For the past seven years I’ve walked past an antique store almost daily. They sell shells. And boxes made out of shells. I have often stopped in wonder and remarked ‘how on earth do they make any money?’. Usually the pedestrians walking past ignore me because I’m talking to myself, but sometimes I’ve caught the owner scowling at me through the window, I’m pretty sure he knows what I’m saying.
It’s a rhetorical question really because I do know him slightly, I recognise his obsession. He’s a collector. He has to be. God only knows how he makes a living, that’s his classified info, but I’m pretty sure it’s not from selling antique frames decorated with shells, because the same ones have been on display every time I’ve marched by. I know him because I do it myself. I’ve even explained to people that I have become a (part-time) dealer because it helps fund my ‘true‘ collection. Oh, such amusing self-delusion.
I collect mourning jewellery, jewellery that was created to commemorate the memory of one who passed away. It was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, most certainly an expected custom in Queen Victoria’s England. It is predominantly English and French made, with some American items thrown in for good measure. However, things expanded somewhat. Australiana silver plate napkin rings seem to be breeding in my cabinet. By the way, if I had my way every decent Australian home would be expected to have an Australiana silver-plate napkin ring featuring native fauna dating from the first half of the 20th Century. They would know who Stokes & Sons are. It would just be the done thing. That’s how much I love them. They don’t fit in with my ‘permanent’ collection, but I love them so what do I do? Ah, yes, dealer. Nice.
I can collect other things that interest me, touch them, observe them research them, and then let them go. How pleasingly zen it all is. And if anyone questions the sanity of this I can explain it by saying – ‘I’m a dealer‘. Isn’t it interesting that people in today’s age will accept just about anything as reasonable if you explain it in terms of potential profit.
– ‘Why do you have a room full of decrepit toys, tins from the 1930s, and racially offensive advertising posters from times-gone-by, but your 3 children have to sleep in hammocks on the verandah?’
– ‘I’m a dealer.’
– ‘Ah, of course.’ (!!)
Many collectors do it you know (not ousting their children). They become dealers – to various degrees. There are the dealers who are hobbyists – perhaps a small on-line presence, a stall at a market every now and then – but really they have a full-time job in the ‘real’ world. There are dealers who spend so much time and money on their collection they don’t have time to get another job, they have to start selling. Some open stores and do very well, some open stores and make enough to eat…rice. But my favourite type of collector-dealer are those who open shops and then put up NOT FOR SALE signs. Oh, blessed is the world where retailers don’t want to sell their wares because they love them too much! There is hope for humanity!
On a little quaint street that has been violated by a busy highway in Guildford, West Australia, there is such an establishment. It’s one third Grandpa’s shed, antique shop, mad-Mum’s obsessive-compulsive storage. The very best items, the objects that make a person want to part with their money, are locked in cabinets with hand-written signs stating the antithesis of capitalism – ‘Items in this cabinet are not for sale‘. If that is not collector madness I do not know what is. People – they pay rent to NOT sell things.
The subject matter is close to my heart – Australiana. The cabinets are full of Australian ceramics, mainly Wembley Ware. Wembley Ware is quintessentially Western Australian, based in Subiaco it produced chinaware from 1921 until its close in 2006, however most of the collectable ceramics with Australian themes were produced in the 1940s – 60s. Iconically the key images are the golden glazed rams or kangaroos, the indigenous stockmen, funky ashtrays, koalas, weird fish vases and so on. Drool.
There are more Wembley Ware items not for sale than are for sale, in fact, upon reflection I don’t believe they are actually parting with any of their Wembley Ware. There were a number of old coins and shelves of…well goodness, I can’t remember anything except the golden fleece. Oh, yes, records and framed pictures. A hall full of them.But their prized pieces – hands off, money no good, but please do admire.
Thank you Collector Dealer. Thank you for making the world a stranger and more delightful place to be.