

I don’t want to scare you away from importing antiques from England, but you need to understand all of the responsibilities that come with it. We probably have imported around 50 containers from England and had about five or six opened by customs. We got in trouble for having a couple of sacks of dirty clothes and some presents we bought on it. Our shipper said I will just put those on the container for you. He didn’t mention that you were not supposed to do that. So that is about 10% that got opened. It just always seemed to happen when you could least afford that extra expense that wasn’t expected.

If you ship your things with someone else, they are responsible for all of the paperwork. They will expect you to be accurate in your descriptions of your purchases. So consider all of your options when you consider importing antiques from England.

16 Responses to “Importing Antiques From England”

  1. Joshua says:

    Hello! Can you recommend any specific services for importing from England? Do people import from other countries in Europe as well?


    • Chuck says:

      Joshua, people import antiques from many countries in Europe. It depends on whaether you want to go and buy antiques yourself, or have someone send you a container that they buy for you. There are different people for each of those. Let me know which you want and then I can suggest who I would recommend. I have a partner in England who can pack containers and also take you to the places you need to go to find the kind of inventory you want.

      • shane says:

        Chuck, I see this post is old but are you still around?

        • Chuck says:

          I’m still here.

          • Jason Mcginnis says:

            Chuck, we own a vintage shop and are looking to import containers. We are looking into escrow companies. Do you know of any? We also would love to bend your ear on the above convo. Are you still around?

        • Chuck says:

          I am still here, although we are no longer importing containers,but the information is still current.We are now full time sellers on Amazon.

  2. Joshua says:

    I suppose I’m open to either picking the items myself or having them sent. I tend to go for french and Italian items, higher end pieces, but nothing overly large. We do some furniture, but not giant armories or dining tables. And we do tons and tons of lighting. Anything gold!

    Please email me at , otherwise I will not know that you sent a response. Thanks!

  3. carl meyers says:

    hello from houston,
    who would you recomend in england to pick and ship a container of antique furniture??

    • Chuck says:

      Carl, it depends on whether you want a large shipping company or an individual. I had a partner in England who did all of our pick-ups and packing. He was located in the Nottingham area, close to the big antique faires, but picked up all over. Others used one of the large shippers such as Lockson’s. Some of the smaller guys might be able to give some recommendations on places to buy antiques, although you can see where we liked to shop on other posts on this site. I don’t feel comfortable in posting my pqartner’s contact info. If you want it I would be happy to email it to you

  4. carl meyers says:

    Thanks very much and if you could email me that info that would be great!!

  5. Sheri says:

    Hi I am opening up a furniture store May 1. I would love the contact info for your buyer that gets the furniture for you. If you could forward my info to him I would appreciate it. I talked to a friend of mine who used to import sea-cans monthly.. But his broker does not do it anymore.

    Any help would be appreciated..

    Thank you

  6. robert gardiner says:

    I am at the present moment fasing into the relm of antiques vintage and the unusual, yet again after 30 years out of the trade, I used to by one of 12 buyers for an antique exporter down in gloustershire where I was buying to order, alas he no longer exist, it is now time to find new uk exporters who are packing weekly ,only this week I was offered 100 leaded light window sashes 1920 patterns, I bought 34 just sat there,
    can you suggest any new contacts , I live in Boston uk approx. 50 miles from Nottingham 30 miles from Newark

    note- I found you throw face book,
    and I must say found your website very intrusting indeed

    • Chuck says:

      I would go to the big antique fairs at Newark and Lincoln where there are hundreds of dealers.

  7. Kathleen Herman says:

    This information is very helpful. I know it is an old post and I hope you still see it. I was looking into purchasing a container for my store that I opened a year ago. I am very afraid to purchase with reading your blog above. The expenses are considerable. I saw a store that purchases 8 containers at a time (saw that on Facebook) and I want to find their supplier. The costs can’t possibly be as much as I was quoted. But I don’t think that is information they will provide me. My quote was on pieces that they will pick for me after I give them some ideas of what I like.

  8. Carolyn Pennekamp says:

    Hi, interesting. We are building a French Farmhouse with Gothic Church elements in Nashville Tn (US) area this year. Planning on a few stained glass windows and a few doors/wood panels/arches and lighting. Having trouble locating these things so are wondering if it is feasible to shop while in France/Netherlands and ship back or just keep searching here. Can you suggest , who we should contact ? We will be in Paris/Normandy and Amsterdam in July and August 2015.

  9. Steve says:

    I am looking to purchase old, used kitchen cabinets, buffet, or china cabinets (small) from Europe for re-purposing.

    Do you have this type furniture?

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