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A Dealer’s Tale

In a recent posting Quinney's we reprinted Thomas Rohan's advice to antique collectors. In this short work Don't: some concise and useful hints for the collector. Thomas Rohan Bournemouth, [1933] he also finds space to include the following dealer's tale. Dealers are fond of anecdotes, mostly of amazing finds and amazing bargains and mark ups ( '..found it in a junk shop for £5, Sothebys later sold it for £45000..' etc.,) but this a little different from the usual 'I had it away' story and even has elements of myth and legend...

Extracts from a Talk I gave to the Alton Society 

Many incidents I can tell from the niches of my memory relating to beautiful things. One extraordinary tale I will tell relating to a bureau bookcase. This happened some years before I became a dealer. I was in the habit of visiting various towns in Kent and Surrey during the week-ends. I always was on the look out to see beautiful things, and if I stayed in a town I always enquired of any place where antique furniture was housed - this, you must remember was nearly fifty years ago, before the country was scoured for the voracious American. While staying at a cathedral town in Kent, I was told of a farmhouse about two miles out, stocked with, as it was called, "old stuff". The place was called Priestly's Farm, an old Georgian white house on the main road, with barns and out houses: I could not miss it. I was further told that Joe Priestly was a very genial man. I certainly did find him that: he was a typical yeoman farmer of florid face and sandy whiskers and hair. He gave me a cordial welcome to look at his old furniture: some of it had been there for four generations. I certainly was struck with a set of fine Chippendale chairs, six, and two carving chairs, and a fine bureau bookcase. All the furniture was in its original state, the old mellow colour. I was admiring the bureau bookcase, and saying how I should like to possess it. the farmer smiled and shook his head. "Not all the money you could mention could buy that piece from me. The reason I will tell you, sir, if you will sit down. Have a glass of my cider?" He went out and brought in a jug of cider and two glasses, and we say down. This is his story: -

"My father was left a widower when I and my brother Bill were young. A sister of his (Aunt Mary) came to look after us. Father took pride in us two boys, sent us both to the Grammar School in the town you are staying at. He wanted one of us to become a doctor. He said he was a rich man and could afford the fees, but neither of us cared for the idea, so we both came back to the farm, where we were quire happy. But like most young men, we used to go to dances, and I fell in love with a girl who was parlourmaid in one of the big houses in the town, and my brother Bill cottoned on to the miller's daughter whose mill is about a mile from here. Bill was the first to announce to father that he was going to marry Mary Crestwell, the miller's daughter. Father was delighted; but when I told him I was going to marry Anne Moore, parlourmaid, and the daughter of a farm labourer, he began to rave. He said his eldest son ought to do better than that. Anyhow, to make a long story short, us boys got married on the same day. My father seemed to make the best of it, but he was always short and moody with my wife, although she is one of the best in the world, but he really never forgave me, as you will hear. Well, Bill went to his father-in-law's mill, and when he died he took over the mill. My father lived about six years after my marriage. On his death we found a will that had been made just after mother's death, leaving the farm to me and £1000 to my brother Bill. Some three years later I was sitting at the bureau, (at this farmer got up, opened the bureau which revealed a number of drawers and a door in the centre.) He said, "Now you notice, sir, at the edge of the door there is an inlay of about half an inch wide on the two sides and the top. I was fingering the top of the inlay when it came out, and I found it was a front of a shallow secret drawer. In this drawer was a document; on opening, to my astonishment it was another will made by my father, revoking his first will, still leaving me the farm, but giving my younger brother the road meadow of about 30 acres, which is the most valuable bit of land on the farm. I have not the document now - why, I will tell you presently - but I think it finished up,, 'I, John Priestly, do this to show my anger to my son Joseph, for marrying Anne Moore.' You can imagine, sir, I was thunderstruck. What was I to do - tear it up, nobody would know? No, said I, I will go and see Bill. I think I told you it is about a mile to the mill: well, it seemed to me about fifty. Bill's wife came to the door. She said to me, 'Joe, are you ill? You look dreadful.' I said, 'I am all right. I want to see Bill.' 'Oh!' she said, 'you will find him in the sitting-room making up his accounts.' I shall always remember that room to my dying day - my brother was sitting at a table strewed with papers, a fire was burning brightly in the grate. He looked up. 'Hullo, Joe,' he said, 'what brings you here at this time of day?' I made no remark, but pulled the document out of my pocket and handed it to him. I can see my brother now. He read it slowly; I saw his hands tremble, then he got up slowly, looking me in the face, tore the document in four pieces and flung them in the fire, and put out his hand to me. Do you wonder that tears came into my eyes as he gripped my hand. The only comment he made was 'the dear old man was daft.' You can now understand why nothing would induce me to part with this piece of furniture which proved the great love of my brother.

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