Diary of an Antique Dealer
This book tells the story of Geoffrey's life though
a selection of interesting and amusing anecdotes.
The story begins in 1916, leads us through the
golden age of antiques and charts Geoffrey's
success as one of England's well known, best
loved and authoritative antique dealers.
"In the 1930's England came off the Gold Standard and a gold
sovereign became worth 22 shillings instead of 20, and my father
was encouraged to open a gold & silver buying shop in Market
Street, St. Helier.
I was only twelve at that time, but I loved looking at all the
treasures being offered, admiring all the skills of the long past
My Father, who took to the new occupation, like a duck to water,
was mainly interested on the price of the precious metals as it
provided a quick return for his outlay.
One of the first memories I have of my profession as an Antiques
Dealer was seeing my Father breaking up a beautiful diamond &
emerald necklace in its original plush case just for the gold
content, telling me it would show him a profit on the price that he
I told him he could have received much more had he sold it as an
After a great deal of nagging on my part, and proving that fine
goods were wanted for their workmanship, he finally listened to me
and started to display his purchases without resorting to melt
Of course I did not get any credit for my wisdom"
This marked the start of Geoffrey's career in antiques - a career
that was to span over 50 years.
The Autobiography - Geoffrey Russell, Antique Dealer
My life has been very full with many interesting stories. I have
met numerous interesting characters, experienced many
unusual events and visited many parts of the world. I have
made a fortune...and lost one too. But important of all - my
life as an antique dealer has allowed me the privilege of
making many dear and life long friends.
Not being someone who take retirement lightly, I though I
would start a new career (at the young age of 83) as an
Having conquered the initial hurdle, learning how to turn on a
computer and use Microsoft Word, I started jotting down my
memories. After two years, these memories have now
become my autobiography. My son has published a number of
my stories on this web site. I do hope you enjoy them.
I must now bow down to my final years. I have reached the
ripe old age of 86.
My main trouble is that I do not feel that old. I am now
occupied with oil painting and finishing this autobiography.
I spend time by staying in Brittany France and painting the
fishermen in the village of Audierne. I am also 'on call' to give
lectures on Antique Weapons, Silver & Antique Porcelain.
I now have time to read all the books that were denied me in
my busy working life. For example, I am starting on Tolstoy’s
War & Peace and I have a plan to read a long list of books
particularly on ancient history.
For me, time is getting short. Making money now has little
My motto during my long life is 'be as kind as you can and do
not be afraid to live your life to the full!'
Of course writing this Diary has taken three years of my life.
The strange thing about this exercise is that I have relived all
my experiences once again....and most of the stories I have
thoroughly enjoyed re-living.
My Father was an extraordinary man. He came to England in 1916;
he was born in Poland from a very orthodox Jewish family in
Warsaw. He once told me his story and it goes like this.
"My family, who were very orthodox, was very angry with me
because I refused to go to Synagogue and was totally agnostic’.
Consequently I was beaten up many times, which only tended to
make me more of an unbeliever."
"At that time Poland belonged to Russia and when I reached 21
years of age, I was conscripted into the Russian Army. I soon
found out that anti-Semitism was rife. I was placed in the Pioneer
Regiment working all day and most nights digging trenches and
being abused or insulted by all the non commissioned soldiers. The
main cause of my unpopularity was, of course my religion."
He told me that a particularly odious tormentor was a Sergeant-
Major who used all the words that Hitler used to vent his hatred on
"One day after suffering twelve hours of non stop trench
construction, I was again verbally abused in a very violent manner.
So I lashed out at him with my spade which was as sharp as a
finely honed sword." He said, "I know he was severely injured;
possibly even killed. So I flung away my spade and deserted from
the Polish Army. Finally I managed to get on a boat to England and
was allowed to enter. I then traveled to London, where I met your
Mother, and settled down."
I must confess that my Father had a very difficult time when he
arrived. However, even though he could not speak a word of
English and had very little starting capital, he was a great
entrepreneur. He was always connected with some business and
often made quite a lot of money.
Upon arrival in England, his first priority was he needed a wife and
all the comforts that go with her. After a meeting with the
matchmaker he found my mother, who was an absolute darling.
She quickly produced four children in five years. There is only
eleven months separating me from my brother.
Without going on to describe his life in detail, I can state that he
was a very volatile man, an inveterate gambler with a ready
temper for anyone courageous enough to oppose him. But on the
positive side, he always worked hard to give us a decent standard
of living and for this, all our family must appreciate him.
There is one story about my Father that I feel I must mention
which will explain his character. After the war, I had opened an
Antique Shop in Torquay with my sister Rene and Donald her
husband. I later opened up in Bournemouth and both shops were
doing quite well. My Father who was ageing rapidly was
still running his Antique Shop in Paignton even though I was sure
that he was losing more at the 'dogs' than he was taking in the
I received a desperate message from him telling me that the
Inland Revenue were about to make him bankrupt. When I asked
him for the details, he told me that about eighteen months ago he
had received a letter from the Inland Revenue demanding books
and information about his antiques business. If he did not give
them the necessary information he would be fined £50.
My Father never believed in keeping books. Through his twenty
years of trading, he had never sent any information, returns or
records of any sort to the Inland Revenue. So, in the end he
decided to pay the £50 to get them off his back. Six months later
he received another letter from the Inland Revenue asking him to
send in the account books for the business or pay £500 penalty.
Although business had been quite poor he managed to scrape up
the money, hoping this time they would let him alone. Six months
later, two well dressed men came into his shop and 'purchased'
nearly all of his stock. When it came to paying the bill, he was
informed that they were from the Inland Revenue and the goods
were to be frozen and possibly seized.
My Father sounded pretty desperate and my Mother was also quite
ill. So I told him to remain calm, as I had an excellent accountant
in Torquay who also had some contact with the local Commissioner
of the Inland Revenue. I would consult him about the affair and I
was sure he would help. He calmed down and thanked me.
As I was in Bournemouth at this time, I telephoned my friend and
explained the problem. My friend was John Wright a young and
capable accountant who was much too bright for a small town like
Torquay. I gave him the details and he promised to help. I also told
him that he should not expect any gratitude from my Dad and that
I would pay any money owing for his services.
John promised me that he would contact the Commissioner and
plead my Dad's case.
John rang me up a week later, he told me although my Father had
no books what so ever he had compiled a set of accounts from the
bank statements. He then informed the Inland Revenue
commissioner that my Father was a frail old man that could not
really understand the English way of business. The Commissioner
then asked John to come into his private office.
He pointed at the concrete wall at the back of his chair and said,
"do you see that hole in the concrete just above my chair?" Yes,
there was a fair sized hole in the wall, "that poor, old feeble man
you are telling me about came into my office to complain and when
I told him we want to see his books, he called me a bloodsucker.
His face was contorted with rage and he aimed his metal rimmed
cane at me. Luckily I was nimble and ducked and only the wall
suffered. I am now keeping the hole as a souvenir to let people
know how dangerous my job really is."
Two weeks later John rang me up to tell me that the Inland
Revenue had agreed to accept his books and not only would they
rescind the order about freezing the stock, but they would give
back the £500 my Father had previously paid. They sent the
refund on to the accountant.
I was of course delighted when he told me, but I asked the
accountant to take his fees out of the £500 as I guessed that my
Father would be reluctant to be grateful in a financial manner. He
therefore took £150 off the money for the arduous work he had
done and sent £350 to my Father who afterwards complained to
me bitterly that he had been charged so much from the
My Earliest Recollections
The earliest recollections of my life were in London East End.
My sister Freda, aged 9, was told to take me to Victoria Park in
Hackney and as a special treat we could go by tram! I remember it
now how happy I was to go to a lovely park after all the dreary
streets in my part of London. It seemed like Heaven.
As a special inducement, Freda bought me a large ball from a
Woolworth Store (nothing over 6p) and as you can imagine for me
a great treat!
I was allowed to paddle in the large pond nearby. I was an
exuberant child. My Mother called me a ragamuffin as I always
seemed to get into trouble, with torn clothes and dirty face. Still
she loved me and the feeling was mutual.
I can still hear my sister warning me not to go over to the right of
the pond, however I have never been able to know my right from
my left (even now) so I paddled off to the right, straight into eight
feet of water.
In the distance I could hear people screaming that a child was
drowning as I slid under the water. The most amazing thing about
this was I did not feel any sense of danger at the time. Evidently
someone dived in an rescued me. I must have been unconscious,
because I came-to in a lovely house. I was naked and being
rubbed down with a large white towel. My sister was white with
fright as she knew she would be in trouble when we returned
home. The lady of the house had clothes from when she had
children many years earlier. Even now I remember how nice and
concerned she was. I gave her a hug and a kiss and was rewarded
with a new outfit!
Of course when I returned home with my sister, all hell broke loose
And Freda was sent to bed as a punishment.
My second strong recollection was the pea-souper fog that was
always around London at that time (1924). I was with my sister
Rene, (aged 8) and about 200 yards from our miserable apartment
when the fog suddenly came down. It was like a blanket. One could
hardly see your hands in front of you. Horrible smoky grit in the
air. With eyes smarting, and everyone in distress, we literately
groped our way home and left the rest of the world to get on as
best as it could. People were wandering around completely lost
asking passers by the name of the street they were in.
November was always the worst time, I remember seeing a horse
cart in Whitechapel during one of the fogs. The poor horse had
keeled over, and was lying in the road, hardly alive and the driver
was whipping the poor animal to make it stand up. I could not bear
to watch any longer.
As the fog was diminishing we found our way back home. My sister
Rene and I have always been close and I am not ashamed to say
that we both wept about that poor animal.
Another abiding memory was when I was determined join a Jewish
‘gang’. The leader, named Solly, aged 10, told me if I wanted to
join the gang I had to pass an initiation test and of course I had to
agree before knowing what was involved.
It was with some trepidation when I learnt I was expected to run
under a Brewer’s Dray whilst the horse was trotting. I accepted the
challenge and that day I became a member of a prestigious Jewish
When my Mother found out how I gained entry to the gang, I got a
wallop and sent straight up to bed!
The Rabbi’s Lament
I must admit, at seven I was not the angelic docile child, like my 8
year old brother Stanley, in fact it was a source of aggravation for
me that I always had the clothes that Stanley grew out of, while he
(with a smirk) got the new suit and all the other accessories. All I
received were his hand-me-downs. As the youngest of four (two
girls and two goys) I felt that I always came last when any ‘goodies
came our way.
My father insisted that all religion was organised to keep the
working class under control, so although all the rest of my mother’s
family was obeying Jewish Law, my father ignored this totally and
forbade his sons to go to ‘Cheder’ which was a school to learn
Hebrew for Jewish children. I always thought that he made that up
that rule because he was too mean to pay the Rabbi his 2/- a week
for the tuition.
The Rabbi’s relied on this small amount to supplement his sparse
income; and woe betide any student that could not progress in the
study, as the Rabbi had permission to beat the student if he did
not become fluent any time during the period before his Bar
mitzvah. So I and my brother did not protest too much about Dad’s
There was an amazing freedom for working class children to roam
wherever they wanted. As most of the East End of London was
solidly Jewish, my mother let me roam the streets, never worrying
about my safety. I was not aware of any of the perceived dangers
that youngsters of today experience.
I used to go on my own and enjoyed my independence. The only
trouble was that I had very little money to spend. My father in his
generosity allowed me a halfpenny a day spending money…and
that did not change until I was 14. Even then the rise was only
One day I noticed a boy from my school (Settle Street School) who
was about a year younger than I.
I asked him where he was going and he answered that he was
going to ‘Cheder’ to learn Hebrew. Clutched in his hand was a two
shilling piece, which was the fee due to the Rabbi. He told me he
was not too keen to go to the Cheder class as he had had a beating
last week. So I gently suggested that we take a bus to the West
End of London, and see the sights.
With the 2/- we were rich.
Morris, as that was his name, told me I should be the Treasurer
and left all the decisions to me.
As soon as the bus arrived at Piccadilly Circus, we stopped outside
a superb sweet shop and went mad by spending 3d each!
We spent almost all day roaming and getting to know the West End
and by the time we returned to the East End we only had 3p left. It
was nearly getting dark when we got home and I felt I had gained
a superb friend and I am sure the Morris felt the same.
We arranged to meet again the following week for some future
This wonderful period of my life in London continued for an
additional three weeks. We both felt like princes with money to
spend. The sweet shop owner got to know us very well.
One day, however just after our third period of opulence, the
Morris’ father met the Rabbi in the street who enquired why Morris
had given up on his studies.
The secret was out and so was our friendship. I think the Rabbi
was paid in full, but I am sure that poor Morris’s posterior must
have suffered too.
When I was eight years old, my father decided to immigrate to
Jersey in the Channel Islands. Our family consisting of mother,
father and four children, left London to seek our fortunes there.
In 1927, the economy in England was in a depression. My father
had a famous Sister in Jersey Channel Islands. She ran a Haute
Couture dress shop in Jersey & Guernsey and was very well known
in the Islands as Mme. Peretz. She always bought her stock from
the leading gown manufacturers in Paris. She advised us to come
to Jersey, and open up a business on the Island. Mme. Peretz was
a lovely lady - helpful and kind. She financed my father to open up
a restaurant in St Helier the capital of the Island.
While it was a great success in the summer months, during the
rest of the year trade was non-existent. In 1928 money became a
very scarce commodity.
The only way visitors could get on the Island was by boat, as at
that time Jersey had no airport. So as the bad weather approached
in the off season, the recession would set in for the traders.
There were some planes getting to the Island, but they had to land
on the beach when the tide was out. I used to go to the Esplanade
beach to watch them land on the hard sand, marveling at the skills
of the pilots. However, not many passengers were happy to
support such a perilous journey.
The great problem was always in the winter when trade for the
whole of the Island was pretty low. There was a serious
Jersey is famous for its potatoes, tomatoes and the legendary
Jersey Cows. When I first arrived on the Island I asked a farmer
"why do all the cows have a waterproof cover on them"? He
informed me "that it was to keep the water out of the milk", which
I thought was a very sensible thing to do.
Every spring for 'donkey’s years' a couple of thousand Bretons
would arrive on the Island to dig up the famous potatoes. They
were not very popular with the Islanders as they were very poor,
parsimonious and did not spend one penny of their wages with the
local traders. They even made their own bread. In fact they
contributed nothing to help lift the recession. When they left at the
end of spring, there were no tears shed for their departure.
After a representation from the depressed miners in South Wales,
the Government agreed to give the benefit of the work to the
unemployed miners, paying their travel arrangements, and
guaranteeing them a fair wage.
The Miners were immediately a very warm success. They spent all
the money they were making, buying clothes, gifts and anything
else they were unable to buy in Wales. They were especially fond
of the local ale and the streets would ring out with the male choir
voices. 'Danny Boy' and 'Land of my Father' were their favourite
tunes. They were a very happy crowd and immensely popular;
especially with the local girls. There were not too many virgins left
in Jersey after they left us. The local population always benefited
by a marked increased of infant numbers and they were made
welcome by all the residents.
When Britain went off the gold standard in 1931, precious metals
suddenly became more valuable. My father had a good knowledge
about this subject, and he decided to open a small shop, for buying
old gold & silver. At that time working people were paid in gold
sovereigns which were nominally 21 shillings under the gold
standard. Overnight these became worth 22 shillings each. The
price of silver also increased, so he became busy with people
selling their family possessions.
I was only twelve at that time, but I loved looking at all the
treasures being offered, admiring all the skills of the long past
My Father, who took to the new occupation, like a duck to water,
was mainly interested on the price of the precious metals as it
provided a quick return for his outlay.
One of the first memories I have of my profession as an antiques
dealer was seeing my father breaking up a beautiful diamond &
emerald necklace in its original plush case just for the gold content,
telling me it would show him a profit on the price that he had paid.
I told him he could have received much more had he sold it as an
After a great deal of nagging on my part and proving that fine
goods were wanted for their workmanship, he finally listened to me
and started to display his purchases without resorting to melt
Of course I did not get any credit for my wisdom"
Even at that early date, I was fascinated by the skill and beauty of
the silver snuff boxes and indeed all the beautiful artefacts that
were at that time so plentiful. I was addicted to fine works of Art
from a very early age, and it has been my business, and hobby, for
over 65 years.
Teenage in Devon - Hotel and Antique Shop
We discussed leaving the island of Jersey in 1938 because my
father, who was politically astute, decided that a war could be
imminent. He guessed that the rise of Hitler in Germany could be a
possible threat to our safety should the Island be invaded.
How true this turned out to be. When the invasion was imminent,
the inhabitants on Jersey made a mad dash to escape before being
captured. I later heard that rich people were selling their Rolls
Royces for only £10 on the harbour, before leaving the island and
still getting no takers.
The good news was my aunt, Mme Peretz hired an airplane and
filled it with all the stock the plane could hold and escaped just as
the Germans were landing. Just as well; it is well known all Jews
on the Island were murdered.
We had to make a decision where in England we would settle.
Gladys, a waitress who was helping in the hotel, strongly
recommended the town of Torquay in Devon. After much
discussion we agreed to examine that area and my father set off
on his own to reconnoitre to see if it was suitable for business,
leaving behind My Mother, and four children.
I had just completed a course of History of Art at the local night
school. Even at this early day, I had a great interest in history and
had made my ambition to be involved in the antiques trade.
