My Irish leprechaun wife wants the kitchen painting before Christmas. She handed me a paint colour card telling me that it’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for men. At the moment I feel much less ‘The Story of O’ and more the ‘ Story of O no and do I really have to’? So I suggested she hires in a decorator and then really cracks the whip if she wants it finished on time. She muttered something under her breath about ‘bloody antique dealers’ and stomped off to cast a spell.
As a small boy, I had a very much better book, a copy of ‘The Boys Book of Knowledge’. I still have it somewhere now much torn and crayoned upon by my own children. It’s full of all the sort of useless information that you only need to know if you go in for pub quizzes or do crossword puzzles. It also gives very good advice for adult life such as “Play up and play the game”, and “Never let the bastards get you down “etc. It also advised strongly never to argue with a woman who wants her kitchen painted. Stuff like that every boy needs to know before he finally grows to manhood. It’s a great pity that my stranded desert island dealers don’t have a copy. In it I learned that Napoleon Bonaparte used to watch his senior officers play cards and would promote them if they appeared to be lucky (later losing his own final big gamble to an even luckier Irishman). I tell you this because Ronald was and still is lucky. Anybody can become an antique dealer. It’s just a business buying and selling and despite what some may tell you it’s not much different from any other.
Buy for a dime , sell for a dollar, always look for the best customer with the most money and worry about his wallet not his age. Its subject to the same basic rules of accounting whether your antique business is London, New York or any small town anywhere. Just expect to pay a tad more in New York. To’ survive’ for any length of time as an antique dealer is really a very different matter. You will need stamina, trade contacts, a very good ‘eye’, bags of charm and massive amounts of luck. A few pennies in the bank also helps. All of these (excepting the latter) Ron had in bucket loads and he took them with him on his hurried buying mission. Back then, in the late 1970s /early 80s my own involvement in the antiques trade was very strictly limited.
I was busy then building up my own quite successful career in a large, established and completely different business. This allowed me to travel, raise my family without financial problems and also to subsequently play at being a part time antique hobby dealer with my long time friend, who led the posse and was never anything other than a hungry and ruthless full time professional. This then is the background to the continuing story of Ronald, his black eye (did I mention that?), his need to escape for a while and of course the blond in the e-type. It was decided that he would start his trip on the Welsh borders of England moving North, up through Cheshire, Liverpool, Lancashire finishing in Yorkshire before coming home either flush with success or totally penniless when things had settled down and the blonds’ husband had hopefully forgotten all about Ronny fixing the mirror.
It turned out to be the build up of a very strong informal partnership that has since stood the test of time. Ronny did all the early leg work and I supplied the back-up, kept the bank happy, tried to keep him out of more trouble, found contacts via my other interests and acted as a general dogsbody whenever I had the time. We could not afford then to run a shop and dealt mostly within the trade using rented storage space. We aimed our venture at the London market and the packed container trade into the US which was very good business 30 odd years ago. In those happy days we ‘ducked and dived’ as they say. It was a massive gamble but isn’t everything in life a gamble? Napoleon would have promoted us on the spot.
GOES WITHOUT SAYING
Now breaking off from the saga of Ronny for just a minute (do you really need to return I hear you groan – well yes, sorry but remember this is an inebriated camp fire story) I must mention news of the shipwrecked dealers. Things are happening . They seem in no rush to be rescued and who can blame them, so in the spirit of the season Elliot is sending out some Christmas presents. I understand that the German dealers are getting lots and lots of beach towels, the Irish and the Italian dealers being very similar in nature will both receive big boxes of fun party things sold by an almost, but not quite , royal lady with a stunning derriere. ( someone should give Harry a sharp nudge !). I dare not ask what Elliot’s sending the French as this is a family blog, but the English dealers are mostly in need of cricket whites, wickets, bails and bats. The balls they already have. More worryingly for the future is that a number of ‘the masters of the universe’ (remember them?) have read my last scribble.
They thought in their twisted minds that yes it might be another jolly money-making wheeze to flood my desert islands with cheap Victorian O’Reilly patent balloon-back dining chairs as a form of local currency. Even as I write the good ship ‘Sub-Prime 2’ is steaming towards them and I now really fear for the peace and stability of these lovely islands. The only good reason for dumping all these dreadful chairs in one place is that it might help the rest of the world because if the green lobby are to be believed, that by burning them the polar caps will melt thus causing some large icebergs to float down the Florida coast and give the sun soaked residents of Miami a bad-hair day. One final word about O’Reilly patent chairs.
Ronny once bought a whole lot very cheaply and we sent them with other antique furniture of similar quality in the containers to the USA. Should you be reading this in America and sitting on a Victorian balloon- back mahogany dining chair then reach behind and feel for two large iron bolts joining the back legs to the front frame. If you do find them, be afraid. Look under and inside the frame , if you see the stamp ‘ O’Reilly patent’ then be very afraid. Perhaps it’s best to simply view this shipment as Ronald’s little revenge for you throwing all that fine tea overboard in the Boston harbour a few years ago. Had you added a dash of milk or perhaps a slice of lemon at the time he might never have noticed. Ronald’s trip was a great success, he bought carefully and he bought very well. He visited every junk shop, auctioneer and antique shop he could find making contacts, he also went knocking on doors, a practice now much frowned upon.
It was agreed that he would keep away from pictures which we did not understand and ‘smalls’ which we did not want. He spent more than we had anticipated but on his return we sold well and soon had a very good capital return. It was the foundation of a happy long-standing open business partnership between us which survives strongly to this day. At some point on his trip the blond lady in the e-type joined him, they returned home together and I asked no questions. They are still together in their own fashion. All this was well over thirty years ago.
The twin gods of tragedy and comedy have since visited us both in equal measure as they do to everyone. In January 2000 I moved to Ireland and into happy semi retirement with my own blond wife whilst Ronny and his blond still trade in the English Midlands. Older but both still looking good, both still cutting the mustard and Ron continuing to charm the birds from the trees.......................
Nothing is ever over until the fat lady sings. Not even this story. My leprechaun wife and myself, Ronny and his blond lady, truly and sincerely hope that all the readers and contributors ( Elliot et al) of this excellent Art, Antiques and Design meeting place will enjoy a really magical Christmas and that 2013 will be a much better year for all. If I am allowed just one wish for the New Year, it is that we all start to smile a little more and show positivity instead of negativity.
There is an old saying “Smile and the world smiles with you, Cry and you cry on your own” – trust me, I know it to be true. The antique trade will survive and endure. We may not, but our profession will. So as old pirates, let’s all sail into 2013 with our tall stories and with the Sun on our Faces.