Wednesday, 8 October 2014


If you are a dealer and have a wide range of stock, people often ask you for special things, to start or increase a collection or just for one thing that has a special meaning for them.   When I dealt in folk art and byegones, including treen, tools, metalwork and other crafts, I always kept an eye open for the special requests, partly because it gave me pleasure to search, and even more to satisfy!  I had fun collecting 1920's articulated pull-along toys for a leading art dealer in Knightsbridge who was much amused by the quaint animals in three or four parts which 'ambulated' and swerved when pushed or pulled, and caught the fancy of his rich U.S. clients who came to buy his fabulous impressionist paintings and used the animals as desk toys!
    There was another customer a well-known American collector, Emmeling, who wrote lots of books about treen and folk art, who collected heart shaped kitchenalia - for her I could find in France little rush basket-weave moulds for draining cheeses (coeur de Neuchatel) and sets of shapes in brown pottery and also tin, all punctured with draining holes and looking pretty  on kitchen dressers and shelves.  There were masses of baskets all in different traditional shapes and sizes, in every Department of France and they  all joined big groups hanging from the beams of country kitchens.  But I have to say that at the end of my buying trips I had to be careful not to land myself with clever reproductions which would have spoilt my dealings - the Philippino baskets were very good copies and after a period in the rain and other distressing ploys, they were quite difficult to identify and people fought shy of collecting repros, as with ironwork kitchen accessories, the game and meat hooks, the pokers and cooking pots which were turned out in quantity by the Spanish and the gypsies, looking identical with the old ones and made in the same way, but just too perfect and unscarred to be genuine.

   My best finds for a collector came by chance - while I was dealing from a space in the Maltings, Long Melford, where I had a good mix of all the above and also larger tools and rustic furniture, including things like linen scutchers, cross saws (very decorative against a barn wall) huge field seeding baskets (vanns), and enormous sieves with punctured leather holes for winnowing corn;  flails and other beautiful but obsolete farming tools, I there met Guy Taplin who was already known for his bird sculptures made from driftwood near his home in Wivenhoe.  He told me his father had been an artist - painter and kept his special paint-effect tools and paints in a neat little wooden box - it had been lost and he was anxious to replace it with another.   As I had just completed two terms of instruction in the art of special painting from Leonard Pardon in London and knew about the tools, I promised to keep an eye open for one.   A few months later I went to the Bull Ring weekly sale room in Birmingham to size it up.   It was a foul, foggy morning and only a handful of dealers attended a rather miserable collection of goods all lying on the floor.   There were two boxes which interested me, one was very, very long and narrow and the other small, scruffy and dirty, but with a leather carrying strap.  Poking about, I discovered the first was a Hardy box for rods and fishing tackle, all divided up and stamped with the famous fishing tackle manufacturer' mark (worth a bit) and guess what? the little box was indeed a true artist's collection of tools and paint, including the combs, all the special sable, badger brushes,  sponges for ragging, and lots of paint tubes, rather dried up.  I won both with my maiden bid! Hooray!
  When I got them to a rather pleased Guy, he diffidently said that the other thing he really wanted was a Victorian Noah's Ark with as many animals as possible.   This was an almost impossible mission, but soon after, I was walking along Long Melford's lovely wide main street full of choice antique shops and there in a little bow window I spied a collection of  dozens of carved zoo animals and a painted ark behind!  Was it going to be the very high current price for such forgotten toys, carved in Germany's Black Forest?    In fact, the dealer had no idea of its value and rarity, and apologised for the lack of a leg on one or two of the animals and in no time the whole collection was on its way to the carver supreme!  Since then, Guy has become the best known designer and carver of bird sculpture with many exhibitions at top galleries in London.

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