My father did not telephone us for nearly two weeks and my
Mother was worried for his safety. Eventually, the phone rang and
Dad told us he had accepted the lease of a nice Hotel in the town
centre. He said he had to furnish the premises completely. He told
us it was a large house on top of one of the hills in Torquay, in two
acres of gardens with beautiful sea views. He ordered us to close
the Jersey boarding house, pack up the contents as soon as
possible, and get ready for the departure.
By the time he arrived back on the island, the work was well under
way. In about four weeks we had settled all our commitments on
the island and as we had all enjoyed living there the last seven
years, it was with sadness that we departed its shores.
When we told our friends and neighbours the reason for our
leaving, they seemed incredulous, none of them felt that any
danger could get to them from that quarter.
I will never forget the moment we arrived in Torquay. The town
looked so large and clean. In the early spring with all the coloured
lights blazing it was like entering fairyland. It was love at first
sight. The Devonians were most friendly and welcoming and we
knew that we could be happy in Devon.
The following morning we all went to inspect the premises taken by
my father, which I could only describe it as a gentleman’s mansion.
It had fourteen bedrooms, each with superb sea views, a wide
drive into the house and a magnificent conservatory. The Garden
at the front had wide lawns of about half an acre and at the back
there was a vegetable garden growing tomatoes, potatoes, carrots,
and flowers, all carefully attended to by an ancient gardener.
We all agreed my father had negotiated a fairly reasonable rental
for the premises even though it needed to be converted from a
house to a hotel. We decided the hotel required a posh name and
it was agreed to call it the Hotel Plaza. It took at least three
months of hard work to open.
However, it was a great deal larger than we had thought.
My mother, in her wisdom, thought that the best way to run this
venture was to get some inside information on how a good Hotel
should be run. She also realised experienced staff would be
I, being the youngest, (apart from my four year old Brother and six
year old sister) was delegated to find out the how it should be
My Mother had noticed an advertisement in the local newspapers
Palm Court Hotel
Hotel Page Boy Required
10/- per week plus tips
The Palm Court was a smart hotel on the sea front in Torquay and
all the family thought I would be excellent for the job.
My father, in a flash of generosity told me I could keep 5/- of the
wage for myself, but he also wanted his share of the tips of
course! After all money in the family was pretty scarce as my
parents had to furnish all the interior plus food, advertisements,
and many other expenses required to turn a mansion into a hotel.
I turned up at this lovely sea front hotel and the manager, I forget
his name, was most kind. I told him about my parents plan for a
hotel but he did not seem to mind.
The Manager seemed to like me and he offered me the job,
starting the next day. He first asked me to try on the page boy
uniform, which was a little too large for me (I was only a little guy)
and he informed me that if I was satisfactory at the job, he would
order a new uniform. He told me to start at 7a.m. and polish all the
shoes left outside the bedroom doors, vacuum all the lounges and
sweep up outside the hotel.
When I returned and told the family I had landed the job, I was
treated like a hero.
The man in personal charge of me was the head porter. I am sure
that he took a personal dislike to me and I found myself being
called upon to do a lot of menial tasks, like peeling potatoes and
running to the betting shop, as he was a compulsive gambler.
The betting shop was about a mile from the hotel and spitefully, he
always gave me the bets to put on just before the guests were
leaving. Of course that is the only time that guests would tip.
Sometimes I would do lots of jobs for the guests polish shoes, run
errands and I was very popular as I always was a happy and
cheerful young man. This however did not go down well with the
Head Porter who on many occasions was half drunk, making it
plain to me that if I complained to the manager, I would get the
Some of the guests realising what his game was, waited for me to
get back from the betting shop, and then the look on his face was
a joy to see. In contrast, the manager told me I was doing a grand
job. So much so, he told me that I would me fitted out with a new
uniform the following day!
An American ‘Lady’ came up to me with two heavy suitcases and
asked me to walk with them to the railway station, which was
about a mile away. When I tried to lift them THEY WERE HEAVY
I told her to take a taxi, she declined, but said, "I would be amply
rewarded if I took them by hand". I will never forget that ordeal, I
am sure that my arms were an extra three inches longer and my
back was frail for over a month. When at last she got on the train,
she dived her hand into her purse, and gave me two pence!
I turned up the following day, after another trip to the betting shop
to find the tailor had turned up. He measured me for the new
uniform. I did not like that tailor very much as he seemed a lot too
familiar. When he measured my trousers his hands lingered near
my private parts. I gave him a 'drop dead' look and he hurriedly
finished the measurements and left the hotel. I complained to the
manager afterwards and he dealt with it somehow. All I know was
that when the suit was made, another tailor, fitted me up. I looked
and felt very smart in the new outfit.
The head porter was given the sack for coming in drunk, and a new
replacement took his place. He was a different man completely
from the last man and at last I was able to collect all my legitimate
I was earning about £5 a week and I stayed at the hotel happily for
the whole season. I really enjoyed the experience and I learned a
lot about how a large luxury hotel should be run.
In the meanwhile My Mother & Father had done a grand job in the
Hotel Plaza and many of my observations were utilised to the full.
My Mother being a superb cook was appointed Chief Chef while I
being the youngest was a Bell Boy and Under Waiter.
I was to be granted all the tips I was given, but no wages. My
father said he would pay me when he was 'rich'. My two sisters
were also appointed waitresses with the same financial
arrangements that I had. My father, of course, became the
Treasurer and Overseer.
Joking apart, this was a very difficult time for my parents as they
did not have unlimited finance to run the hotel. For the first year it
was run on a 'shoestring'.
During the first year, my mother only charged our guests £3 a
week, and £4 in high season which in hindsight was really
uneconomical. The Season started in May and finished in the
middle of September after which the hotel would be empty for the
following seven months.
We did make a small profit at the end of the rather too short
I really enjoyed the happy times with the visitors; some of them
became friends lasting many years.
My father was not a man to remain idle all the winter, so
he decided to continue his activities as an Antiques Dealer, as he
had done on Jersey.
He decided to open two antique shops in nearby Paignton and
place my brother Stanley, who was 11 months older than myself in
one and myself in the other. There was always fierce competition
between us to see who the best antique dealer was. Of course
modesty alone forbids me to say who it was.
Although I was 16 years old, I managed that shop like a duck to
Antiques were then quite plentiful and I had (and still have) an
unquenchable interest, and appreciation for all types of 18 th and
19th Century applied arts. I was fascinated that every country had
its own style and quality. After devouring every classical book on
the history of arts of most countries, I became quite expert in my
now chosen occupation.
I did not always see eye to eye with my father on the way the shop
should be run. By the time I was 18 my father 'generously' gave
me wages of £1 per week - which was hardly a salary suitable for
impressing the girls.
I always tried to make our shop upmarket and would polish all the
brassware, wash the porcelain and generally make the shop as tidy
as possible. My Father on the other hand, would just place items in
a higgledy way. He always complained to me that people expected
an antiques shop to be untidy and they come in hoping to discover
hidden bargains. I disagreed with this notion as I have always been
tidy man. My theory was that if an article looked good and clean it
would sell quicker and at a higher price. He disagreed with me by
saying that I was a ‘snotty nose’ and that it was his shop, not
Our takings were at that time about £100 a week, which was about
the average take at that time. It paid all the expenses and left a
reasonable profit. However, I had always desired a quality
antiques shop and especially one with a cleanly swept floor.
At that time my dear Mother was quite unwell and Dad was to take
her to Nice in France for a gambling holiday for three weeks. I was
to be in charge of the shop for the first time!
As soon as he departed, I got going to clean up the shop, polish all
the brasses, bronzes and copper articles, polish the floor, clean out
and reset the jewellery polish. In fact I turned it into the 'posh
shop' I always wanted.
Quite suddenly I realised I was attracting a new class of clientele.
People were coming in asking if this was a new shop and my
takings were increasing remarkably. The first week my takings
reached £200, and by the time my father and mother returned
from their holiday, it was in the region of £300. I had also bought
quite a few selected antiques, so the stock was in a healthy
When my father returned, he looked around and in an angry voice
accused me of ruining his shop! When I told him that the takings
had increased, it did not placate him, but told me I am fired and I
should look for another job!
The next day, however he relented and offered me a £1 a week
rise, which I accepted. I realised that his real displeasure was that
I had showed him up to my mother. Slowly he began to appreciate
my true worth.
After running the shop for two years, I decided to seek my fortune
in London and took a job in Chaple St Islington, which is now the
major Antiques Centre in London.
By this time the London was under threat from the advancing
Nazis, and my parents begged me to leave the Capital and return
to Torquay as the bombs were bound to fall soon. I took their
advice And returned to run the antique shop. At this time the
Germans were over-running France, and it looked as though we
were in danger of losing the war.
My Father who was always an optimist decided to ignore the
danger of imminent invasion by the Nazis regularly arranging huge
overdrafts and spending at auctions when everybody else was
being cautious. (See the Sharpham Auction story).
As far as I was concerned, my call-up papers had arrived, and I
was informed that I was to present myself to Bulford Camp on the
Salisbury plain and become one of His Majesty's soldiers.
I always knew that if I survived the war, the antiques trade was in
The summer season ended in Torquay and I had fallen out with my
father regarding the way to run the antique Shop, so I decided to
go to London and get a job.
I was nearly 16 years of age, and I had a friend in Hackney,
London Fields, prepared to accept me as a paying lodger at the
princely Sum of 17/6d a week. When I asked my father to give me
the train fare to London, he refused, as he did not want me to
leave. I had very little money as he was only paying me £1 per
week. However I did have an old gearless bike. So I packed up my
bag in the middle of the night and I started to cycle to London, 200
miles away. I got as far as Salisbury Plain on the first day and I
saw a lovely little Bed & Breakfast sign at a village named Mere.
The lady looked at me and said it would be 7/6d for bed and
breakfast, and she would ‘throw in’ a nice hot dinner. I fell asleep
whist I was eating the meal (which was superb) and I awoke up
the following morning, in bed, in my underwear. She must have
carried me up the stairs, and undressed me!
After a splendid breakfast, I departed to London to my friend’s
house 70 Miles away. They were a wonderful and welcoming
I arrived in London about 3 p.m. with the poor old bicycle nearly
falling to pieces, I made my way to Hackney in the East End to stay
with some friends. I was to pay 17/6p a week for sleeping,
breakfast and dinner. At that time it was very hard to make a good
living. A man would get about 30 shillings a week to keep his
I was determined that I would not ask my Father for any Money,
and at that age (16) I felt I could conquer the world. I still had
over £1 left as my capital, and was confident that I could secure
some work on the following morning.
I was told that in Chapel Market, Islington they were looking for
workers so I took the tram to Islington (that cost me 6d) and I
secured a Job as a shoe salesman for 25/- a week, plus
commission (approximately 5/- Shillings per week) I took the Job
to start the following day.
This was during the beginning of November, and I was surprised to
find the shop busy, even at 9 a.m. My hours were from 9 a.m.
until 8 p.m. with a half hour off for lunch. However I cheerfully
agreed to the job. Everyone was impressed at my sales ability.
When I asked about the commission, I was told ‘to apply later’.
Whatever that meant, I never found out. I worked my expenses.
Trams cost 3/6 per week, stamp 1/9d, lunch was given to me by
my lodgings costing 17/- , leaving me with about 3/- a week
spending money! I still kept going as I could not afford to be out
The ‘Boss’ was a big fat slob. When business slackened off he
would become angry. At first he praised me and gave me the
Gents dept, on the first floor and told me I was doing a great job.
But during quiet periods it was best to keep out of his way.
He used to creep up the stairs and fling open the door to make
sure that I was dusting the boxes, and not loafing about ‘on his
time’. He being so heavy I could hear the stairs creak, so I had a
After Xmas, business got really slow, and he would pace up and
down the shop cursing at all the staff (about 4 of us). I decided it
would be amusing to play a little trick. I stood on a ladder and was
busy dusting some heavy boot boxes which were resting on the
top of the half opened door.
I could hear the stairs creaking, so I knew he was about to check
what I was doing. When he flung the door open all the boxes fell
on his head! He did not believe it was an accident and so I got the
In the papers the following day, I noticed an Advert for a Shoe
Salesman in Lambeth Walk, South London. The firm that were
advertising was a group of shoe shops named ’Leaders’. There
where about 15 branches dotted in the south of London.
So off I went at 9 a.m.to apply for the job. The Manager was
completely unlike my last boss. When I told him about my last job
and the ‘accident’ of the boots falling, he burst out laughing. He
asked me how much I was paid and said tut tut. He then offered
me 35/- a week plus a good commission - a fortune to me. He told
me I could start right away.
I was welcomed in. He introduced me to all the other staff, and
everyone was happy and pleasant. Without being pushy, I was a
good salesman, and the manager was very happy with me.
I was now able to earn commission on any shoes sold over 15/- a
pair, and that came to another 10/- a week. I was now earning
over £2 a week; a wage a married man would bring home for a
family - remember this is in 1936!
I loved working in that shop, everyone was so kind and especially
the Manager who told me I was the best salesman he had ever
I was now able to save up enough money to buy a new suit,
underclothes and shirts. At that time there was a company selling
‘nearly new’ suits. It was run by two pushy salesmen, full of the
‘gab’. They chose for me a loud check suit, telling me that it was
only 30/- and that the owner had died after ordering it and the real
price he should have paid was £3. Being only 16 years of age I was
impressed and I decided to buy .They insisted that I put it on as
my old suit was too tatty to wear.
On the way to the tram however, it started to pour with rain and I
and my new suit were soaked. Sitting on the tram I noticed a
horrible smell emanating from my new suit. I can only compare it
to a smell of horse dung. I also noticed that the sleeves were
getting shorter by the minute and the trouser legs were following
suite! The lady sitting next to me on the tram, quickly moved to
another seat and I do not blame her. I should have gone back to
the outfitters to complain, but I was too embarrassed. With my
now decent wage, I could afford the 50/- Tailors and get measured
up for a ‘good’ quality suit.
After working at the shop for three months I received two rises of
wages and with my commission I was a rich young man. I was
ordered to serve at one of the biggest branches in The Cut,
Blackfriars again with a rise.
The atmosphere at the new shop was completely different. All the
staff there seemed sad. They thought that I was sent there to spy
on them by Head Office, especially as I was now considered to be a
favourite of the main directors of the company. My mother, by this
time insisted that I return to Torquay to help her run the Hotel, so
I gave in my notice. One of the directors of Leaders came to me,
he told me that they were planning to open a new shop near
Elephant & Castle, and had reserved me to be its Manager. He told
me it was the first time they had offered a Manager’s post to
anyone as young as I was!
I pleaded with my Mother to let me stay in London, but she was
adamant that I return. She explained to me that she was not well
and I was needed home. So after giving me an excellent
reference, I left London (by train this time), to start my new career
as a waiter in my parents hotel.
Incidentally, the last Shop I was in with Leaders, was in the ‘Cut’ in
Blackfriars, London. During the beginning of the ‘Blitz’ it was
completely destroyed, with a loss of life.
Fight against the Fascists
In the London of 1936 when Britain was in the throws of
appeasement, Nazi organisations emerged like bugs from a wall
and in England we had Sir Oswald Mosely. He had formed his
organisation, The British Union of Fascists and was trying to copy
Hitler. His main policies were a total support for the mad German
dictator, a hatred of Jews and to bring terror to the population in
the East End of London.
In 1936, many of the national newspapers seemed to support his
views. The conservative Daily Mail would publish society
photographs of the leading fascists at their high society rallies with
pictures of the Cliveden set and the Mitford girls.
Anti Semitism was rife. Most of the Jewish population in London felt
Mosely, at that time felt confident enough to order his thugs to a
march in the then Jewish quarter of the East End of London. They
were all dressed in Black Shirts, and armed with knuckle-dusters
and other weapons; fully prepared to teach the Jews a painful
The Labour League of Youth, the Zionists, and the Young
Communist Party, organised a huge demonstration to stop them
passing through the East End. Amongst the protestors were yours
truly, and my older sister Freda. The police at that time seemed
determined to allow the march as arranged. But many Londoners -
Jews, Christians, and anti-fascists prepared to die rather than allow
them to march.
Before the War The Fascists used to rant at Ridley Road, Hackney
every week. If any of the audience would voice opposition, they
would disappear under a hail of blows from the Blackshirts. Terror
was their trade. The battle song of the Moselites goes like this:
Scum of Aldgate
All Yiddish Boys
Up and Down White Chapel
With their Hebrew Noise
They are the Dregs my friend
That brought Old England Shame
But they can’t beat the Boys of the B.U.F. (British Union of
That made Old England’s Name.
The sole object of the B.U.F. was to strike terror as their Nazi
comrades in Germany were producing in Germany.
The crowd of anti-fascists was now approaching half a million. The
Blackshirts marchers with their anti-Semitic slogans had nowhere
But still the police would not ban the march! At that time the civil
war was exploding in Spain, and the Spaniards were fighting for
their freedom, and they coined the phrase ‘Non Passerun’ this now
became our slogan and no way would we allow the Blackshirts to
The prevailing crush in Commercial Road, caused my sister Freda
(aged 19) to be pushed through the windows of the Gardeners
Corner shop at Aldgate. Fortunately she suffered no injuries and
was always proud to be part of the anti fascists movement protest.
During the War Mosley was imprisoned as an enemy of the British
Empire. At the end of the War Mosely was released from detention,
and to our amazement, he started on his old tricks of anti-
Semitism. All their meeting ended in trouble. After Auschwitz and
all the vile crimes committed by the Nazi’s in the war, most of us
were amazed that the Labour government allowed Mosely the
freedom to air his vile Nazi beliefs.
However a new breed of Jewish ex-servicemen were emerging (of
which I was one) and in no way would we tolerate the filth again
spewing from Mosely’s poisonous agenda.
