The Mystery Man of Cowes

cowes-old-houses-1927_Found in that repository of odd facts, The Collector’s Miscellany, is the following short piece by reporter H. A. Owen in the issue for May 1935.

THE MYSTERY MAN OF COWES

In a certain narrow street of Cowes, Isle of Wight, lives Mr W. Cole, locally known as the Mystery Man on account of the many strange things he has in his house. He is a chemist and has been collecting all sorts of curios for over sixty years. The small room behind the shop contains hundreds of valuable curios and the other rooms are also crammed full with them. All the windows are closely shuttered and fastened and the atmosphere is stuffy, as they have not been opened for years. As a schoolboy he started collecting stamps, butterflies and birds’ eggs and now he has a valuable collection of stamps, hundreds of books and the largest collection of fossils in the Isle of Wight.

     One room upstairs contains a collection of Skeletons, including one of the Bronze Age. Among his stuffed monstrosities he has a two-headed calf, a calf with six legs, a one-eyed puppy and a three-eyed kitten! There is also a double-headed pig and a four-legged robin. The latter he found himself at Calbourn many years ago. He also has many valuable pictures and prints and a complete record of the island since 1290. Continue reading

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Favourite London Market Places 2

Farringdon Road Book Stalls

The second and last part of Bill Lofts article (possibly unpublished) about London markets. This mainly deals with his search for books, comics and 'boy's books.' Loft's prose style is not exactly Nabokov but his enthusiasm and tireless research carries it along…there is much online about the dealer turned publisher Gerald Swan. Bill gives an affectionate portrait of him..

But easily the main attraction to me was the second-hand bookstall where I used to exchange my comics, and later boys papers. The proprietor was a Gerald Swan, later to become quite a famous publisher in our field of cheap paperback novels, comics, and boys papers, as well as Annuals which he named 'Albums'. These 'Swan Albums' were priced at 3/6d each - printed on the cover, but were sold at a shilling, when he probably still made a big profit on them. Mr Swan was really an extraordinary dressed man to be in charge of a wooden shabby bookstall.

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Favourite London Market Places 1

Portobello Road circa 1970
(from the Library Time Machine)

From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript  by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). It is from the early 1970s and is slightly politically incorrect. Autre temps etc., The second part deals with Bill's quest for second hand books at these markets and here his taste is distinctly old fashioned. A vanished world.

My Favourite London Market Places.

I should think that most collectors, or at least those as youngsters in pre-Second World War days, would remember with some affection their local market place. In all probability this was where they bought or exchanged their comics and later Old Boys papers at a second-hand bookstall. This to supplement their regular weekly favourite ordered from the newsagent.

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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: -

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Antique Collecting advice from Quinney

Found- a small, rare pamphlet Don't: some concise and useful hints for the collector by Thomas Rohan (Bournemouth: A. Rohan, 1933). Rohan was a dealer in antiques and wrote many books on the subject (Old Beautiful, Confessions of a Dealer etc.,) He is said to be the original of Quinney the antique dealer hero of the novel and play (and movie) Quinney's by H.A. Vachell. At one point there were 5 antique shops in Britain called Quinney's and there is still at least one. His hints for collectors are still of use:

DON'T. 

So many just for the want of thought go wrong in collecting, commiseration is of little help, after the event, so I thought just a few concise words of advice, set forth in brief paragraphs would be of help. Recently a gentleman said to me, 'I shall never forget what you said at your first talk to the Alton Art Society - never purchase anything however old it is, if it has not been beautifully made - Age will not add value to bad craftsmanship.' I suppose I have made this remark hundreds of times. 

DON'T buy anything unless you can always live with it.

DON'T be in a hurry to purchase anything, however pleasing momentarily to the eye - meticulously examine the article whether it be furniture, china or glass.

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Stephen Long bookplate

This modest bookplate pasted into a copy of The New Forget Me Not (1929), a miscellany of entertaining short pieces by contemporary authors, including Belloc, Beerbohm, Harold Nicholson, J.C.Squire, Vita Sackville West and Hugh Walpole, with superb decorations by Rex Whistler, came from the estate of the interior designer and antiques dealer Stephen Long, who died in his eighties in 2012.

From all that has been said about him since his death Long, a specialist in early nineteenth century china, whose eclectic shop in the Fulham Road was for decades a Mecca for lovers of the unusual  and 'shabby-chic', seems to have almost single-handedly invented the modern taste for interiors of painted furniture, naïve artifacts and stylish, if sometimes distressed ceramics. Indeed, a profile of his shop featured in the very first issue of The World of Interiors.

I attended the memorable sale at which  the contents of Long’s shop and flat were dispersed ,and as with other sales of iconic figures in the world of design and lifestyle—Andy Warhol and Elizabeth David come to mind—the prices paid by many punters (dealers included) for cracked pots and framed prints--  seemed to be greatly inflated. I was not tempted by most of the lots, but did buy some books, among which was this Forget-Me-Not.

There is no doubt that this dealer of the ‘old school’ possessed an extraordinary ‘eye’. I wish I’d met him. [RMH]