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For Antique Collectors When In London
( Originally Published 1913 )
Many copies of "The A B C About Collecting " have made their way into the United States and Canada, and that is why letters from the other side of the Atlantic reach me nearly every week. One of the chapters in that book is entitled "The Collector when in Paris" the book was written for people in England mainly - and I have had requests for a chapter on "The Collector when in London" too. This chapter is an effort to fall in with such requests.
After all, London is the place for collectors. Quantity and quality also-variety and width of range too are best consulted here.
The millionaire collector can find what he wants almost anywhere, but I venture to pity him; he buys through agents and without consideration of cost, and he does not know the keen pleasures of the hunt, the find, and the "kill," the searching out of what you collect, the detection of it in queer corners, and the buying of it for a few shillings or a few half-crowns. It is in that the pleasure of the collector lies-the joy of the hobby-rider is in the chase.
The wealthy collector when in London will visit Christie's and the other auction-rooms in or near King Street, St. James', the great shops in Bond Street, Pall Mall, Piccadilly, Oxford Street, Hanover Square, Wigmore Street, Baker Street, Alfred Place West, South Kensington, and so on. But I am not writing this article for him. Of those rich marts I will only say that, whether under the hammer or within the saloon, you may sometimes find a fine old thing going cheaply, or relatively so; and it is in such places, as in the museums, that one learns to know the best articles of the kind you collect. You see them, they are out of your reach, maybe, but you learn from them how to detect old articles like them, and to know the real value of a treasure in disguise when you run across it, by great good luck and with cheapness, elsewhere.
Next in importance to these resorts of the moneyed collector come the smaller shops which are wholly devoted to the purchase and sale of antiques. You will find these places almost anywhere in the area bounded by the Law Courts on the east, Shepherd's Bush an the west, the Strand and Chelsea oil the south, and Hampstead on the north. You will find these smaller but suitable shops in the main streets of their locality, you will also find some of them in the by-streets near the great emporia I mentioned in the last paragraph. In all these shops you may depend on finding things of the kind you are after on sale at reasonable prices and, as a rule, genuine. When buying in these shops, as in the larger ones, at a good price, you have the right to require the dealer to give you a written guarantee that the article he vends to you is truly what it purports to be : this is a hint to buyers who are not very sure of being able to detect the false and fraudulent imitation when they see it, by themselves.
I often wonder why such beginners at collecting do not seek advice when in London from some reputable person who can guide them and prevent their mistakes. For in all but the shops I have already mentioned, and, indeed, in some of them, there are counterfeits waiting to delude the inexperienced. Not two or three times only have I seen Americans and Canadians being fobbed off with things which I knew at a glance to be spurious, and I have longed to be able to intervene. However, we all have to buy our experience ; though some collectors are buying it all their lives and never get real value in the end.
To people who are skilled in collecting I recommend the smaller shops still, which you will find almost anywhere in West and West Central London; around every suburb, too, and in each near town,at Richmond, Putney, and so on. The shops I now have in mind are the petty brokers', or the secondhand furniture shops that do not deal in antiques but buy them amongst modern things now and then at a small house auction sale. I have picked up hundreds of pictures, prints, bits of old porcelain, old glass, old furniture, old brass, old books, and so forth, at this class of shop in London or near it, and in the English provincial towns. And these I have obtained for shillings and half-crowns, when pounds and five-pound notes would have had to be paid for them in the dealers' shops proper, to which I allude above.
It is interesting, if not always successful, to visit the Caledonian Market on a Friday morning. You should take the Tube railway to Caledonian Road Station, and ask the path to the Market, five minutes walk away. Arriving there at eleven in the forenoon-not much later-you will find the vast expanse of what is a cattle market other days than Friday strewn with the miscellaneous contents of hundreds of little brokers' shops. Most of the stuff they offer-incredible in its variety-is ineffable rubbish, but the sharp-eyed collector who knows will often pick up a fine old thing for a shilling or two.
Let me warn the visitor to London who collects against the numberless frauds which are placed in his path. Old brass-ware is the most numerously counter feited, and the most difficult to detect. Old Sheffield plate ware comes next, I think, in this short list of spurious "antiques." Glass-ware that is like the old but is totally new will be offered you everywhere, "Baxter prints" of Nelson that are three-colour process prints, mounted on Baxter stamped mounts that have been forged, lie ready to the eye. "Old" oak furniture, too, is a constant bait. In my "A B C" book and in this I supply many hints as to detection. Of all the provincial towns in England which are rife with counterfeits of the kind, Chester is, I think, the worst. There are many splendid old things to be bought in the reputable shops at Chester, but there are many forgeries there, in other windows and rooms.
I know some hundreds of likely places in Bloomsbury, Chelsea, Fulham, the Edgware Road, near Paddington Station, near St. Martin's Lane, and so on. Wander anywhere in London, almost, within the area I have indicated above, and you will come upon little curio-shops. Take tram, Tube, or train out to Clapton, Highgate, Hampstead, Wandsworth, Battersea, and outlying places like those, and you will find the main streets studded, at intervals of a few hundred yards, with the little marts you seek for. May luck attend you, I am sure that pleasure will.