An ex-servicemen’s organisation was formed to combat the B.U.F.
named the 43 Group. They would attend all the Blackshirt rallies
and physically smash up their meeting using the same weapons
used by previously by the Blackshirts themselves.
The ex-servicemen in the group were not like the previous servile
and timid pre-war Jews. As soon as the Mosleyites would put up
their stand, the ex-servicemen would attack. I must state that they
gave the fascists a tremendous bashing.
The story I was told was during the melee, when Mosely was
himself being attacked, a stalwart helper came to his assistance,
and fought alongside him. After they had packed up, the helper
told Mosely that he wanted to join his organisation and help as
much as possible. He also told him that he was a rich man, and
would like to buy him a strong van for him to speak from. It would
be safer than the wooden stand and the leader would feel secure
from those ferocious anti-fascists. Little did the Leader know, but
his helper was a member of the Jewish ex-servicemen. He was a
spy and would inform where the fascists would speak next. Many of
the Fascists were injured. It seemed that they did not appreciate
receiving the same medicine they had previously dished out.
Recruitment became a problem.
Eventually, the fascist movement was disbanded, hopefully never
to raise its ugly head again. Its inglorious Leader is now safely in
Hell, where he so rightly belongs.
Returning back to 1936, one subject that continually was affecting
many of my friends in London, apart from the advancing clouds of
German and Italian fascist aggression, was the situation of the
Spanish Civil War. It was patently clear that the Spanish
Government, truly elected, was in danger of being overthrown, by
a military dictator, using Morocco mercenaries to crush the legally
elected government. It also was evident that the help given to
Franco by Italy and Germany was part of the coming global
All my friends (we were all left wing at that time) wanted to get
involved in the struggle and we felt keenly that the Government in
Europe and elsewhere was prepared to do nothing to help a legally
elected Government to survive.
A few of my older friends volunteered to join the newly formed
International Brigade. it was manned by men of many countries.
Britain formed a Brigade of about 4,000 volunteers. I had a close
friend Emanuel. We called him Mannie.
Before he left for Spain, he told me that a special Spanish lady
Named ‘La Passionara’ had come to London to recruit men to fight
for the freedom of Spain and in fact the world.
I was invited to listen to her at a meeting in the East End of
London and I really understood how she received her name. I told
her I would like to help, but she sorrowfully shook her head, and
told me I was too young. I was just 17 then.
My close friend Manny was killed at Jarama, and afterwards a
fellow volunteer returning after the fall of Madrid, sang this song to
me, it goes with the tune ‘Red River Valley.’
There’s a Valley in Spain Called Jarama,
It’s a place that we all know so well,
It was there that we gave of our Manhood
And most of our brave Comrades fell,
I am proud of the British Battalion,
And the fight for Madrid that they made,
For they fought like the Sons of the Soil,
As part of the 15th Brigade.
There are several verses added to this song, which is so sad it
often makes me weep. No doubt that Spain was betrayed by the
ruling countries in Europe and the whole world paid the price.
The Sharpham Auction
In the year of 1941 when the German Army was sweeping
through the Maginot line.
France and most of the western allied countries were preparing
to surrender to the power of the then mighty Furher and all
trade ground to a standstill. Very few people were interested
in purchasing any works of art whatsoever. However my
Father, although heavily in overdraft with his bank to the tune
of £300 was determined to ignore the peril and danger. He
continued to go about the business of purchasing any goods he
considered suitable for his Paignton antique shop.
He had a great flair for choosing and finding great works of art
and although he had his eccentricities, he had many
enthusiastic clients including the late Princess Royal and
Robert Graves of 'I Claudius' fame.
At that time I was just 20 years old and I thought that I knew
everything. Of course we spent a lot of time arguing. Although
we did not see eye to eye every time, my Father’s long
experience proved valuable and I was not always
When he told me that he was going to a big auction sale at
Kingswear to buy some antiques from a stately home named
Sharpham, I reminded him that he still had a substantial
overdraft. I also mentioned that the political situation made
business climate very uncertain. In his typical manner, he
reminded me that I was a young 'snotty nose' and I should
leave any financial details to the boss.
Ignoring my advice, my father disappeared for three days.
Upon his return he was most invasive when I questioned him
about the auction sale, how much he had spent and what
items he had purchased. Eventually he told me that the
auction sale was at a large stately home. It was a house full of
the finest antiques with no reserve prices on any of the goods.
To give me an estimate of the size of the property, he said the
house itself had 365 windows.
The reason why there was to be no reserve price on the
property and the contents of the house were because all the
family had died and all monies received would go to straight
the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He then went on to explain that owing to the military situation
and the big recession, only seven dealers turned up at the
auction. Despite the lack of interest, the auction proceeded
regardless. The number 1 Lot was the property itself, which
overlooked the River Dart, along with the freehold for four
hundred acres of prime land. It was knocked down for £4,600!
The auctioneer then proceeded to sell off all the superb
collection of antiques - hoards of silver, 18th century furniture,
porcelain, bronze, object d’art mostly at ridiculously low prices.
He then went on to tell me that he had spent at least £350 ,
which completely horrified me. He told me not to worry as he
would see the bank manager, and soften him with a couple of
bottles of whisky. Evidently that was the usual method of
doing business with the bank in some areas of Devon. He told
me to contact Pickfords, the furniture removers, to order a
large lorry and to make room in the store for the goods when
When the lorry arrived it was packed up to the hilt with fine
antiques. The driver of the lorry informed me that there was at
least two more full loads to be collected!
The first items to be unloaded from the lorry was a set of eight
‘Rouge Marble’ Putti; exquisite quality cupids each one playing
a musical instrument - drums, trumpet, violin, castanets, and
other musical instruments. Finally the conductor was
unpacked. in all my experience as an antique dealer of over
sixty years, I have never seen anything to surpass the
loveliness and quality of those early 19th century statues. Each
one was signed by a well known Italian sculptor, and today I
do not think £200,000 could buy them.
As they came off the lorry a lady passing by admired them and
asked me if they were for sale. Although I was reluctant to sell
them, I quickly added up the debt we owed to the bank and I
offered them to her for £350, which she hurriedly agreed on
the condition that I could deliver them to her that morning.
I told my father later that all his debts could now be settled.
He told me he was pleased at the deal as he had only paid 10
shillings each for them. Bearing in mind the true value of the
goods, we both had a good deal.
I was further amazed at the quality and amount of the goods
he had purchased, which included fine Meissen porcelain
groups, figures, and 18th and 19th century paintings. I felt very
humble about the original advice I had previously given him
and have since been more careful before I offer my opinions.
I am sure that that sale kept my father’s finances buoyant
during the war. I was due to join the Army in the near future
and I was satisfied that I could enlist and not worry too much
about the financial security of the family. The only fear I had
was my father was a addicted gambler and there was always
the risk he may be tempted to bet too far.
However I had no need to worry as the American Army, after a
year or so, arrived in the area and his shop prospered
My war experience at Bulford Camp, in Wiltshire, was very
exciting for me, as I had always recognised that the Nazis
would be a great danger to the democracies, and especially to
my family who were Jewish. At the age of 20 I felt that I
wanted to do my bit, however small. After joining the Army, I
was to be taught how to drive a large Bedford lorry in the fine
Regiment of the Royal Army Service Corps.
After suffering the bellows of the
Regimental Sergeant Major and
being literally knocked into
shape for two weeks strenuous
training (Reveille at 6.am), we
finished the physical part (let
Hitler worry). We then started to
do the serious job of becoming a
driver, for which I had no
In the following two weeks we
mostly sat in the back of the
four ton Bedford lorry and
remained there most of the day
whilst the corporal driver
instructor drove the vehicle. I
am sure that he was just too
nervous to be a passenger while
us trainees took tentative control of the lorry. When the
instructor saw an oncoming vehicle hovering in sight, he would
grab the wheel until all danger had passed, mop his anguished
brow and reluctantly hand back the steering wheel.
After my second lesson and only two half hours at the wheel,
our group was informed that we would be taking our driving
test. Thankfully, we would exercise our newly acquired skills
on the empty war time roads.
I can really say that all our Squad were worried about the
coming test, as none of us had had any proper tuition. The
whole patrol of us climbed into the back of the lorry and
Cockney Joe was chosen to be the first to be tested.
After five minutes of driving, he joined us in the back, with a
forlorn look on his face.
When we asked him if he had passed the test he told us that
the Sergeant Instructor yelled out "Look at that lovely bit of
crumpet" as we passed an ATS girl. Joe could not resist
looking round. He was failed as an army driver.
The rest of us were given the same "Crumpet" test. Pre-
warned, we all kept our eyes firmly on the road and passed
with honours; even though none of us had any experience of
reversing or indeed any of the most basic information of how
to drive any vehicle whatsoever.
As most of our squad had passed the test so quickly, we had
time to spend the last week learning how to ride motorbikes.
After ten minutes in a field, which we all felt was fun, my bike
refused to start. I was informed that the magneto had packed
up and although I had protested loudly it was of no avail. I
was told to get back to my hut and get some sleep in. Even
though it was only three in the afternoon, like a good soldier I
obeyed orders and took four days off.
All my friends had passed their test after their four day
intensive and enjoyable motor biking. As there were only nine
bikes in the barracks in total, I complained to the instructor
that the mechanical failure was not my fault, and could I still
have my bike training. You can imagine my surprise when he
told me not to worry as he had passed me as well and duly
entered this information in my AB64 document.
A week later I was transferred to an active Unit; a food depot
in Norton Fitzwarren near Taunton in Somerset. I was assigned
as their official dispatch rider. I arrived at the depot at
11:30pm and was shown the unit's motor bike. I nodded
professionally and made a strong vow to get some experience
secretly, so as not to lose face. I fell into the bed and was
asleep in two minutes. I was awakened by the duty Sergeant
at three in the morning.
He told there was an important document that had to be
delivered to O.C. of the supply command for Southern England
in Frome, Somerset. This town was forty five miles away and
in spite of my protests, I was informed that the safety of the
war effort and England’s survival depended on this delivery.
I gingerly start kicked the battered Royal Enfield 350 and with
fits and starts, off I went. I can still see the look of amazement
on the sergeant's face as he watched my limited expertise.
At that time there were no signposts as Jerry was expected to
invade at any moment and I had not the faintest idea of the
way to go. I got as far as Taunton which was five miles from
my new unit when the bike gave an asthmatic cough and
stopped with smoke billowing from the exhaust and a heavy
smell of petrol. I kicked the 'kick start' solidly for fifteen
minutes, desperately trying to start the engine, all the time
cursing the Army, N.C.O.’s, the whole war situation, and
especially the bike, which by that time had fallen over. In my
frustration, I aimed a vicious kick at the prostate handle bars.
God must have been watching me. For the kick returned the
choke to its correct position, and the bike came to life. I was
able to get to Frome at about four in the morning. The
document was delivered. Britain was saved.
It was only later that I found out that the Important Document
was merely an application for a further supply of toilet paper
for the Officers Mess!
Most of the recruits were between 19 to 22 years of age and
my five weeks of Army training was not unpleasant. Most of us
got on well, and the expected dreaded N.C.O s were
I was in some trouble as I have never been able to tell my left
from my right, and during parades, I was degraded to the
awkward squad. This all changed when a kindly corporal
advised me to wear a ring on one of my fingers which when I
squeezed my hand, I had time to realise my left from my
right, it was the perfect answer for me and I began to enjoy
One of the first lessons I had to learn on joining the Army was
the nickname you had to earn, it all had to do with the size
and shape of your private parts. We had Big Tools, Little
Willies, and Big Knobs. As we all showered together and were
minutely examined by the whole squad, nobody took offence.
In fact the lucky ones named 'Big Tools' received a certain
prestige from the envious 'Little Willies'. I will not let you know
what my nickname was, as I do not want to brag!
We all thought it a great adventure as when had completed
our training we were to be addressed as Driver so & so, and
at that period in time to own a car, or indeed any motor
vehicle was beyond the financial pockets of all the recruits.
We all received the princely sum of seventeen shillings and
sixpence a week - equivalent to 80p in our modern currency.
From this meager wage, I managed to save £150 after nearly
five years service. This was the capital I needed to open my
intended business on leaving the Army.
Halt! Who goes there?
My first posting in the Southern Area Food Depot was very new to
me. I was determined to be a good soldier. My post was considered
to be ‘cushy’ and safe from danger. However we still had to bear
the usual parades and bullshit that goes with all army units - but
not too much.
We wore identity tabs around the neck. The tabs had all the
information about the soldier engraved on it. It included the
soldier’s religion and in my case, of course, it was ‘Jewish’.
Whenever a parade was ordered, it seemed only I ended up in
trouble with the Sergeant in charge finding me guilty of some
infringement or the other.
I knew that when I was inspected, he would always stop to give
me an extra examination. He would then punish me by putting me
on extra guard duty. In fact, I was on duty two or three times a
week instead of the usual once every five weeks.
At that time in 1940 we had to be extra alert to counter the
possibility of German parachutists invading England. The gate to be
guarded was at the top of a lane leading to the depot. At that time
the soldier on guard were to fix told to fix bayonets and have a
bullet in the rifle. You were fully permitted to shoot if you became
The corporal in charge of the guard was a decent guy. He told me
the reason I was on guard duty more than any other soldier in our
unit was because the sergeant had been a regular army soldier
serving in Palestine and he hated the Jews. He also told me that he
had been asked when I would be on second duty. (Guards in the
army serve two hours on and four hours off). The corporal warned
me that I should be careful at the gate or he would put me on a
serious charge! I thanked him very much, and told him I would be
At 2 a.m. I was called for the 2nd duty and I approached the gate
fully equipped to defend England with my life. At about 2.30 a.m.,
I could see something white in the distance within the depot slowly
coming towards me. I knew at once it was my friendly sergeant
trying to catch me out. I hid in the nearby bushes so the gate
looked as if it was unguarded. When he got near I saw he was in
his pyjamas. He had a triumphant look on his face as he saw the
unguarded gate. He was about to callout the guard when I came
behind him, screaming “Halt who goes there!”. I poked the end
of my bayonet at his posteriors (did it go in?) yelling the few
German words I knew. I also shoved a bullet into the chamber of
my 303 rifle…and made sure he heard it. I am certain he had a
motion as an awful smell seemed to develop.
After he had convinced me he was not a German paratrooper, I
asked him what was he doing at this time in the morning dressed
in his pyjamas? He informed me that he was the Sergeant in
Charge and congratulated me for being such an alert guardsman. I
advised him to make sure he had received no serious injury and to
have a bath!
The following day the sergeant approached me in a very friendly
way and asked me “would you like a week’s pass to go to my home
in Torquay?” He even included the train ticket! From that time on,
I was not put on any more guard duties, and he became very
friendly to me.
Arriving in Dumfries to Join the 21st Tank Brigade
Arrived in Scotland to join the 21st Tank Brigade 4th English
Division stationed near Dumfries in Ayrshire Scotland.
After travelling over 10 hours from Taunton to Dumfries by night
train, I arrived at the headquarters of the 6th Light Field
Ambulance stationed at a Scottish stately home which was the
headquarters of the Brigade. I was to join the unit and become one
of the dispatch riders for the 6th Light Field Ambulance.
I received a good welcome into the unit and was told that we were
preparing for action soon.
I was offered a super new Norton motorcycle, which was a great
improvement to the Royal Enfield I had been issued when I was
with the Food depot in Somerset.
I really enjoyed serving with the 6th Light Field Ambulance. Most of
the members had had medical training and in my opinion were a
class above the ordinary squaddie.
I was informed that our job during action was to rescue and
medically attend to any tank crew injured or sustaining burns
during war action. We had six dispatch drivers in our unit. Each
section had an officer (doctor) plus a batman and corporal for first
aid - and last, but not least, a dispatch driver. There was very
little army type discipline in the unit as we were preparing to go
abroad for action soon. I joined a unit with Cpl Wally Amphlett,
Captain Smith and a private batman for the Captain.
I was always amazed that every officer had a batman whose sole
responsibility was to attend to the comfort of his officer. What a
waste of soldier material. A batman could be expected to be free of
any military fatigues guard duties and have many privileges not
allowed to us ordinary soldiers. However like most of the men in
our unit, we did not give a lot of respect to the batmen in our
midst. This tradition was soon to be discontinued; and personally I
think it was ridiculous for it to have continued so long.
I was given a job to convoy into South Wales on maneuvers. To my
horror I was to drive a large ambulance over 400 miles through the
night. As my instruction at the training camp at Bulford was almost
non-existent I only had a vague idea how to drive. However after a
shaky start, I attempted to remember the verbal instructions I
had received at the training camp.
By the time we arrived into Wales, I became quite proficient. None
of the soldiers travelling in my ambulance knew that I had little or
no experience on how to drive. In fact thankfully most of them fell
asleep. I often wonder myself how I coped with the double de-
clutching which was at that time necessary to all four wheeled
vehicles. The soldiers accompanying me did not realize the danger
they were in. I am proud to say that I learned to double-declutch
the vehicle like a professional and all the men in the ambulance
seemed happy and contented. No one was any the wiser about my
The Scots were very welcoming to our Division. We were often
invited their houses for meals. They also loved to dance and I soon
became an expert of the ‘Aitsome Reels’ and many other ancient
historical Scottish dances. I loved the warm and jolly feeling,
displayed by all the locals.
One wonderful Family (I think their name was MacFadden) were
particularly warm to me and I was especially interested as they
had a beautiful daughter. I think her name was Doris. Being 21 and
free at that time, I fell in love and tried to get her interested in me.
