Sunday, May 4, 2008

London in the 1980s

Portobello Road
London has always been at the center of the antique silver business. Most of the major auction houses were started in Britain.

British Dealers are very astute and capable. Most of the dealers have been in the business for two, three and sometimes even four generations. The London dealers all form part of a large pyramid of dealers with a pecking order that one can hardly forget after being involved in the business over there.

As an outsider coming into the market from the USA, I learned that a buyer would have to be decisive in order to gain respect. There was also a fine line that I felt could not easily be crossed.
One Saturday morning at 6 am on Portobello Road, I knocked on a door of a shop seeing a group of dealers unpacking boxes inside the store. I saw heads shaking and fingers pointing at watches and knew that I was not welcome at that moment. The rules were made to keep insiders in after all.

I just happened to see a Gorham three piece mixed metal triangular shaped tea set on the floor and knew that that was the reason I was not admitted. The dealers knew what I would be interested in after all. I waited until the doors opened and ran after the dealer who had packed up the tea set.
I bought the tea set in the street at a profit to him.

That was the way it worked. I recovered my composure quickly and went on to have a good morning shopping.

The lesson here was not to begrudge a dealer a profit but to do business. He got out of bed for the same reason that morning... to earn a profit. I was looking for something glorious and specific to take back to the States and have something to offer to my customers.
Britannia Fine Silver

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Makers and styles

An example of a typical Tiffany serving piece shape and style

An experienced collector is usually able to pick out a style and identify a maker from across the room. Tiffany flatware, for example, had certain styles of bowls and tines that were adopted in most of their patterns. This made Tiffany flatware designs very distinctive, something that appealed to Tiffany collectors.

Shiebler designs in flatware and hollowware were at the forefront of design in the 1880's. The works of this maker are very sought after to this day because they are rare and unusual. The Shiebler designs certainly make an aesthete's mind come alive. One cannot look at great Shiebler and not use the imagination

Whiting had the strong influence of Tiffany's Charles Osborne who worked for both companies at different times. Wide use of nautical designs with sea creatures can be compared to Tiffany of the same period.

Elkington and Tiffany borrowed from each other. One should remember that the great Expositions of the late 19th century were a meeting place for designers from all countries. It would be tough to imagine a designer ignoring a successful design of a competitor just for the sake of being fair. Gorham and Barnard Brothers had almost the exact designs for their Japanese flatware of the 1870's.