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“ till the Sun grows cold / the Stars grow old /and the leaves of the Judgment Book unfold” (Bayard Taylor 1825-78)

Wow, that’s a relief then, the world didn’t end on the 21st after all. I woke up on the 22nd with a thumping hangover and the dawning realisation that a number of very heavy cheques that I had issued a few days earlier might well get presented to the bank for payment after all. You just can’t rely on anything these days not even a full-blown worldwide catastrophe predicted by an ancient Mayan civilisation. Nothing seems to work anymore. The friendly aliens in flying saucers who were expected to beam in and save the odd-balls and the (self included) ageing hippies didn’t show up. Also interestingly I note that Ebay has banned all the spells it once sold on its site as from last September because many of those same odd-balls and hippies who purchased them complained they did not seem to work and wanted their money refunded – honestly, check for yourselves if you don’t believe me. Now you can’t even buy a decent spell or curse when you need one.

The media soothsayers had a pre-21st field-day though. They love bad news and many of the same hacks have been warbling on about the demise of the antique trade for years. As I write this their latest prediction is that we are all about to go over a fiscal cliff whatever that is. Like thousands of others in the trade I seem to have been going over a fiscal cliff for the last 30 years or so. I’m still hanging onto the cliff edge by my finger tips and haven’t fallen yet. To be truthful it’s not that uncomfortable and I think it’s unlikely that my fingers will slip in 2013 either, but then as I say you just can’t rely on anything these days. Certainly not the doom and gloom mongers.


A few days before Christmas I was in deep conversation with a director of one of Ireland’s oldest and most respected antique auction houses and I got the clear impression that he wasn’t about to fall over a fiscal cliff either. Indeed quite the opposite as his firm is the recipient of one of my said heavy cheques now clearing because the Mayans got it so wrong. Or did they?Another expert on the subject argued that the Mayan calendar ending on the 21st December 2012 was all to do with re-birth and renewal and nothing at all about the Earth colliding with the planet Zog or whatever was expected to happen. I only wish that I had heard this much nicer explanation a lot earlier and before I issued all those cheques.

Bad timing being the story of my life! Now a very strong link can be argued because the antique trade is pretty experienced in matter of re-birth and renewal itself and I will give a simple example. The cheque I gave my auctioneer friend above (bloody Mayans) covered items purchased at his December sale which included a very fine late Georgian mahogany desk originally from a local solicitor’s office. It is basically sound but very dirty , generally ill-treated and much beaten up over the last 200 years, poorly described in the catalogue and offered in ‘as seen’ condition. Most punters must have walked pass without giving it a second glance, but not the furniture people who also saw the potential and all bid well above the estimate.

It’s now in my storeroom waiting to be carefully and sympathetically restored. Originally constructed around 1810 without any compromise or thought to cost, it will in the hands of a good professional restorer be brought back to full showroom condition and re-life. It should then last for at least another 200 years of hard ware and you cannot do re-birth any better than that.


Over the years I have often wondered if the high-end antique dealers and their clients in the world’s major cities know, or even care where much of their stock originates from. It’s not all from ‘The Big House’ sales conducted by the large international auction houses. Indeed very far from it. Most of it is originally sourced from the very many hundreds of minor country auction houses which abound in Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe. It comes in to them from contents sales of often quite ordinary houses, offices and the estates of the deceased. Such items were usually for generations within the same family and “handed down by granny”. Sometimes they arrive in a clean, loved and well cared-for condition. More often, like my Georgian desk looking pretty rough and as a sleeper waiting for someone with a good eye to notice, buy, and give it the antique equivalent of the kiss of life. ‘New to the market’ as the auctioneer will say. When restored it is either sold directly to a punter or it will start it’s climb up the pyramid of the antique trade. Stock being capital and no-one wanting to hold on to it overly long.


As anybody attending these small country auctions regularly will tell you they can become quite addictive and often very good theatre and certainly well worthy of a short observational article in there own right. At present there seems to be considerable angst and brow-beating about competition between dealers and auction houses which, quite frankly, I just don’t understand as we all need each other in equal measure. Our left leg may not approve of our right leg but both need the other in order for our body to stand upright.With the exception of paying customers, trade contacts and friendships are the single most important thing that any old school dealer needs to survive.

Tip offs are vital and I have long argued the importance of making friends with both the auctioneers themselves and in particular their porters. Back in the late ‘70s when I was first starting out on this venture I asked an old hand in the trade the best way to learn the business. He advised to first get a job as an auction porter for a year or so, as by daily handling items a deep knowledge of the subject is unconsciously absorbed. Upon reflection very good advice although I confess I didn’t take it at the time.

If I may be allowed to give one small piece of advice myself it would be to always cross a porters palm with silver when he helps you, ask him about his wife, girlfriend or dog and that way he might remember you. We none of us know what 2013 will bring but whatever it is it wont be as the doom pundits predict because it never is. You may as well consult ‘Mystic Meg’. The Mayans might have just got the dates wrong and the friendly alien space ship will yet come and save this old hippy from slipping over his fiscal cliff, but I’m not holding my breath. They say that the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans for tomorrow, and with that thought I wish everyone good luck for the New Year.

We might just need it – or maybe not?