However she was solely interested in Robbie Burns, the poet that
came from Dumfries. Instead of getting some warm romance, I
received ‘Ode to a Flea’, and dozens of like poems. All very
interesting; but not what I really needed. However the family was
wonderfully kind to me and I bless the welcome they gave to me
and all the British soldiers.
My First Antique Shop
After spending five years in the service of his Majesty, in North
Africa and Italy, I was unfortunately disabled just outside
Monte Casino, from a motor bike accident which developed
into a nasty attack of Thrombo Phlebitis. This entitled me not
only to spend a few months in a Naples Hospital, but to be
sent to my home town, Torquay in Devon, after a splendid
'cruise' in a beautiful clean hospital ship.
After a few weeks in the Torbay Hospital, I received an official
O.H.M.S. letter informing me that I was of no further use to
the Army, and was deemed to be disabled on Army Service,
and I had been awarded the princely sum of thirteen shillings
and sixpence per week, as long as I could live.
I cannot say, with a hand on my heart that I was very upset
by my abrupt dismissal from my Army Career, and I was quite
content to leave the war in the capable hands of Field Marshall
Montgomery, having now realised that the war was practically
won, and all he had to do was to finish off the Japanese.
I had always planned that if I could survive this war it was my
ambition to open a quality Antiques Shop, even though I was
severely financially limited, and the only cash I had was £150
that I had saved from my Army pay of seventeen shillings and
sixpence a week. I was too proud to ask my Parents for a
loan. The manager of the local bank would not advance me an
overdraft, as I was an ex-serviceman with no financial history.
It was a risk they could not take - more than their 'Job's
I was determined however, to open up a shop, and I
approached my Sister Rene to join me in a partnership, if she
could put up her similar sum. She readily agreed, as she was
working in an exclusive gown shop run by an aunt of ours and
the wage she was getting was pitiful. She immediately gave in
her notice and I then started to look for a shop in a good
situation, and with a low rent.
The Government, realising that the war would soon be over,
made a law that necessitated that only the holder of an
approved licence would be able to claim and take a vacant
shop, and that Ex Servicemen especially, would have the first
choice. The only problem was that the Government would
issue several licences on the same property. The one that
received and acted on it first, could claim the shop.
As a disabled Ex Service Man I complained to the powers that
were dealing with that department, that there was always
someone beating me to the estate agent, with a licence of the
same property that I was intended to take. All they could say
was "tough luck" and "keep trying", which I did, and
eventually I found a nice shop in the Centre of Torquay.
The rent of £9 a week was a little daunting, especially as we
were not too flush with money, but at least we could make a
start. Of course on the second day of taking the decision, a
man came into the premises waving a licence, telling me that
"I have a licence for this shop". I was polite to him, and told
him to look elsewhere, I also informed him that I had also
suffered the same way. We ended up agreeing that the
Government, with all the best intentions, were stupid to issue
more than one licence for each property. He left mollified, and
I was glad to know, a few weeks later that he had eventually
obtained his choice.
My first object at starting the Business was to get an
interesting stock of quality, reasonably priced antiques. I was,
however, handicapped by a lack of finance to cover the
decoration of the shop, pay the first month’s rent and buy
some good stock. This was November and we had only to the
end of the month to find three months advanced rent for the
I had been told that every antique shop had at least one or
two bargains that may show a profit. So I travelled all around
the local areas and gradually collected a fair amount of stock.
All the time I saw fine antiques that I could not buy as my
limited cash flow quickly diminished.
My sister and I had to make the shop look smaller, as I had
not purchased sufficient stock to make the venture look well.
We achieved this by placing a curtain across the shop. After
checking up the prices we would sell our stock for, I told my
Sister that even if we sold everything we had purchased, we
would be unable to find the money to pay for the coming
quarter’s rent in advance. I then asked her, as she was the
treasurer, "how much money was left of our capital fund"? I
was informed that we had Three pounds, seven shilling and
sixpence and that I was to take care as we had arranged to
open the shop for the first time the next day. I told her that if
we were to go down the 'sink', I wanted to use every penny
we had, and it would then be in the ‘lap of the Gods’.
I had noticed in the local newspaper, that a small Auction
rooms in Paignton was completing a sale this morning. I had
not been to view the lots, as I had preferred buying from local
dealers. Anyway I tootled off and arrived at the auction room,
which was over a shop in the main street in Paignton.
There were about seven elderly gents lounging in easy
chairs. The auctioneer was making heavy weather trying to
get any bids for the items he had for sale. I suspected most of
them had come in for a snooze or were in the market for
nothing more than some free entertainment.
As I arrived the auctioneer was holding up a carton, asking if
anyone there would like to bid for some second hand teeth. All
the audience made jokes. The auctioneer asked for a £1 bid,
and told the clients that he would accept sixpence increments.
It was lot no 7; which has always been my lucky number, so I
examined the contents of the carton, and to my surprise it
was full of gold fillings, gold teeth, and many gold full plates.
It was owned by a retired dentist, who had collected, and
thrown the unwanted teeth into the box. He then handed the
box to the auctioneer to dispose of them.
I realised that the contents were quite valuable. The price of
gold had risen quite a lot, as the war was now nearing its end.
I started the bidding with the proposed £1 bid and just before
it was to be accepted a smart dealer arrived and upped the bid
to £2. I kept on bidding, and to my surprise I managed to
secure the teeth for exactly £3.7.6p.
I took the teeth to a jeweller next door, who weighed the gold
and gave me £400.
When I returned back to the shop in Torquay, I threw the
money on a table. My sister was astounded and asked me if I
had robbed a bank. After telling her what had happened, I
decided that we would not open the shop the next day as
arranged, but I would spend our good fortune on some more
From the profit on the teeth, I managed to buy, from fellow
dealers, a Queen Anne Walnut Bureau Bookcase, some fine
pieces of Meissen porcelain, a George III solid silver tea &
coffee set as well as quite a few additional pieces of desirable
When we opened a week later, the shop was an immediate
I will never know what induced me to attend that Auction Sale,
at that particular moment. But the effect of that much wanted
effusion of capital, made all the difference to the establishment
of the first Russell’s Antiques shop.
Painting with a Hidden Value
One of the first trials I had to overcome after opening the
shop, was to ascertain the true and correct current price of
antiques. The value of antiques had risen enormously during
As my finances were limited, I had to be sure that I would be
able to compete with all the local dealers, both in the price I
paid and the amount I could expect for the goods. As I had a
history in the town from when I was working in my Father’s
Paignton antique shop in the 1940’s, I had built up a lot of
good will from the local antique dealers. Especially as I had
returned from action overseas as a disabled war veteran.
On the whole, I was welcomed by many of 'the trade' and was
given quite a lot of useful advice, but in business you have to
live by your own decisions.
I attended a local auction sale to dispose of an estate in a
small private house in Torquay (I think it was about 1947). I
was particularly interested in several small porcelain items.
Whilst waiting for their number to come up, the auctioneer
apologetically held up a most appalling painting of a cat and
It was too bad to be called amateurish and the auctioneer
even made an apologetic remark about it. To drum up interest,
he informed the bored clients that never mind the picture, the
frame alone was worth at least one pound and started the
bidding at five shillings
To my surprise, a friend of mine who was quite an expert art
dealer put up his hand and bid, whereupon another dealer
doubled the price. A battle developed to my complete
amazement and eventually the picture was sold for £1,500 to
my dealer friend.
When the sale was over, I went over to my friend, and told
him I was baffled at the price he had paid. I told him that
being a comparatively new antique dealer; I was at a total loss
to understand how, what I had judged as a dreadful
painting could reach such an astronomical figure. I also added
that I had now become so confused about paintings that I felt
that I would never be able to value them from the knowledge
of painting that I possessed.
I begged him, "Please tell me why you paid so much for what I
assessed as a totally trashy picture"?
My learned friend was very understanding, and he told me that
that picture had been painted by the owner of the property
who had died and he had received a commission from the
daughter of that lady to purchase the picture. He was
authorised to go up to £5,000 for it as she knew that her sister
who was also very wealthy, wanted it as well. The two sisters
had fallen out with each other and were completely estranged.
In fact they loathed each other.
I found out later that the daughter, who did not get the
painting, was furious to have lost. She had also commissioned
a rival dealer to bid for the picture and was angry with him as
she had told him to bid without limit!
Needless to say I was very relieved to learn that my judgment
on paintings was still fundamentally sound and thirty years
later I ran an exhibition of paintings in Miami Florida U.S.A.
which was a very successful operation, both to me and the
fortunate clients, that however is another story.
John Ward - Antique Restorer
I often think of John ward.
He was a master restorer of antique furniture; a modest little
man scratching a living in his small antique shop on Paignton.
He was a man of what appeared to me then to be of a great
age - but was probably only 50.
As a newcomer, with my more important shop in the main
street Torquay, he was generous with his advice as to my
future, urging me to deal only goods made in the 18 th century.
As I was not in that financial bracket, I suggested that there
was some fine furniture made in the Regency period that was
not without merit. He informed me that that period was too
modern and would never become valuable or wanted. As for
artefacts produced in the Victorian era, they were practically
given away at that time. This period was to be totally ignored.
How wrong he was. But he was no different to many of the old
school of long established antique dealers that were
entrenched in that erroneous opinion.
John Ward however, was not so orthodox as not to indulged in
a little reconstruction to increase his turnover. He used to
purchase many small oak 18th century chests of drawers at
about £20 each. He also bought fine mahogany loo tables that
had lovely walnut veneers, which he would strip, add a top flap
to the chest and after skillfully veneering the whole, it would
become a facsimile of a Queen Anne gentleman’s bachelor
chest circa 1702 which he would sell to me for £45 and I would
sell them for £75. They were superbly made and they sold like
hot cakes. We of course informed the clients that they were
not original, and because the chests were made in the 18th
century, one had to be an expert to learn their real age.
He was however very proud of his workmanship, and always
made a special mark on the chests to let me know that was his
creation, which was a little monogram inlaid in the reproduced
I remember seeing one of his chests being offered for sale in a
prominent local Auction Rooms, it was advertised as an early
18th century Queen Anne walnut bachelor’s chest. When I
examined it closely I discovered the secret mark of JW. As I
was not interested in the item, I did not attend the auction,
and to my amazement, I discovered shortly after it had been
sold for nearly £8,000 plus commission. The successful buyer
was one of the most knowledgeable of the local antique
When I later saw him later, I asked him, "how did he know
that the chest he had purchased was genuine" his answer was
"when you have my knowledge & experience it’s really quite
easy". Of course I did not enlighten him, as I would have
made an enemy in the town. In any case his reputation was
such, that I am sure he was able to successfully sell it on at a
When you consider that all the antique furniture now being
sold as of the genuine 18th century period, or earlier, the
serious buyer must pause and think that as the population of
England was less than 7,000,000 and 90% was desperately
poor. So where does all the preponderate of antiques come
The reproduction of 'genuine' antiques is now a thriving
industry. It pays off well, as really good 18th century
reproductions are getting more and more difficult to identify.
Even the most prestigious of our Auction Houses have to
accept, that owing to the enormous rise in prices of that
period, the industry of fake ‘antiques’ are getting increasingly
difficult to detect; especially as the fakers often add part to
their productions with a genuine antique addition. For
example, it is possible to construct a set of 'antique' chairs by
using one genuine chair, and putting a piece of that chair into
the remainder of the set to make them all 'genuine'.
Mr. Singer's Credit - 1946
In the early days, I always had to buy my stock of antiques
from the previous week’s takings. I had to visit many shops to
purchase any items that I thought could stand a profit,
however small. I was taught that in every antiques shop there
is bound to be some items that were under priced and could
show a profit as most dealers just put a percentage of the
price they originally paid for their goods. It was my endeavour
to find these elusive bargains buy them and sell them on.
I had a good knowledge of the period I could afford. However,
I was financially handicapped. I had recently been demobbed
from the Army and with no previous business experience; I
was unable to obtain a bank overdraft. With no reserve cash to
to see me through a stormy patch, the fate of the business -
success or failure - would be decided during the next few
I noticed that most of the established dealers were selling
English furniture made in the 18th century. While I greatly
admired the skill of Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Adam's
wonderful period, but it was totally beyond my meager budget.
I also had a great love for the French period. I admired the
colourful and exquisite workmanship of Louis Philippe, and the
Vernis Martin tables & cabinets. I fell in love with the Sevres
porcelain, particularly those wonderful Turquoise Blue & Due
Barry pink French creations, also of course, the magnificent
French Porcelain & Ormolu Clock Sets, made for the mantle.
Because of the snobbery at that time (1946) of the antique
trade, the French collection was neglected. I was able to
concentrate on this part of the trade with a great deal of
success. The prices were not high and there was a great deal
of fine French antiques to buy. I always realised that it would
be impossible to reproduce fine French furniture, owing to the
superb and detailed workmanship achieved by the best of the
19th century craftsmen.
I literally had the market to myself. No dealer seemed to be
interested. I always reckoned and valued the workmanship,
and although some traders looked down on my taste, I cried
all the way to the bank as opinions changed. Now all those
lovely artifacts of the French period is now 'all the mode' and
the prices of that period has risen sky high. People that
purchased at that time, have made a very good investment
Searching for goods to sell in Torquay, I remember after
spending my allowance, in Kensington Church Street - which is
still an excellent area to purchase antiques of all the periods -
I wandered to the plush area in Mayfair. There I was dazzled
by a magnificent display of French antiques in the shop run by
Mr Singer. He was well known as a fine dealer, but also as an
I gazed at the splendid stock though the window for over thirty
minutes. He eventually came out to me and he asked me in to
examine and enjoy all his goods. I told him that I had spent all
my allowance, in Kensington and could not really afford his
fine goods. He took no notice of my observations, and he
asked how much I would like to pay for at least thirty items. I
kept repeating that I had no money to spend at the moment,
but as soon as I said "I like that", he told his son, Arnold to
pack it up in a box.
I thought that if he wanted to play silly b****rs, I would
humour him. After two hours he told his son to put all the
goods in my Ford 8 car. The price that he agreed was over
£2000 which was a fortune to me at that time, but even so,
the price was very reasonable. He gave me the bill and told
me to get going. I said to him that "that do you not want my
address, and how do you know that you are going to get
paid"? He replied, "he did not want my address and that he
knew that he would be paid in full."
So off I went with all those wonderful goods, which my sister
and I sold within a week, at a very fair profit. I arrived at Mr
Singer’s shop the next day with my cheque, he looked at his
son and said, "there you are what did I tell you".
I became a great friend of the family for many years,
unfortunately Mr Singer passed away, but the Son Arnold
became my best friend, unfortunately also he has just died,
and I miss him immensely.
Antique Shop in Bournemouth
When my Brother-in-Law Donald was demobbed from the
army in 1946, the shop in Torquay was trading quite
reasonably. My sister Rene and I agreed that we both needed
to be independent from each other. I felt that in the past
year, she had proved herself to be effective and capable to
manage and run the shop without my assistance. She was a
wonderful saleslady; and although her knowledge of antiques
were not the greatest of her attributes, she was learning
speedily. Her knowledge of jewellery was improving daily.
Jewellery was new to me too, and it became, a very important
part of the business.
When Donald came out of the Army, he stepped into a thriving
business. We had always been great pals, and in the total time
of our partnership, we never had a quarrel or dissent through
the fourteen years we were together.
We decided that as the economic situation was becoming more
unsettled, we were worried that one shop could not support
the expenses of two families. One of us would try our luck in
another location. Bournemouth was the obvious choice, as it
was not too far away and it was also considered a very
prominent holiday coastal resort.
We decided to go together in his car to choose a suitable site
in the town. As I was the experienced partner, I was
nominated to open the shop once we had decided its situation.
When we arrived in Bournemouth and enquired at the estate
agents, the prominent vacant shops were too expensive to
rent, and we were advised to try the shopping area at
Southbourne in the east part of the town. In the end, we
managed to find large premises on the corner of Grand
Avenue. The rent was £1000 per annum. After a discussion,
we decided we could afford it, so we signed the contract and
celebrated with a super lunch at the Royal Bath Hotel.
We did not bother to find out if the area was a suitable for a
quality up-market antique & jewellery shop. The wide roads
and the nature of the surrounding shops seemed to be of a
prosperous and successful disposition.
It was early Spring and all the superb rhododendrons were
ablaze in their wonderful glory, and I immediately fell in love
with this clean and beautiful town. While I always felt that
Torquay was a superb resort, I could do a lot worse by not
opening in Bournemouth. I even thought that I was destined
to seek my future there, and returned back to Torquay. I had
to sell my little house and garage (that had cost me £1000)
hire a van, and fill it with some good antiques from the
Torquay shop, thinking that I was about to conduct a similar
program of success that I had achieved in my first shop.
It was agreed that our partnership would continue, as before,
and we were to remain partners, using the same bank account
held in Torquay.
I must say that I was very proud of the display I made in the
new shop. The furniture was 18 th century; Sevres & Ormolu
clock sets, crystal chandeliers, Miessen figurines, and a nice
selection of reasonably priced jewellery. I thought the shop
gave a lot of class to the area, and looked forwards to the
opening day when I would put all my hard work into practice.
Donald, my Brother-in-law, was with me and we opened up at
nine o'clock. The locals seemed to be very interested, and the
windows were full of onlookers. Soon the shop was crowded
with admirers and the curious, but no one volunteered to
make a purchase. The people there were quite charming, but
most were elderly folk. Little did we realise that Southbourne
was only a trade backwater of the town, and that Southbourne
was at that time inhabited by retired people, all living on
reduced incomes. The locals were certainly not able to
purchase the high quality antiques that we wanted to sell.
