An Antiquarians Tale, Issue 50

Clinton Howell Antiques - April 22, 2019 - Issue 50
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
I visited Sydney, Australia in late August, 2001 en route to see my son who was at university in Hobart, Tasmania. I had visited previously in 1976 and I had really enjoyed the city, although to call it a city in 1976 was a bit of a stretch. It made me think of a large English market town like Norwich--the scale of the city seemed limited. This tourist's perspective was partly formed by the day I spent delivering cider to bars in and around Sydney with a driver called Blue. (Its a long story about how I met Blue.) Blue is the nickname for redheads in Australia and I joined him at 6AM  and spent the next six hours dropping off kegs around town. The town felt small. Not so in 2001. Of course, the summer olympics had taken place in 2000 and Sydney had gone through intense infrastructure preparation. The difference of 25 years. at least for me, was in the way the city had become segmented into neighborhoods. Every large city does this and it is not a bad thing, but in 1976, you were in Sydney first and in the neighborhood second. In 2001, it seemed the exact opposite. 

The primary reason for stopping in Sydney in 2001 was to visit antique shops. I had been encouraged to come by Martyn Cook, an Australian dealer that I first met in London in the late 1980's. Martyn was an agent looking for furniture for several of Australia's richer men, most notably David Roche. Martyn was tall and dressed impeccably--he could have been out of a Bond film and there was always a twinkle in his eye that, to me at least, felt like a nod to the irony of his situation. I didn't know that situation prior to visiting him in Sydney in 2001, but he dived into it straightaway over lunch my first day in town. He told me that he was given a scholarship to university Sydney after a youth spent "in the bush" which meant a couple of hours outside of Sydney. His first day in town, he was walking down a street when he heard loud music coming out of a shop. He went in and by the next morning, he had quit school and become a hairdresser. That is when I understood the twinkle in his eye. He was a man who wanted fun and who did not take himself too seriously. It would be wrong to paint Martyn as un-serious about his work, however, as he took it very seriously. His shop in Sydney was wonderful with high quality English furniture displayed with flair. Martyn and I kept in touch, but when the financial markets crashed in 2008, we communicated less. I received a call from him about six years ago to do with a piece I had once owned and which he had purchased for a client--he wanted to know more about the provenance. Martyn died several weeks ago at the age of 60. He was unique and I will miss him.