Some antique and art dealers exhibit at fairs and run shops in order to make money. It is a perfectly reasonable justification. But increasingly I find that whilst I don't make very much money from dealing I seem to really enjoy myself engaging with the people I encounter.
At the Winter Olympia Antique Show last week I spent a long time talking to an elderly but large and robust lady with short thin hair and dark eyes who wore a very distinctive black woollen coat that had long straggly tufts. It was not scruffy or worn - it was made like that. It turned out she had owned the coat for twenty years and it kept her warm whilst she pottered round London on her tricycle with her pet rabbit Rover in the back. She was distressed because her eyesight was going and she was concerned Rover might get into an accident. She was not worried about her own fate. Almost needless to say she did not buy anything.
Prowling the fair the English furniture dealer Patrick was cross. He is a smiling, jovial Falstaffian figure who purveys 18th century English furniture. He feels an injustice has been done and he wants to have his say. Key players in his field exhibiting at the fair are called over to hear his story. These groups are factional and like small swarms they pop up around the fair. The truth of whether or not he is right or wrong is immaterial - the day is filled with plotting as if we were back in the Tudor court.
The Woodham-Smith booth, image writer's own.
May, who is helping me on the stand, is a young American and for her anything is possible, she sees every visitor as a serious possible client, even the fair regular - an older man with a rucksack sporting very tight and short shorts. He asks questions about chairs and tables but really he wants you to admire his long legs with their ancient skin and prominent veins. I have seen him at Olympia for nearly twenty years, I have known his legs from better days; no sales but impressive legs on display whatever the season or the weather. May tucks in to some serious work on where in his home he could place this or that. Her enthusiasm is palpable and perhaps despite my cynicism she might pull it off. She agrees with him to send pictures and measurements. She is buoyed up by the experience. When I am away from the stand she moves everything about. She and the sales king opposite Roger redesign my stand every day. On arrival I have my daily shock and delight at their shuffle of my pack. It is the febrile energy that is so engaging
Charles wanders over. Dapper, tall and fashionably bearded he has won the stand of the year and he asks if I can chill his winners champagne bottle - I have my life and money saving wine fridge tucked away behind a chair. Charmingly and wittily he shares his sales successes and the names of the glamorous people he has dined with recently. He has a distinctive style of display where - like a miniature royal academy summer show - he crams hundreds of pictures - mainly watercolours - onto a complicated but tiny space. Everyone falls for his taste and they buy pictures from him by the yard. He won't hang them for you though, in his own words - you cannot afford me darling!
But it is not all Olympia. I attend my first Masterpiece meeting for two years. They used to reside on the top floor of Mallett but now the offices are in Sloane street. So the space and the context are totally new. The faces are familiar however and I find it immensely reassuring to be greeted by Philip Hewat Jaboor in his signature beautifully laundered lilac shirt. The team and the rest of the board are all smiles and it is business as usual within minutes with the glamourous Ruth asking the tough questions she always did and Harry and Simon speaking up for the dealers and the CEO Nazy managing everyone's expectations and driving the fair forward in her Sotheby's honed familiar way. The only awkwardness came when I had to apologise for proclaiming in a previous blog my CEO' ship of Masterpiece. Of course I am not. In my exuberance over having so many companies to think about, I erroneously upgraded the mere percentage of the fair that I control to total control. A schoolboy slip that my fellow directors were keen to point out. I am not sure who spotted it as I don't think they read this blog but some helpful soul kindly pointed it out.
Then home and time to reflect that though I had not made any sales or any progress on a commercial front my mind was spinning with renewed purpose as I reflected on all the amazing people I encounter or work with. It is not about sales it is about people.
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