I took only a few weeks for me to realise that we had opened
in the wrong part of the Town, and I started to look at
premises in the Town Centre where most of the more
salubrious citizens and visitors would abound. We had seven
years on the lease left to run and we had paid £500 ingoing to
take the Southbourne shop. This was a great deal of money
for us at that time. Negotiations were started with the landlord
to release us from our responsibilities and after a great deal of
bargaining, he demanded £500, to take back the lease, which
we accepted, making plans to vacate the shop at the
beginning of November.
The lesson we had learned, was to make a more detailed
investigation, before such an important decision was made.
We should have realised that Southbourne was easily bye-
passed from Bournemouth, and although it is a lovely part of
town, it is a separate and distinct community, certainly not
fitted to support a luxury shop like ours.
After three months searching for suitable premises, we
discovered a small but likely shop, on Richmond Hill in the
We decided to have a ‘closing down sale’ and put all our
secondary antiques in the window, at greatly reduced prices.
As we had only taken less than £3,000 in the previous eight
months, we were amazed how the local residents reacted.
When I arrived at the door of the shop for the beginning of the
sale, I noticed a large queue of about 50 people waiting for me
to start the sale.
I quickly telephoned my Brother-in-Law, to help me serve the
crowd, as I would be unable to handle them on my own. As it
was 9:00 a.m. and he was still in bed, he initially thought that
I was playing a joke on him. This was quickly dispelled when
he arrived about 10 minutes later.
We opened the door and they all rushed in. It was like a mad
house. People were buying everything in the shop. We had
cleared out our entire stock in a week. In fact there were some
items of jewellery on display that I had not found the time to
reduce and before I could drop to the sale price, I was
informed by an irate woman, that she had been first in the
queue, and she demanded to be served first.
It appeared to me that the locals would only buy if they could
obtain 'bargains'. Little did they realise that the original stock
was the real treasures, and I am sure that the stock I had at
the opening of the shop would have appreciated tenfold.
When I opened the shop on Richmond Hill in 1947 it was an
immediate success, and as far as luxury goods are for sale,
shop position and location would always be, for me, of prime
Esther Henry Antiques
I met Esther Henry when she came into my first little shop I
had opened on Richmond Hill. It was 1949, and England was
still feeling the financial effects of the war. The small
distribution of money given to all the ex service men, about
£100, had swiftly been squandered and small shops were
fighting to make their expenses.
A small elderly lady walked into my shop and told me she was
looking for fine enamels and early Miessen porcelain. She also
said that if the goods were of a fine quality, the price would
not be too important. She seemed a little tired and I
suggested that before she looked at the stock, I would make
her a cup of tea. She sank down on my best chair, and
She told me that she had a fabulous antiques shop in
Edinburgh, and that her client, Queen Mary, only bought the
finest antiques that were available. I was able to satisfy her
with several quality specimens and as the morning passed, we
then became quite friendly. I was delighted. It was the best
week’s takings I had made for over a month and she was so
pleasant. Unlike most of the trade, she did not begrudge me
my small profit.
She was a lady in her 70’s, quite well dressed but she did look
her age. All the expensive clothing could not disguise the fact
that she resembled a scrawny chicken. She had however, a
lovely Scottish charm and a warm friendship developed
between us for many years. Every Spring she would arrive at
the shop, not only to buy, but to renew our friendship.
After her purchases, she would always invite me my first wife
and I to have dinner with her at the Haven Hotel, Sandbanks.
She told us that she was a little lonely, as her husband had
passed away a few years ago, and she missed having some
She often told me about her fabulous antique Shop in
Edinburgh and how, when her Husband died, she struggled to
emulate his antiques skills and run the Shop. Before he died,
she was not allowed to take command of the business, but she
told me she always loved the trade. She said she had doubled
the stock and takings in three years, the Royal Family often
visited the shop and although payment was slow the cheque
always eventually arrived.
She was not too embarrassed to let me know that she was a
very rich woman, and her name amongst the trade became
very well known. I can remember the occasion when King
Farouk’s antiques were offered for sale (Farouk was an avid
collector). He was being kicked out of his throne by the
military Colonels, including Nasser. All the prominent antique
dealers in the U.K. were invited to bid for the treasures
collected over many years. I had an invitation, but knowing
the tough opposition I would have to face decided to give it a
miss. Not so for our Esther. She turned up in Cairo in all her
brash splendour, with nearly a million pounds to spend, which
was an enormous amount in those days.
To her annoyance she discovered that the Auction was to be
held in French of which she did not understand a word. As the
auction started in that language, she let out a scream of
protest to the Sotheby Auctioneers, yelling at them that she
had a vast amount of money, and she was leaving the auction
to go back home with her cash! The auctioneers then had
second thoughts about the French language, and deferred the
auction for several hours until they had found an auctioneer
that could sell the goods in English. Esther being content by
this decision, and having frightened off the opposition, by her
strong financial statement, she told me later "I bought some of
the most exquisite Antiques in the world, for quite low prices".
Of course the story of Esther, and the Auction made the
headlines in all the International newspapers. She became
world famous. Her only faux par was to tell everyone how
cheap the prices were. The Egyptian Government and the
population in Egypt were not amused.
During her next visit, Esther told me that as a local councilor,
she would visit various local prisons in the Edinburgh area as
part of her duties. On one of these visits she had met a very
nice young man. He was a Hungarian refugee and was
stateless. He also was an aristocrat, one of the minor princes
of the country and she said she liked him very much. She
asked me if I would check him over, as she had been very
lonely and would quite like to get married again. She
announced that this man Paul was in his early 40’s, but she
felt that she could love him. In those days if people wanted to
live with somebody they had to marry.
I, of course, told her to be careful and not to rush into
something that she might regret, and she promised that she
would bring him to Bournemouth on her next visit. I could not
wait for that time to come, and low and behold, she arrived
into my shop with him. I was pleasantly surprised of how nice
he was, and he told me that although Esther was much older
than he was, he had a warm loving feeling for her, and would
marry her if she so desired. Esther on her part could not stop
herself telling me how much I have paid for his suit, shoes,
and underwear. She certainly made no secret that her
relationship was not platonic, and that she adored sleeping
During the Dance, after the meal at the Haven Hotel, the two
of them could not have danced closer, and it was obvious that
they were lovers. I had time, the next day to talk to Paul, and
found him to be a very pleasant fellow. He told me not to
worry for Esther as he had great feeling for her, and he would
be good for her too. I mentioned the thirty odd year’s
difference, in ages and he said that was not important. In the
end I told Esther when she was alone, that I liked her Paul and
wished her every success in their relationship. I had to
mention however, that it was not respectful for her to
advertise the fact that she was buying all his clothes and that
most men would be embarrassed, feeling like bought cattle.
She listened carefully and agreed with me.
Before they returned the next day to Edinburgh, she told me
that Paul was learning the antiques trade fast, and he was
already becoming an expert of Faberge enamels and it was not
the case of him being a passenger in her business but would
become a great asset.
I was looking forwards, very much to their next visit which
arrived the following month...and what a difference four weeks
could bring. They arrived into the shop like two lovers, except
Paul had a new confidence and knowledge, which he discreetly
portrayed. Esther treated him as an equal with great respect.
On his own, Paul told me that they were getting married next
week which would be a private affair. He also told me that
Esther was a fabulously wealthy woman, and he had
persuaded her to buy a beautiful mansion which they had
chosen together, and had now purchased, instead of living
above the shop as they were at present.
Paul told me that he and Esther were going on the first holiday
she had ever had, which was an around the world trip by air,
stopping at all the most exotic countries and staying at all the
finest hotels. They would then return to Edinburgh to
luxuriously furnish the mansion they had just bought.
Sadly the story did not finish too well. I remember reading in
the newspapers about an airplane that had landed in the
Everglade swamp. The article mentioned that all the
passengers were killed including two prominent antique
dealers From Edinburgh.
Tony Cooper - Antique Dealer
I first met Tony Cooper in 1948. He had an antiques shop in
Kensington Church Street, a fashionable area in west London
frequented by a collection of both knowledgeable and
opportunist dealers. Nearly every shop was taken by the new
style of antique dealers emerging from the post war vacuum,
replacing the regular orthodox and mostly stuffy-died-in-the-
wood ‘old time dealers’ that dealt mainly with antiques of the
Being a newcomer to this scenario, and not being able to
compete financially to fill my shop in Torquay with the cream
of the antiques 18th century stock, I decided to concentrate on
the purchase of late 19th century furniture and porcelain of
which there was a plentiful amount about. Being a young and
comparatively new recruit, I was given much kind advice about
the antiques I was to specialise in by my many antique dealer
friends who had been established many years; often running
their family concerns for generations, going back to their
I was invariably advised not to deal with any antiques after
1800, and that the Regency period circa 1820 to 1840 was
never to become viable or popular as it was too modern. As
far as Victorian artifacts were concerned, 1840 to the end of
the 19th Century, only a fool would consider dealing with that
As I had very limited cash flow, I decided to concentrate on
my previous decision and the French style became my
specialty. At that time, very few antique dealers were
interested, and I was able to purchase beautiful specimens of
furniture, porcelain, and glass, Aliquot, and Galle that was at
that time, greatly undervalued.
I was able to stock our Fleet Street shop in Torquay with
colourful works of art that brightened up the street, especially
as during the late war everything was ‘utility’ and all the
modern china was made blank white. Even the furniture was
to be of a practical construction. So the decision I chose was
the correct one.
The shop was an immediate success. For about a year, I was
one of the few dealers that dealt in that period. I would often
buy from fellow dealers that did not seem to realise that there
was a good demand for this type of antiques. They all seemed
to feel that I was not experienced enough to recognize and
deal with the goods that they were selling and were delighted
to get rid of their unwanted stock.
I purchased fantastic French Louis Philippe commodes,
cabinets, tables mostly with fine inlays and ormolu fittings.
The lucky clients that purchased them from me never stop
thanking me for selling them as the prices eventually soared
higher than the English 18th century items. I generally took a
reasonably modest profit and they had a great investment in
Unfortunately, I was not the only one that realised the
potential value of that period, and new dealers were emerging
in Kensington area that decided to latch on to the French
period. A new type of dealer was emerging from Italy, and
they had a great deal of wealth to spend. They came to
London with carrier bags of five and ten pound notes,
concentrating on the colourful items, so that within a few
months, the prices we had to pay had doubled.
I had a great friend in Kensington Church Street named
Anthony Cooper. He had a shop in the main street and I often
bought goods from him as I particularly enjoyed his company.
Now Tony was a very charming man, with a great sense of
humour, all the time I had known him I had never seen him
stressed or emotional about anything, he always addressed me
as ‘dear heart’ (which made me a little anxious sometimes). I
used to pull his leg, at his little affectations, especially when he
told me of all his many conquests, which if they were half true,
would put him in the league with, I Casanova. I would always
try to look impressed, and envious. He was always very
amusing company and eventually we became firm friends.
Tony made good use of the Italian demand and he purchased
a large lorry from which he would then spend a week traveling
all over the land to buy goods from all the country dealers.
Even though he would pay good prices, he would return to
London, where the Italians were waiting, and sell out the
complete stock. He only added on 15% on his purchase price
and the buyers knew that. Never-the-less he told me that he
always received over £30,000 per consignment and that
netted him over £4,000 per week. He was considered one of
the quickest buyers in the trade, and the reward from his
efforts was at that time considerable.
He was able to do that weekly trip for many years and
consequently he became very rich; although, he complained to
me that it was getting too tiring and it was harder to find the
quality of goods that the Italians wanted. He often said to me
that it was lonely being on the road all the week, and he
invited me to accompany him on his next weekly trip. This was
absolutely extraordinary, as no dealer would normally allow a
competitor to know the 'ins & outs'’ of where he purchased his
goods, especially as I was one of his best customers.
Knowing Tony for a number of years I was quite flattered to be
asked again to accompany him, he knew that I would never
approach any of his contacts in the future without him being
with me. On the previous occasion I joined him on his buying
travels, he allowed me to buy anything from the dealers after
he had made his normal purchases, and he, knowing all the
purchasing contacts from the north of London, right up to
Scotland was a great contribution to my own success.
It was arranged by Tony, that I would spent the night with him
at his country estate in Ripley, Surrey.
I was to arrive at 8 p.m. and we would then depart the
following morning at 9.a.m.and do a three day trip to the
Arriving on time, he informed me that his program has had to
be changed, as he had just paid £500 for the information that
the son of Esther Henry, was about to dispose of the many
treasures that were in the beautiful antiques emporium in the
Main Street Edinburgh, that had belonged to the well known
and sorely missed prominent antiques dealer Esther Henry.
She unfortunately lost her life in an air accident when the
plane she was in crashed into the Everglades, Florida, U.S.A.
It appeared that the son had received probate and was
prepared to dispose of some of the fabulous treasures as he
was short of cash. Although the stock was worth a fortune, the
son needed a great deal of money, and after nearly a year of
arrangements, he was prepared to sell a great deal of the
existing stock. Ester Henry’s antiques were very well known by
all the main dealers, both British and Continental.
One of her exalted customers was the late Queen Mary, and
royalty, nearly always paid the shop a visit, when they were in
Tony told me that he was canceling our trip to the Midlands,
and that we would drive to Edinburgh that night as he told me
that the son, Paul, would be in the shop at 9 a.m. the next
morning and whoever would get to him first would be the one
able to buy this fabulous stock.
The informant that told him about this opportunity also
informed Tony that one of the biggest antique dealers in Milan
also had the information and that he had booked a flight into
Edinburgh and was due to land at 9.30 a.m.
We had to get there first....
It was about 9 p.m. when we started on our way to Edinburgh.
The weather was perfect. With the roads dry and no sign of
rain, Tony, who was some type of dare devil drove his car like
a Formula One champion. It was early Spring and the light was
good until 9 p.m. We were reaching speeds approaching 125
miles per hour and I admired the way Tony drove and
controlled the Jaguar. He was totally occupied and resigned to
drive right through the night and he decided only to rest at the
refreshment stations when he felt too tired to drive. I offered
to take a session at the wheel, but he would not let anyone
touch his beloved car. We had well over 1,000 miles to go
before we arrived at Ester Henry’s Shop in Edinburgh.
By the time we passed Manchester it was nearly midnight and
Tony told me that we would get to Edinburgh well before 9
a.m. We would therefore quite easily beat the Italian dealer,
as the plane from Italy was not due in Scotland before that
time. We stopped the car at the station in Carlisle and we both
slept for 30 minutes.
During the journey, I discussed with Tony, that as this was his
affair, I would be happy just to come for the ride, but Tony
insisted that I could also do some purchasing. He said that the
stock was of the highest quality and he wanted me to get
some benefit out of the trip. He suggested that after he had
purchased six times, I would be able to make one bid for
whatever I chose. And this arrangement would continue
throughout the transaction. I thought this was a very generous
offer on his part and I was very happy to participate.
Leaving Manchester after a short rest, we were travelling along
a practically empty road and making very good time. Tony
seemed to shed his tension and became very much more
relaxed. I could tell from his attitude that this would be a very
important deal for him. At that time there was an unending
demand for quality antiques and while Tony was supplying the
West Kensington area, I had three shops to stock; at this time
I had two large shops in Bournemouth, and one in London.
As we were approaching Scotland at about 6 a.m., a dense fog
completely enveloped us, visibility was reduced to about ten
yards and our speed was reduced to 10 miles per hour. There
was no way we could get to the shop in Edinburgh by our
hoped for time of 9 a.m. Tony became very depressed and he
thought that his efforts to get to the shop in time would be of
no avail, and that the big Italian dealer would get to the shop
before us. This important deal would be lost in in the Scottish
During the journey he told me that the son of Esther Henry
was not a top class dealer like his mother and that he was
short of money (probably due to death duties). He would be
very anxious to sell and would do so at trade prices,
somewhere around a third of what was displayed on the price
I told Tony that if there was fog in the area, then it was most
likely that the airport in Edinburgh would be closed and we had
every chance of getting there first. This calmed him down
somewhat and we finally rolled into Edinburgh at 11 a.m.
Tony knocked on the door of the closed shop and to his
delight, the son Paul appeared with a client who was
fortunately only a small local dealer. Tony introduced me to
Paul, and suggested that the local dealer could come back
later as he and his friend Geoffrey wanted to do some serious
business. This he agreed to do and we were the first serious
dealers to arrive since he had decided to sell.
On entering the magnificent shop, I was amazed at the superb
quality of the furniture, porcelain, silver, jewellery and objects
d'art. The building was very old and had five floors all stocked
out with treasures that were now very hard to find. I have
seen many antiques dealers operating swiftly in their
purchasing programs, but never one so sure and quick as Tony
did. He was very experienced in judging quality and could
make up his mind in a flash. After he had finished his six
purchases, he invited me to choose a purchase, which of
course I did.
The prices were not especially low, but I could see a
reasonable profit on the purchases. The buying went on for
about an hour, by which time Tony had spent over £50,000. I
was allowed my share as agreed. Tony told Paul that he and
his friend Geoff, had unlimited funds and he been not to allow
any clients into the shop during our purchasing. He was
informed that even if it took three days, we did not want to be
disturbed. Paul agreed to this. As we went round the shop,
Tony attached his own printed buying tickets to the items he
was interested in, with the agreed price to be totalled at the
end of the deal.
At 12.45 a.m. there was a furious knocking at the door of the
shop and Tony realised that the very important Italian dealer
had arrived from Milan and he was demanding to be admitted
into the shop. Paul having agreed not to admit any other
dealer into the shop until we had finished our purchases,
ignored the knocking. However the Italian looked through the
letter box and saw some of Tony Cooper’s buying labels, and
he yelled out in broken English, “Tony Cooper, if you do let me
come into this shop, I will make sure that you will not be able
to sell any of your goods in Italy again”. There was apparently
a Mafia type of organisation in Italy at that time and Tony sold
most of his antiques to the Italians.
Tony thought it out and decided to go outside and talk to him.
After about fifteen minutes he entered the shop with the
Italian and informed Paul that the Italian would continue the
purchase instead of himself and that I would continue to buy
after every six purchases. Of course I had to agree, as it was
not my deal and it did not really affect my position. To my
surprise Tony appeared quite content at this change of
operation and quietly informed me that he could not afford to
fall out with this powerful client. So that he agreed let him
enter the shop and buy. As an afterthought he mentioned that
the Italian agreed that Tony could keep all the purchases he
has completed and that he would give Tony 15% of all the
items he was able to buy from Paul in cash. I believe that the
Italian spent £500,000, so you can see it was a good deal for
I personally spent over £50,000, and after three days I was
absolutely exhausted, I bought some lovely antiques, and was
able to stock out my three shops.
When we had all finished our business, and paid our bills, Tony
asked Paul to show me the showroom in the basement.
Removing the large Persian carpet on the shop’s floor, he
tugged open a trap door and invited me to descend down
some wooden steps. It was very dark like some large cave and
I could just make out several glass cabinets. When I arrived at
the bottom of the stairs, Paul switched on the electric lights
and all the cabinets glowed with the most amazing treasures;
jade, ivory, enamels, rare porcelains, Sevres, Meissen and
fabulous jewellery with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. I
have never seen such a superb private collection in my life and
I do not expect to see one again. Paul said that he had enough
money at the moment and that he did not want to sell any of
the basement treasures at the moment, but would get in touch
with Tony if he wanted to sell.
Tony informed me some time later, that one of the biggest
London Dealers finally bought all the basement collection and
it must have realised over £1,000,000.
I remained very friendly with Tony for over 30 years and often
saw him when I came to London. In the latter years he had
purchased a lovely cottage in Ripley, Surrey, he had a lovely
wife named Joan, the only trouble was that he became so rich
that women & drink took their toll. He stupidly divorced his
wife and then became dependant on drink.
After opening a very up-market antique shop in the village of
Ripley, I used to see him in the large pub, opposite his shop
where he would be drinking alone. He was always pleased to
see me and we would reminisce about all the good times we
had had. He had not remarried, but told me that he had a 'few
irons in the fire'.
I learned to my dismay that Tony Cooper had died at the same
Pub, when he was on his own, which was quite sad. He had
not reached 60 years of age.
The Ivory Cross
In the early nineteen fifties, the antique trade was a booming
profession and after a number of years suffering colourless
porcelain (it was forbidden to waste time and resources to
produce anything that was not utility during the War Years),
people were hungry for beautiful artefacts. I remember going
to an auction sale in a private house where even the utility
furniture was rationed and one was not allowed to purchase
two suites of bedroom furniture. In fact one large firm actually
coined the name of 'beautility' furniture. I would not
exaggerate by saying the country was culturally sad and the
people were starved of colour and pretty items. However,
antique porcelain was available with beautiful workmanship
and vivid colour and it and became greatly in demand.
There was however, a body of men of which I was a member,
that appreciated and loved the quality of the Victorian and
earlier periods of antiques. It was possible to obtain beautiful
items for sale, as many people had collected all their lives and
when they died, unless they had some prior knowledge, was
considered 'junk' by the surviving relatives. In many cases
they were almost given away.
Britain was a veritable treasure house. All the industrial
nations, especially America and Italy sent in their own dealers
to compete with ours. The prices rose accordingly, and at one
time at least six freighters would leave our docks every day
full of the finest quality porcelain, furniture, paintings, clocks
and object d'art. You did not have to be a financial wizard to
realize that the well would soon be empty and antiques would
reach the formidable prices that are now prevalent.
In our own town of Bournemouth, we had quite a few general
dealers with no premises or shops. They would all get together
in the evening to discuss the various deals that they had done
during the day. Mostly their stories were not true and they
often exaggerated to make the other dealers jealous. We
amongst us some dealers with a fairly credible knowledge who
could recognise a quality item as rare, even if they did not
know exactly what it was.
A small time dealer called Oscar, now deceased, had a little
shop in the Lansdowne and had purchased a small collection of
articles. They were mostly inexpensive jewellery, but included
in the batch was a small ivory cross. Oscar offered them all to
a dealer named Jack Shaw, for a small amount of money but
Jack decided he was not interested.
Jack had no shop premises, but made a small time living
buying at auction sales. He was always immaculate in his
dress attire and carried an aura of wealth, but fortune always
seemed to elude him however hard he tried.
A prominent local antiques dealer (whom I shall call Mr. 'G.')
was very well known and had a magnificent antiques shop. Mr
'G' heard about Oscar's collection and purchased the items in a
lot for a modest amount. He then took them back to his shop
to evaluate and examine them further.
A very experienced antiques dealer from London came into his
shop, to enquire if he had any fine goods for sale. Mr 'G' told
him that he had nothing that would interest him. This London
dealer was not popular and was known to be very greedy.
The London dealer persisted and seeing the items that 'G' had
just purchased, fastened on an antique Ivory Cross that was
included in the lot purchased from Oscar. He demanded to
know how much was the price of the cross. 'G' told him that he
had not evaluated that item, and he would inform him later if
he would wish to sell it. At this the Dealer turned a bit tardy
and insisted for it to be priced, as it was in an open shop. 'G'
told him that if he insisted he would ask £500 for it, which was
an enormous amount at that time. The dealer, feeling that 'G'
had paid a fairly modest price for it, became quite cross. He
said that he considered the price quite ridiculous and made to
exit from the shop.
Hesitating at the door he returned to 'G' with his £500 in his
hand. This was now refused, on the basis that he had turned
down the original offer and was told that the price had now
gone up to £1,500. The dealer became furious and swore that
he would never again do business in that shop again.
That night at midnight, the phone rings in 'G's home. It was
the London dealer. He said that he would give 'G' £5,000 for a
half share in the Ivory Cross. The dealer was reminded that he
had told 'G' that he would never do business again with him
and the phone was abruptly put down.
It appeared, that after some in-depth authentication, the cross
was one of eight ivory crosses made in the 8 th century and was
Saxon in origin. It was well known and had been considered
lost for hundreds of years.
'G' being made aware of its true value put it up for auction in
Switzerland. Where it made £40,000. Today it would reach at
Poor old Jack Shaw, realising that he had rejected an
enormous fortune, by not purchasing it first from Oscar, died
at the early age of 45, we suspect, of a broken heart.
King of the Clappers
In the early 1950’s antiques and works of art were very
plentiful in Britain, and although there was a profusion of fine
quality items available, the public seemed unaware of their
true value. Many homes contained unvalued possessions that
had been their property since the Victorian and Georgian days.
However, buyers from other countries realised the more
accurate value of the ‘works of art’. The Italians and
Americans responding to responding to local demand were
loading daily shiploads of our antiques from our docks. This
had the effect of making our remaining pieces rarer, and the
price rose accordingly.
By the 1960’s it was announced by the Antiques Review, that
at least six large ships would leave every day, full of our
National Treasures. You did not have to be a financial genius
to realise that owing to the continuing scarcity of antiques, the
price must eventually rise.
A new breed of dealers who were on the fringe of the antique
trade appeared. These traders generally had some local
knowledge of antiques but did not have the financial strength
to open a shop or business. Instead they travelled around the
Country and the surrounding districts, knocking on doors,
offering the owners 'high prices' for any object they could buy.
They were called 'Clappers' by the orthodox dealers.
These gentlemen would buy as much as the householder could
be persuaded to accept and they would then sell the goods to
the antique shops.
There were occasions when to tempt the reluctant seller to do
business, they would offer a stupendous high price for a
practically unsaleable item, then proceed to buy the treasured
goods that was previously denied to them.
They would then offer to pay for all the goods except the one
with the excessive high price, saying that "we will be back
tomorrow with the cash for that one". Of course they never
returned, but they had achieved their objective. As they had
no regular address, the seller had no 'come back'.
Not all the Clappers behaved like that, but the temptation to
do so was very evident. People would often come into my shop
offering for sale articles of jewellery and works of art and we
had to be particularly careful that the items were not stolen.
We always checked up on the people, found out their address
and established their 'bone fide' as to their ownership.
I remember very clearly, when a smartly dressed man walked
into my shop and gave me the name of a recently widowed
friend. He told me that he was a friend of the lady, and she
had recommended to him saying "That Mr. Russell was the
ideal man to buy jewellery". He told me he had some large
gem stones but they were 'not quite right', which in the lingo
of the rough trade meant hot or stolen. I was so amazed at his
effrontery to blatantly offer me dodgy goods, that I ordered
him out of the shop, telling him I would inform the police of
About ten minutes later two tall Policemen came into the shop
to gather the details. After I had told them the facts
they asked me to describe the stolen jewellery to them.
Unfortunately I told them that I did not see, or want to have
anything at all to do with him and therefore did not ask to
examine his goods. I just told him to get out of my premises.
The Police told me that they would have to make a report to
the main police station and would continue their investigations
Two days later, the two policemen returned to my shop and
told me that 'gentleman' had visited another shop in the town
and had offered the same story to the assistant. She asked the
man to come back in half an hour as she was not the owner
and her boss would be back by then. She also telephoned the
police, who after hearing her story, decided to wait behind a
screen in the shop for him to return. The owner asked to see
the gem stones he had for sale and the man opened up his
briefcase and showed her a quantity of large diamond rings
and jewellery. He suggested that they should be put in a safe
place for at least two years when the 'hot goods' would
become cooler. The price he asked for the jewellery was about
half the normal one would expect to pay.
The police came out from behind the screen and arrested the
man. When they asked him where he got those diamonds
from, the man said that the items in the case belong to him
and in any case they were not diamonds, but Zirconia's. At
this time the Zirconia's were being imported from Russia. They
were a brilliant flawless copy of diamonds, but the stones were
valueless and any knowledgeable jeweller would spot this.
The Police then took him to a local prominent jeweller who
confirmed that they were not diamonds, and thus the plot
became clear. The idea for his group was to offer these phony
goods to shady dealers who were not too particular where the
goods came from. They would hint that they were stolen and
get paid a good price on the basis the dealer would make an
attractive future investment. After all, how could the buyer
complain to the police that a man had sold them fake
diamonds when he was clearly told that the goods were stolen!
It was a great sting and I suspect it must have been successful
in many cases, as the seller was just one of many going
around the country.
In the end, it was decided by the authorities to charge the
man with attempted fraud. I was a witness for the
prosecution. To our surprise, the defending Barrister was one
of the most prominent legal experts in London, yet the man
selling the goods was practically penniless. So who paid for the
barrister's expensive services?
The upshot was, that he was found 'not proved' and was
released, free to continue his tricks if he should so desire.
These days of course, Zirconia’s are easily recognized they are
a soft stone and no jeweller worth his salt would be unable to
The police were very grateful for my help. They told me that
they would watch him closely. Sure enough, some time later,
he was caught and sentenced for burglary.
Many of the genuine Clappers were a friendly and hard
drinking crowd. They all knew each other, and they would
spend their time knocking on doors every day to earn a living.
As mentioned earlier, usual method of their buying was to ask
the householder if they had any jewellery or silver for sale.
They would then offer the owner a very much inflated price to
attain the sellers confidence, and although they would lose on
the first purchase, they usually made up for it with the
following ones, showing a hansom profit.
One of the more prominent Clappers was Harry Nathan, who
was a charming man, with a great sense of humour.
He told me that one Sunday a Clapper - one he did not know -
knocked on his door to ask if Harry had any jewellery that he
wanted to sell. Harry replied that he had a few minor pieces
for sale but the really fine goods were put away in a safe place
and had to be unpacked. He said it would take at least an hour
to get to them. In the meanwhile he asked how much would
the clapper pay for the few minor pieces he had shown him?
The Clapper, as was the usual method, offered an excessive
price for them, paid for the unsaleable items and said he would
return within the hour to view the fine Antiques after they
When he returned an hour later, Harry said to him, "do you
know who I am"?
"No" said the clapper.
"Well I will enlighten you. I am Harry Nathan, KING OF THE
CLAPPERS." He then gave him the money back, and told him
to try elsewhere
The Widow and the Silver
I remember quite clearly in 1970 in my large antique shop on
Richmond Hill Bournemouth attending to a very nice middle
She was very well dressed and spent time admiring all the fine
antiques I then had in stock. When I approached her to
ascertain if she wanted to purchase, she sadly informed me
that her husband had recently died. She said she would
regularly donated £20,000 to her favourite charity. However it
appeared the her deceased husband spent all his great wealth
purchasing very early silver English items made in the 17 th &
18th century and she no longer had the funds for her donation.
She mentioned that her husband gave her anything she ever
wanted and she thought he was quite comfortably off. But the
silly man was obsessed with purchasing early English silver
and now there was not enough money to support her charities.
Apparently her husband had some pieces dating back to
Charles I and had spent his whole life collecting, often going all
over the world to buy to acquire items.
Now all she had were six large crates full of the beastly things.
I comforted the good lady and told her that old silver was very
rare and expensive. I said that I would help her to get the top
price if she wanted to dispose of them. I also mentioned a
figure of at least £500,000 if her descriptions were accurate.
She told me that it was difficult to believe, but agreed for me
to be her agent and I was to sell the items for her on a
commission. As it was a Saturday afternoon, I suggested that
we go straight away for me to view the crates and value the
She sadly told me she was tired. When I suggested a visit on
the Sunday she informed that she always spent Sundays in
Church. We finally made an appointment for 9 a.m. Monday
morning to give her time to unpack the crates.
It was my intention to arrange the silver sale for her in
Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction rooms, which in my opinion
would get her the best price. In the meanwhile I would
advance her the £20.000 she needed for her charity. She still
looked a little sad and unbelieving but off she went, saying to
me "see you Monday at 9 a.m."
I knew that this would be a very important commission deal
for me and I was determined to get her the really top prices
and remove her financial fears.
Sharp at 9 a.m. on Monday I turned up at the address she had
given to me in Talbot Woods and I rang the bell for fifteen
Minutes, but there was no reply. So I left a note in the letter
box letting her know that I had, as promised, called to see the
An hour later I returned to her house to try once again to see
her and again there was no reply, so I left a second note with
my address on and wrote that I had called twice and would
she get in touch? I then returned to my shop on Richmond Hill
quite puzzled that I could get no reply to my call.
I was in the shop for about ten minutes, when a reporter came
in and asked me if I had left a note in a house in Talbot
Woods. When I replied in the affirmative, he told me that the
lady of the house had committed suicide on Sunday night, and
that the police had been informed.
I read in a Fine Art newspaper, some months later, that a
collection of early period English Silver, had made over
£1.500,000 and it was advertised as the silver Sale of the
Year, I am sure that it was from that sadly troubled lady.
The Clock that Stopped
I am not particularly open to psychic stories. In fact I am
usually quite down to earth (although my dear wife Carole
feels different). However I was very intrigued by this
A smartly dressed middle aged lady came into my shop. She
was one of my first customers in the new extension shop on
Richmond Hill. She told me sadly that she had been recently
widowed and to try to cheer herself up she had decided to buy
a French clock.
After looking around at all my stock for a considerable time,
she chose a beautiful ‘Champleve’ mid 19th century timepiece
and asked me to set it up for in her apartment, which was
I acceded to her wishes and placing it on her mantelpiece. It
looked magnificent and the lady seemed delighted.
It is worth mentioning that all our antique clocks were cleaned
and examined by expert clock repairers before they were sold.
These were expensive items and my goodwill depended on the
Much to my surprise, the lady returned to my shop on the
following morning telling me that her late husband does not
approve of the clock and can she change it for another.
I was bemused by this remark and asked how had she
ascertained that her departed partner did not like the clock?
She informed me that he had stopped the clock at midnight
and it refused to go after that time!
I found that hard to accept, I told her I would go to her home
to try to restart the clock.
I arrived at her luxurious home that night. There was the
magnificent clock on the mantelpiece with both hands on the
Now, I pride myself that I am quite expert with French clocks.
But after trying for over two hours, I could not get the clock
So I invited the lady to choose another clock from our stock or
accept her money back. The next day she arrived in the shop
and chose another superb clock, which I delivered and set up
in her home. She told me she was sure that her husband
would approve of this one.
Sure enough, a few days later she came into the shop, telling
me how pleased was her husband with the replacement clock!
I did not ask her how she had found that out.
The amazing result of this story was that for three days the
first clock she had purchased stubbornly refused to perform.
On the forth day it suddenly woke up and became a very good
I took it to my repairer for a check. After having it for over a
week, he told me it was in perfect order. I sold it a few days
later to a friend, telling him the story about the husband’s
disapproval. He laughed, and took the clock home.
A few weeks later he came into the shop telling me how
pleased he was with the clock. He had experienced no
problems at all with its performance!
Ludvic Illes and the Emeralds
During my life as an antique dealer, I often tried to help my
friends and acquaintances with a leg up the ladder of success.
One of the struggling itinerary dealer friend I knew was a
Czechoslovakian called Luovic Illes. He was a married man
with two young children making a sparse living selling cheap
£1 silver rings to small jewellery shops.
He had a hard time when he first arrived as a refugee,
especially as he was unable to speak English. He always
carried a worn out jewellery case, which he would display to
the prospective shop owners hoping to sell his pathetic wares.
He would travel up from Devon and turn up at the shop every
month. I always take a couple of dozen rings from him that I
usually had to practically give away.
We would always have a cup of tea and a chat. I would always
suggest that he should try to raise the quality of his stock, but
he never had enough money to do so.
One day in 1980’s he arrived at my shop, opened his battered
jewellery case and to my surprise it contained some lovely
pieces of diamond jewellery.
I congratulated him on the better stock he was carrying and I
asked him who the jeweller that owned his stock of diamonds
was. He informed me that they were his and that he had a
partner that also had about the same value in diamonds! I told
him I was very happy for him, and I spent about £500 of items
to sell in my shop.
On his next monthly visit, when he opened his jewellery case
my surprise was tremendous. He had a fortune of diamonds
for sale including a lovely diamond bracelet for £1,500,
earrings for £2,000 and quite a few good diamond rings. A
stock that was beyond possibility to purchase! When I asked
him “who owns these lovely pieces of jewellery” he informed
me "he was the owner and that his partner had a similar
amount for himself!"
When I asked him if he was one of the Great Train Robbers
that the police were looking for, he laughed and told me that if
I would give him a cup of tea, he would tell all.
This was his story:
"I went with a friend to the Diamond Bourse in London. My
friend was a modest jeweller and he wanted to try to sell a
diamond ring for £90."
"The Bourse is for jewellers to buy and sell wares in a coffee
shop atmosphere. It is mostly patronised by the Jewish
fraternity for they were the major players in this area. Now
my partner tried to sell his ring, but had no takers. However
on every table there was a printed notice from the Soviet
Union informing them that a consignment of emeralds was to
be sold to the highest bidder and all dealers were invited to
attend a welcoming party at the Soviet Embassy."
"As the Soviets had been persecuting the Jews in Russia, the
members of the Bourse had decided to boycott the sale."
"Now my friend knew that the Soviets always made a great
party before a auction with caviar, champagne and all sort of
free goodies. As he had a Bourse business card and the
embassy was quite near, we decided to attend on the basis
that the boycott did not concern us as we could not afford to
bid for any emeralds."
"We were welcomed by the Secretary of the embassy as
V.I.P.s. We had a lovely time and became a somewhat squiffy
on champagne. After an hour or two, the Secretary asked if we
would like to see the emeralds. Although we were slightly
embarrassed, we agreed to view the stones and perhaps make
an insignificant bid."
"He then took us in the lift to the basement. It was a bit dark
in there, but in the corner there was a pile of rocks. It wasn't
gem stones - it was emerald ore. It would be necessary for a
lapidary to extract the stones from the rock. Luckily my
partner had some experience before with emeralds. He picked
up a rock and saw there was a lovely coloured deep emerald
embedded. In fact there were many rocks of the same
"He then asked the Secretary, what is the procedure for
bidding? The answer given was that there were five
hundredweights of ore and it was to be sold by that measure".
"To save our face we bid £1,500 a hundredweight. This was
duly entered on the official form with our name and address
from the business card and off we went home, having had a
good time at the Soviet's expense."
"Imagine our surprise when we had an official reply that our
bid was successful with a request to collect and pay for the
consignment as soon as possible!"
"My friend (and now partner) and I went to all our friends and
family to borrow the money, offering 100 per cent interest for
a loan for one month. We purchased a open Ford Transit and
the next day we shoveled all the rocks into the van. We rented
a small private garage and put in about six steel locks. So our
business was formed."
"My partner took one of the best rocks to a lapidary and
received £10,000 for it a request for more ore. The biggest
problem was we now had £30,000 in the bank and based on
our past trading history, how were we to explain this to the
Inland Revenue! The advice we had from our clever
accountant was to get as much money as possible, go to
Amsterdam and open up a diamond workshop."
"After we had bought a stock of good diamonds we opened up
a superb workshop, hired good workmen and a manager to
supervise. We are now both rich men!"
I then asked him if he would take £1,000,000 for the remaking
Emeralds he categorically said "certainly not".
I was really happy for him and I congratulated him on his good
That was the last I ever saw of him. He never came back to
the shop and disappeared from my life. However I was sad to
see a notice in the newspaper, that the estate of Ludvic Illes
had now been settled and so I presumed he had an early
Ludvic had mentioned that he had received a letter from the
Soviet Union asking for the emeralds to be returned as they
had made a mistake on the price paid. However as the official
Soviet document was 'bona fide' there was nothing they could
legally do to get the emerald get back.
I only hope that his demise was not some KGB type revenge.
The Chess Game I Lost
In the 1970’s The Antique Trade was booming. Fine quality
Antiques were almost doubling in price as the auction houses
in London. The provinces were hungry to satisfy the increased
demand for top quality 19th century porcelain, French clocks,
ivory, and all quality antiques of that period.
The demand was coming mainly from America, and Italy.
My new shop on Richmond Hill was doing well, but I had
trouble in replacing much of the finest quality stock I was
dealing with as the prices in London were getting astronomical.
It was not that much better with the local auctioneers either.
I was blessed with many wealthy customers and one in
particular, was an elderly gentleman who would purchase the
finest quality of antiques I had. He was one of my first regular
customers and over a period of four years, he would visit
I felt sorry for him when he came into the shop (in 1990). We
had our usual coffee and chat, then after looking around at our
stock, he told me sadly, "As I am getting too old to stay in my
large house, I will be going into an up market nursing home to
be looked after in my latter years".
He must have been in his mid 90’s.
I told him he looked young & sprightly, but he shook his head
and said, "my mind has been made up and my house has been
He then asked me if I would be interested in purchasing his
fine collection of antiques, including the ones he had
purchased from me. I told him I would be delighted, also that I
would show him a good profit on the antiques he had
purchased from my shop.
After giving me his address an appointment was made for the
following day. I also rang up my bank manager, telling him I
was about to buy a consignment of fine antiques and he must
expect that my overdraft to rise.
I arrived at the old gentleman’s house at ten o'clock as
arranged and he greeted me warmly. He told me to wander
around to view all his lovely antiques. He mentioned that he
had confidence in me to receive a fair price for anything he
I have never seen such a superb collection of porcelain, French
clocks, furniture, and ivory in a private house before.
In the corner of the excellent lounge I spotted a chess table.
It was French, made by a craftsman in the 1850’s and inlaid
with ormolu, and marble. The finest table I have seen outside
of a museum! On the table were the ivory chessmen.
They were all Swiss carved by an absolute master. The King &
Queen were about six inches high of the finest quality. The
bishops and rooks were a chess lovers dream as were the
knights. Even the pawns were superbly carved.
I gazed at them with admiration when the old gentleman -
who was behind me - asked me, "what did I think of the table
and chessmen?". I told him I had never seen a better set.
Then he asked me if I could play chess. I told him, "I am only
a beginner player". I just about know the moves that are
possible. He then told me he played for the local club, and that
he was well respected and insisted that we play a few moves.
When I made a small protest saying that we had to arrange
the business of buying and selling of the antiques, he looked
disappointed. So I sat down, he ordered coffee from his
housekeeper and the game commenced.
I moved the Queens Pawn and he moved something I slid the
bishop somewhere leaving my King vulnerable (I was hoping
to let him win quickly so that we could commence the business
of the purchases) after two more moves, I really do not
remember what they were, He stood up, and in an accusing
voice told me I had made him Checkmate!
I made a hurried attempt to change the move I had made, but
he stopped me.
He informed me in a angry voice that he did not appreciate
people that say they cannot play chess and are really experts!
And would I kindly leave the house right away, as he did not
wish to do any business with me.
He put all the Antiques in the London Auction which received
I have never won a game of chess since.
Monty Bloom and L.S. Lowry
I remember, just after the end of the 2nd World War sitting in a
cinema in Torquay watching the latest blockbuster movie (I
think that the main actors were Errol Flynn and Judy Garland)
However as an entree the cinema put on a short film
introducing an unusual artist from the north of England. His
name was L.S. Lowry. His paintings depicted the industrial and
poverty stricken north, grim factories, and crowds of working
class people alongside cats and dogs. All the figures had a
Being a budding art dearer and a traditionalist at that time, I
could hardly imagine anyone that would buy this sort of art
and hang it in their homes. But I was mistaken. After he had
become famous, there even was a song about him called the
'Matchstick Man' and he became a big success with his
paintings now fetching astronomically high prices.
L.S. Lowry was a self taught working class northerner and a
bachelor. The impression I had was that he had discovered a
new form of art that is quite original and charming. Personally.
I thought his work was interesting I could see that wealthy
people would be attracted to own one of them. It would
remind them where their money originally came from!
However, I was just starting my career as an antiques dealer,
I was mainly interested in English & French antiques.
Of course, Lowry is now highly desired and any of his paintings
would start at £30,000. The scene he painted of Piccadilly
Circus fetched close to one million pounds - and some others
It appears that in this world, if one has an original idea of art,
music, film or indeed any of our everyday occupations, it could
reap great financial rewards.
In my antiques shop on Richmond hill (1n 1965) I was building
up a very successful business. America had just realised that
our country was awash with low priced quality paintings, and
had sent over to Britain their dealers to purchase any good
signed paintings of well known artists.
I had a good customer named Monty Bloom with an excellent
knowledge of art. I often used to buy some of his paintings. He
was an intellectual and polished gentleman and I liked him
immensely. He and I formed a strong friendship as we had so
many interests in common.
After several months had elapsed, he invited me to his home
to meet his wife (I think it was Betty). They lived in a lovely
house in an up-market area of Bournemouth. Monty had
retired from running a large business and now his sole interest
was good art - of which he was now an expert.
As I was always interested to purchase any good paintings, I
asked him what his special choice of artist was. He told me
that L.S.Lowry was in his estimation one of the greatest
modern artist that England had ever produced.
He also told me that he had seen the small film about Lowry
that I had seen 20 years ago and soon after watching the film,
he travelled north to seek out to seek him out. The small
house where the artist lived was not much more than any
working class man would possess. After knocking on the door,
Lowry appeared and Monty was invited in for a cup of tea.
Monty told me they immediately got along very well.
Monty asked if he could see some of his paintings and took
him into his studio. The studio was crammed full and Monty
eventually chose around a hundred paintings. When Lowry
asked for the small sum averaging £30 each, Monty protested
that the price was too little, but Lowry told him that money
was not important to him.
They eventually formed a strong friendship, that lasted over
10 years and Monty became his patron. He finished up with
350 of his best paintings all purchased all at reasonable prices.
When Lowry had died 10 years later - he at that time had no
relatives alive. He left all his money and possessions to a
young lady that had written to him because she had the same
Monty told me that he loved every one of his pictures and told
me that they were like his children. After giving me a private
inspection of his enormous collection I tried to buy one of
them for my wife, but he could not be tempted to sell any of
Unfortunately for Monty, his wife suddenly passed away and
he was bereft and lonely. I kept in touch with him and he
came many times to our apartment. We enjoyed his
Fortunately for him, he met a charming lady friend named Isa,
(she was a distant relative,) who adored looked after him in a
wonderful way. She made Monty a happy and contented man
When the recession came, Monty decided that he would have
an exhibition in London and sell some of the Lowry paintings
he had so jealously collected. Carole and I attended to the
show and of course the prices received were a great deal more
than the price he had paid for them. I bought one for my wife
Carol called Five Figures in Grey for £1,500. It was the
cheapest one sold there.
The exhibition was a success and within two hours all the
paintings were sold. But it was a bitter-sweet moment looking
at the agony on Monty’s face at losing so many of his precious
I consoled Monty as well as I could as I knew that he had kept
back the best of his collection which only rose in value to
become very valuable indeed. So in the end, he was quite
content with the result. He told me he had given all his Lowrys'
to his son in London as he was concerned about inheritance
tax (which in his case must have then been enormous).
Unfortunately Monte suffered a massive heart attack a couple
of years ago and he died.
I often think about him and the good times we had. He was a
great friend and I miss him quite a lot. Now especially, when I
think of Lowry, my thoughts return to Monty Bloom.
In the early 1960’s I was busily combining the work of an
antiques dealer with a membership on the local council. At that
time I was running three shops in Bournemouth.
I have always had a great love of the town and had felt it was
unfortunate that local politics had to be attached to political
parties, so with the encouragement of several friends, six of us
decided to contest some of the most popular wards with the
slogan 'No Politics in Local Government'.
Most of my friends were both lucid and enthusiastic and we
were able to tip out some of the elderly die-hards that had
been perched in the council chamber since Noah had been in
After a tough contest I scraped
in the Central Ward with an
eight vote majority. I was at
that time 41 years old and felt
able and willing to give time
and effort to this town I loved.
At that time councilors were
without remunerative rewards
yet our usual monthly council meetings often finished after 1
I had been a councilor for four years and with all humility, felt
that I had done a fairly good job. I was completely
uninterested about greasing up any political pole. I cared not
for any creed or colour and I was unencumbered by any
affiliation to a political party. Therefore I could get straight to
the problem, in a speedy time. I am sure that I did a fairly
reasonable job during my entree into Bournemouth politics.
I had however, very little time for myself, and was considering
resigning from the council for that reason.
I had served for four years and new elections were being
prepared for the following term, when I noticed in the local
paper, The Daily Echo, that a Mr. Michaels informed the
readers that he would be the new member of the Central Ward
(my ward) reclaimed for the Conservative majority party.
I thought that it was a bit of a cheek as he would have to beat
me before he could attain that honour. So I geared myself up
for a tough fight, knowing that Mr. Michaels was a highly
motivated individual who owned most of the important stores
in the town centre.
I then started canvassing for the coming election and I was
surprised to find out how popular I was. I had 100 volunteers
with their cars and the satisfying result was a 650 majority.
After the election we became firm friends. He would telephone
me at the early hours of the morning, pleading for me to go to
his hotel room, to play a Polish card game called 'Clubiashe'.
Only two people could play it and it took at least two hours to
finish! He often complained that he could not sleep as he had
so many business problems to deal with.
He was known as a man that always made a success in every
enterprise he owned. One of the most prodigious of his
'Empire' was Cavendish House, a large and luxurious
departmental store in Cheltenham. He was also very involved
in the theatrical business in London.
In the mid 1970’s having helped to get Louis Michaels elected
on the Bournemouth Council, as a Conservative candidate, he
and I really got to be great friends. He even forgave me for
beating him in the last election.
He told me that he wanted me to become one of his associates
and offered to buy my two antiques shops in Bournemouth,
both of which were doing well. After the purchase, I was to
open six of his properties in Knightsbridge, London as top
grade antiques shops. He offered me a large salary as well as
3% of the turnover.
The offer he made was very financially tempting and I told him
I would consider this during the next few months. At that time
England was awash with superb antiques. Auction houses
would sell treasures each week that now only appear every
three months. All at a fraction of the prices they command
Although he offered me a high salary, I felt I would be
pressurised to perform enormous figures to pay for the
expenses and the proposed high salary he had offered. So, I
suggested to Louis that I would open a shop for him in
Cheltenham, so that he could experience how I would operate.
He thought that it was a good idea and told me to go buy
antiques. No spending limit. In the meanwhile he would
redecorate one of his best shops in the parade.
I then asked him, how can I pay for the goods I had to
purchase? He told me to apply to the Financial Director of
J.J.Allen - a large department store in Bournemouth - and
they would pay. I told him that most antiques dealers would
not wait for their money and as far as I was concerned I
always paid immediately otherwise I would lose the deal.
He told me that he would arrange for me to receive a
company cheque book and that I was to go right ahead and
purchase some good antiques for the opening in three weeks
The cheque books arrived two days later, with a note from the
Financial Director, informing me that no-one in the company
has ever been given that privilege; not even the other
Directors. But as Mr. Michaels had given the permission, he
had no option but to comply.
I spent the next few weeks in the London auction houses as
well as visiting my many antique dealer friends. In all, I spent
£50,000 on some of the most superb antiques. Louis was
delighted. He took me around to all his associates and proudly
introduced me as his prodigy.
I ran the shop for two years and it prospered greatly. The only
problem I had was that the local manager of the shop
originally worked at Cavendish House while his wife was
running an antiques shop for herself.
Usually, most antique dealers are able to buy from their
Of course one cannot work for two masters, so when I asked
the local manager of the Cheltenham shop have you purchased
any antiques from your many clients, he always told me that
he had not been offered any goods! I suggested to Louis that
he change the manager. But he was so loyal to his staff, he
refused. So I had an excuse to tender my resignation,
especially as I was getting a peppercorn salary, and I needed
time to attend to my own businesses.
Louis was still interested in buying my own business and told
me that the original offer was still on.
However, a few days later, he changed his mind. He informed
me that as I was a war disabled ex serviceman. As I could
possibly suddenly depart this world, he could not take the risk
as he knew no one that could possibly replace me.
Ironically, six months later it was Louis Michaels who died of a
I had three Antiques shops to supply and I often had to
supplement my stocks by purchasing goods from other antique
I had a wide circle of antique dealer friends who would sell me any
of their stock at a reduced price. Most of the dealers did business
that way, and it was like a friendly brotherhood. It continued solely
on trust and as long as the cheques given were honoured, business
developed amongst the trade.
If unfortunately a dealer’s cheque were to bounce, the news of it
would be circulated and the unfortunate dealer would be
permanently black-listed. The antique trade would be very
important to most dealers as even with a reduced profit on the
goods sold, the deal would be quick and the stock would ‘turn
I used to go to Geoffrey’s shop in Salisbury several times a year.
He was very pleasant to deal with, he had a good knowledge, was
able to deal quickly and in the auction room was regarded as a
formidable opponent - especially with Japanese and Oriental works
My main interest was in the French 18th & 19 th century porcelain,
furniture, paintings, bronze, and glass, of which he often had in his
stock. But mainly his articles were inferior to the goods I wanted to
buy. But I always seem to find something to purchase, and we had
a good foundation for our mutual business.
The only problem I found was finding good antiques at reasonable
prices was getting difficult.
On one of my regular visits to my friend Geoff, I was amazed to
see a vast change in his stock.
Instead of his usual mediocre stock, he now had the finest quality
valuable antiques I have seen outside of the fashionable London
Mayfair scene. Every item was authentic and expensive. I knew
that the prices would be too high for me to purchase. When I
congratulated Geoff on the quality of his stock, I also asked when
he had won the lottery. When he said he had not, I then suggested
a rich had left him an inheritance. Still he said no. But as we were
great pals, he told me the secret that I must keep for six years. As
that time has long past, I am now allowed to relate the tale.
“I was late to go to an auction sale in Crewkerne ( a country Town
30 Miles away) that I had not viewed but learnt from a friend that
some old Japanese painting were to be sold on that day.”
(Japanese Painting are my hobby, from my early days and I had a
fair value of good quality Japanese Art) which was in high demand
then and is still wanted by top dealers.
“When I arrived at the sale room I was late. The sale was over. To
my amazement I saw 17 Rolls holding each a superb early
Japanese painting. On examination I realised I had missed a
I approached a porter and asked him who had bought the rolls of
paintings and he told me it was a small dealer that I knew. After I
had given a good tip he gave me the dealer’s address (he lived 30
miles away), I drove to his house arriving at 10 p.m.
He was in bed. He came down to the door and I asked him to sell
me the paintings offering him £200. He replied ‘sorry’ but I have
sold them on to a fellow dealer for less than you would have given
me. I offered the dealer £100 if he would give me the address of
the man he sold to he accepted and he gave me an address over
100 miles away.
Again I knew that dealer. I arrived at his home at 6 a.m. I told
him I want to buy the paintings he had just bought for what was
then a high price. I received a receipt from him and took delivery
at the auction sale room.
On examination they were more precious and rare. The artists
were top names the museums of the world were searching for. In
consequence of that deal I disposed of my ordinary stock. After
selling a few of the scroll paintings to top dealers, I accumulated
enough capital to fill the shop with superb antiques bought mainly
from Sotherby and Christie auction sales!
I congratulated him on his persistence and tenacity saying most
ordinary dealers would have shrugged their shoulders with regret
at having missed a very good bargain.
I told him I could not buy any more from him as the price for his stock was
above the amount I could get for them.
Addendum ‘the Name of The dealer been slightly changed
Samson of Paris
I first learned about the famous firm of Samson de Paris when I
was only 12 years old. I knew that there was a firm in Paris and its
sole activity was to copy every well known and much sought after
items of porcelain, enamel, ormolu, bronzes and French clocks.
They also made superb copies of the finest period Chinese and
Japanese porcelain and were extremely well known through out the
collecting world. In fact you could say that there was no fine
porcelain or enamels that they did not copy.
As originals were becoming more scarce even collectors were
interested in their copies. Samson of Paris did not receive the true
value of the original but as the workmanship was of fine quality,
collectors were happy to pay quite a lot of money for their goods
In the 1930’s antique collecting was not as popular as it is now.
The top dealers resented the fact that skilled craftsmen were
copying the recognized works of art, fooling many 'experts'
(particularly new collectors) who would claim that they had
purchased a fine antique at a price well below the price they would
have had to pay had they found their 'treasure' with a recognized
Many collectors purchased goods made by Samson, thinking that
they were original antiques!
The family of Samson was very proud of their reputation, history
and undoubted skill and their wares were sold all over the world. In
fact the family was so proud so of the goods that they produced
that they turned a large warehouse next to their workshop in Paris
into a museum. For every piece that they ever produced, they
made a duplicate one for their museum. Usually the selected items
were made with extra skill and care and were not offered for sale.
Only close friends, and valued customers were permitted to visit
this private collection.
A young man came into my shop and introduced himself to me as
the grandson of Samson. He told me that his great grandfather had
started the business in the late 19th Century and that after a break
during the war he and his brother would continue to make copies
of porcelain and enamels as his forebears did many years ago.
Although I was really only interested in genuine items of fine
art, there was a market in fine reproductions - especially as
the price is considerable lower. Consequently, I made an
appointment to visit his workshop in Paris. However my main
motivation was my curiosity to see this very historic
Arriving in Paris a few weeks later, I sought out the address he
had given to me. They were located in a very central position
just off the Place de la Republique and quite near the Grand
Knocking on the door of a large gate leading on to the work
yard, I was greeted by young Pierre who showed me around
his kilns and explained the procedures of making fine
porcelain. He showed me the specially imported clay and the
various casts they were working on. It was a highly skilled
As much as I admired his endeavours, I only made a few
token purchases, as I was really interested in period antiques.
But as I was in the presence of a world recognized
establishment, I did buy some pieces for my own interest. in
fact the quality of the Meissen copies I purchased was so well
constructed, I decided to keep it for my collection of fakes.
The young man then invited me to visit the Samson Museum.
Feeling highly honoured at being allowed to visit the private
museum, I was led into the huge warehouse where at least a
thousand superb examples of every known porcelain, bronze,
enamel, paintings, chandeliers, clocks with 'Sevres' style
porcelain, in fact every known and highly desired works of
art had been skillfully copied to the extent that few antique
dealers would be able to recognize them as fakes. I saw some
of the finest copies of ‘Famille Rose’ plaques, vases, some 3ft
high. Of course, most of the exhibits were over 80 years old.
To say I was impressed is a great understatement. I could not
calculate the value of that collection other than to say that it
was priceless. When I suggested that I would love to purchase
any of the exhibits, Pierre told me that none was for sale and
would remain with his family always.
As I was interested only in 18th and 19th century antiques, I did
not return to the Samson establishment until eight years later.
Whilst I was in Paris on a buying trip I decided to get in touch
once more with Messrs Samson, just to give them my regards.
Arriving at the gate at the entrance of their business, I saw a
large poster telling me that Samson of Paris had been sold and
was no longer functioning. It also gave an address in the
suburbs of Paris of the company that purchased it.
I immediately ordered a taxi to take me to that address, which
was 30 miles away. At about four o'clock in the afternoon I
arrived at the premises. To my surprise it was a very modern
earthwork, making crude ugly flower pots of various sizes and
the owner looking like a poor peasant, playing with concrete
making up another one of his hideous flower pots.
I introduced myself (I speak reasonably fair schoolboy French)
and told him I was an English antiques dealer, and knew the
Samson family well and how surprised I was to find that the
business had been sold. He did not elaborate except to say
that the business had been for sale, and that he had
I then asked him about the museum and he pointed at a large
shed in his huge field and told me he wanted to get rid of all
the Samson items. He obviously had little love for works of
art. I asked to look over whatever he had left and he nodded
his head in assent.
It was distressing to see all those lovely works of art heaped
together, dirty and disheveled as if they were a load of junk. I
returned to the 'peasant' and told him I was interested in the
purchase of the whole collection. He then informed me that he
had telephoned Sotherby in London last week and they would
be coming to France in to collect all the items.
I tried to purchase a few pieces, but he told me that Sotheby
had asked him to keep the collection intact. He informed me
that if I had arrived a week earlier, we could have done
So sadly I left empty handed. I heard later that Sotheby had
made a special auction and they had made really good prices.
So while my instinct had been correct, my timing was just out.
What really distressed me was that wonderful museum and its
collection had been destroyed.
I had Two Brothers and two Sisters living in Los Angeles California,
U.S.A. Therefore I spent quite a lot of time visiting them, taking a
welcome break from all my commitments. I found running three
Antique Shops in Bournemouth and one in Kensington Road London
W.9. plus my civic duties as a town councilor of Bournemouth,
quite exhausting, so I often took a break in America to recharge
During one of my visits there, I with my Sister Freda paid a visit to
Las Vegas, in Nevada, which as you know is a betting capital of the
world. My Sister being in her 80’s, was full of life, and to my
embarrassment would talk to everyone. She was quite proud that I
was a Councilor, and she mention that to all and sundry at the
swimming pool when I was not about.
She met what she described as a charming man, imparting the
news that I was in local Government in England. This man replied
that he also worked in local Government, and at the present he
was Police commissioner of Dade County Florida U.S.A.
He was tall and handsome, in fact he looked like President
Kennedy. Although he was married, all the available young ladies
around the pool were eyeing him hopefully. He on his part, told me
that he needed a break from his civic duties
He decided to chance his luck by throwing the dice. But,
unfortunately he was down $6,000 on the morning! He added
“never mind to-morrow is another day”.
Not being a gambler myself, I was duly impressed at his courage,
and thought that the hotel would welcome clients of that caliber.
Especially a Police Commissioner as it was prestigious for him to be
We got along like a house on fire as Tom and I had similar
interests in antiques of all sorts; especially 19th century paintings.
After two hours in the sun by a splendid swimming pool we
established a warm relationship and arranged to see each other the
When we next met, I asked him how he had got on that morning
with the rolling dice. He told me much better, as he had only lost
He left the hotel, that morning and after we had exchanged
addresses I had a strong feeling that we would meet again.
My sojourn in Las Vegas was also due to terminate as I had to
The antique business was going well in U.K. I was able to purchase
many fine antiques and 19th century paintings in the main auction
houses in London. Also there was a good demand from the public
to purchase them. The prices reached were modest and the dealers
could make a reasonable profit. I felt that this could not continue
forever, and I purchased as much stock as I could afford.
A few weeks later, much to my surprise I received a telephone call
from London informing me (from a large hotel in Park Lane) that a
Mr. & Mrs. O’ Malley wished to speak to me. Of course it was Tom
and his lovely wife Mary. They were there with their three children;
two boys aged 9 and 11 and a girl aged 9.
Tom said he was fed up with London, but thought it right to give
me a ring before returning to America. Of course I insisted that he
should come to Bournemouth right away and stay with us in our
He did this and we welcomed him and his lovely family to our
home, they were marvelous guests, and we had a great time
showing them around our superb local countryside. They loved the
New Forest, the beaches (it was a hot June), the shows and all the
many attractions in the area.
After about two weeks they had to depart back to Miami. But just
before they left, they paid a visit to my main gallery, in the
Bournemouth Arcade and purchased some good 19th century
paintings, buying for investment. Of course I made the price as
reasonable as possible. He had a good knowledge of paintings and
they were all well known 19th Century R.A. artists. Furthermore,
he had very good taste. When all the paintings were packed up he
somehow got them into his hired car, and we a said our fond
After he had returned to Miami, he telephoned me to say how
much he and his family, had enjoyed his stay, and how pleased he
was with the paintings, he insisted that I would be their guest at
his home in Miami. He was Police Commissioner for Dade County at
that time, a very popular Democratic politician, we were also told,
not too popular with the local press, as they were all right wing and
really against all the blacks, Cubans, and in particular the
Democrats, However he was immensely popular with the voting
public, and he appeared almost daily on the local Television.
After I had agreed to see them at the end of the season in
November, they seemed delighted, so I made my plans to go to
Tom & Mary’s Home in Miami.
I will never forget the reception I received when I arrived at the
Miami Airport. Tom was there in full Police uniform. We were
waved straight through the customs, everyone was smiling and
welcoming, outside the airport we were amazed to see two police
motorcycles outriders with sirens screaming to accompany me to
He had arranged a welcoming party with six guests and a lovely
hot meal. Amongst the guests were a black parson and his wife
and a few politicians all Democrats. At that time Florida was
strongly racist. Most politicians would hesitate to invite a black man
into his household. Tom however had my own feelings about race
hatred and I loved him for his liberal and humane attitude in
I stayed at his lovely house near the Miami Beach, he took a lot of
time off to show me around and the weather was glorious. I
especially remember a trip to a Native American village in the
middle of the Everglades.
Everywhere we went we were treated like Royalty. On the last day
of this superb holiday, he told me he was standing as State
Treasurer for the State of Florida; this is of course a high
Government position in the U.S.A.
He then introduced me to his Father who was a Congressman in
the States eight years ago - a very charming man, with an equally
We thanked him for our lovely holiday.
I then returned to Bournemouth, to continue running the Antiques
Shops, and the local Government affairs I was involved with.
He often spoke to me on the telephone after he had returned to
the U.S. letting me know how his attempt to win the seat of State
Treasurer of Florida was getting on, he told me that he had a lot of
support in the County, and as he was practicing in Miami as an
insurance Attorney, he felt that his chances were good and it was
no surprise to me when he telephoned to me shortly afterwards,
that he had won the seat, and was now Treasurer of Florida.
Florida had nearly always been Republican and Tom was a strong
Democrat. The fact that he had won the seat was quite
extraordinary as there are only six positions in a State Governance.
It was a great victory for the Democrat Party.
I was invited to the Inauguration Ceremony, but unfortunately I
was unable to accept and instead sent my warm wishes to Tom. I
knew that his important job could lead to eventually becoming
State Governor and even after some time has elapsed to perhaps
become even President of America! Anyway I was delighted and
congratulated him many times.
I had now become a divorced Man, as my wife decided to change
partners, the story of which will not be part of this diary. As I had
the custody of my children Peter age 14 and Lyndsay aged 9 I was
not put out. I was spending a lot of my time on business, golf and
skiing and according to a lot of friends I was something of a
playboy. My son & daughter were in local Public Schools and I was
now in my 53rd year and felt that Anno Domini was approaching
I decided I needed to change my life drastically. I decided not to
stand for re-election on the local Council, even though I was
promised by the ruling Conservatives to be considered as Mayor for
the coming year! For the first time in years I felt free.
After a good period of being a bachelor boy, I was not a happy
man. That is until I was introduced to a beautiful girl, named
Carole. She is tall (I am only 5ft - 6ins) blond, and the image of
Sophia Loren. She had just been divorced, and she had two
beautiful girls 8 and 10 and I was immediately captivated -
especially when I heard her sing Autumn Leaves. I fell madly in
love and we married within the year. Our son David is now a
solicitor in London, we are proud of his achievement and love him
dearly. He is now in his 31st year, so as one can imagine we are a
very happy family.
Going back to Tom and Mary O’ Mally; just after he had been
elected, we spent a lot of time in the phone, discussing the state of
the oil painting market in U.S.A.
Tom suggested that we could open an exhibition in Miami Florida.
He would find the venue and I would supply the 19 th century
paintings of the finest quality and of reasonable prices. I agreed,
and he sent me a cheque for $50,000, an enormous amount at
He informed me that he could take over the Barcadi Building on
Biscayne Boulevard. This is a massive new building that was very
prestigious, for the proposed exhibition. Also he would arrange a
P.A. to organise a local television program to publicize the show.
He also informed me that I would be the presenter of the show
during the half hour it was timed to run.
Although I had a fair amount of good paintings in my shops, I
decided to travel to the London auction market to make sure we
were guaranteed the finest quality and prices.
About three months after the decision to go ahead, I had a very
impressive collection of 19 century art; mostly oil paintings by
recognized Royal Academicians, some fine watercolours and even
some recognized American artists. In all I had collected 200
paintings. The catalogue was compiled by my friend and superb
photographer, Ken Hoskin. The catalogue was all in colour, and the
cost about £1,000 to produce.
I had the paintings packed and delivered by air. Tom organised the
delivery to his house and he awaited my arrival in Miami.
He had booked me into the luxurious Doral Hotel, which is on the
beach. Of course I had a similar royal reception by Tom and his
lovely wife Mary. When he viewed the collection, he was delighted.
We had arranged the Exhibition to last for 10 days and Tom
informed me that invitations had been sent out over a week ago
and he had received notifications from several of his friends that
they would be coming to the show - many were from several far off
States. My Wife Carole was a great help to me during this period,
especially as she was with Tom and I when we first met to discuss
the original project.
We had a very efficient P.A. to organise the publicity, and arrange
for my spot on the local television. Also the newspaper publicity
was under her control too. Anyway I did all I could to help and I
was warmly received by everyone. I told Tom to let me now run
the show but he was so enthusiastic I could not keep him away. I
was somewhat concerned as I thought his political opponents
might take advantage of the State Treasurer involved in a financial
operation. This proved to be true.
When the Exhibition opened, it was a great success, it was
patronised by much of the states high society. Within five or six
days, we had sold half of the paintings. We told all our clients that
they could change their mind if after they had purchased and paid
they were not satisfied. Only one purchaser did that, and on
getting an independent valuation from a leading London dealer,
who valued the painting at double the price he had paid, he then
refused the profit I offered to him on the painting. The show was a
great success and we decided to continue one every year.
Unfortunately Tom was working too hard, and suffered a heart
attack and had to take it easy for the rest of his life. This of course
meant that a follow on could not take place.
Looking back on the old records of the painting sold, the value of
every one must have appreciated at least 10 times
All the O’Malley Family kept in close contact with me, Tom Junior is
a District Attorney, their daughter Megan is married with triplets
but sadly Tom passed away a few years ago.
I still keep in touch with Mary, however owing to my war time
disability; I cannot fly long distances, although I am often invited
to visit them.