After nearly five years of quasi independence as a roving antique dealer and erstwhile fair organiser I found myself boarding an aeroplane heading for the San Francisco Fall Antique Show once again an employee of Mallett antiques. In fact, as I sat in my seat dreamily staring out of the window at the blank sky above the clouds I reflected that I was now the joint CEO of 7 companies! (Mallett Antiques, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions, Hatfields Restoration, Masterpiece Fair, The Auction Room and Bid for Wine). My days of getting up and sauntering around the park with my dog plotting the day ahead are set to become a memory. The task before me is immense but the immediate pleasure of returning to the foggy city of San Francisco is an unalloyed delight.
The annual Fall Antique Show takes place on one of the piers at Fort Mason, the building is a cream painted warehouse with painted cast iron beams and the bright Californian light streaming in from every door. Stepping outside you are confronted from almost every view with boats of all sizes from pleasure cruisers to massive yachts bobbing in the Pacific and the looming presence of the infamous prison island of Alcatraz. A lesser known fact about Alcatraz that I learnt on a visit some years ago is that it was and is still famous for being the birthplace of the Native American protest movement. On literally the first day of my new job I walked down to the end of the aisle to the Mallett booth greeted and congratulated by folk who seemed to know about my new role even before I did. The antique world bush telegraph is second to none! Hand shakes and bashfulness follow and in the midst of mind bending jet lag I head off to dinner with Justin who has been in charge of Mallett London for the last few months. The cab takes us somewhere I cannot follow and we breeze in to a buzzing restaurant and luckily find two seats at the bar. We drink Californian Cabernet Sauvignon with rare grilled beef cooked in front of us. The heat is tremendous and yet it all slips down happily and after sharing a few thoughts, dreams and worries about the future we head off for our funny Japanese hotel - the Nikko. Being used to the United States from the perspective of NY it is a culture shock to be in the same country but on the other coast where the outlook is to the far East and not as expected back to Europe.
The fair kicks off with one of the most fabulous if not the most fabulous fair parties in the world. The piece de resistance here is twofold. The first joy are the lamb chops which come in small platefuls of three and therefore you need to go around the queues several times over in order to get an ample sufficiency. They are small, juicy, pink and moreishly toothsome. The second is the stands where they offer bites of caviar on a biscuit with sour cream accompanied by shots of ice cold vodka. One year - some time ago, there was a stand just beside the Mallett booth. The waiter was bald and appeared to be missing part of his head as he had a strange plate over half his cranium. That year he had a choice of three vodkas to accompany domestic and imported caviar. The party starts at 4 and ends at 10, that year I visited him every 15 minutes or so throughout the evening, we developed quite a bond; I was delighted to see him still around this year and we greeted with enthusiasm on my part and complete bafflement on his - he had no idea why I remembered him so fondly . That was the year I invented the phrase - what you don't mess up you can claim as a success. Late in the evening a couple came by and admired a pair of mirrors, after some time they asked me if they were still available. I just managed to get out the key word 'yes.' A few minutes later they asked me if they could buy them, again I got out 'yes'. What a great salesman I am. This year the team and myself were feeling very professional and over indulgence was eschewed.
Only too soon - after only 4 days - I was off to NY to visit the Mallett shop, meet the staff and visit the long established International show at the Armory. Pushing aside the massive heavy doors you do enter a familiar and almost repetitive world. It is such a legendary venue but overused for fairs and therefore it is a real test for organisers to insert a measure of novelty, originality and individuality. Many visitors muddle which fair they attending. Mallett were not showing but many other friends were and it took some time to go round explaining again and again my new life to the assembled wide eyed trade. New York was wonderfully sunny and bright and the avenues shone as we walked around. I was accompanied throughout by the effervescent new head of the NY Mallett office, Andrew Ogletree. He is a graduate from the English furniture department at Sothebys where he was for 9 years under the avuncular eye of Peter Laing who now resides at Doyles - keeping up with art world game of musical chairs is a challenge. He is tirelessly buoyant and keeps every one in stitches of laughter with his faultless accents and mimicry, whilst simultaneously garnering respect for his knowledge and passion for the art. We viewed at Christies the sale of items from the stores at the Met. That august institution has as leader of its Esda department ( European sculpture and decorative arts) Luke Syson who has walked and triumphed over a perilous tightrope bringing this sale under the hammer. Paying homage to the gifts whilst recognising the need to edit and refine the collection is no easy task. By the time you read this the sale will have been and gone but I anticipate success and hope that the gains will afford the museum an opportunity to acquire many more treasures.
And so I fly home to attend my swan song as a private dealer as I am exhibiting at the Olympia Winter Antiques Fair. It starts on Monday 2nd November and runs through to Sunday and I must rush home to do my labels and prepare my layout as we build the stand on Friday. I love this show for its friendly, convivial atmosphere, the anticipation of what eclectic treasures might be on display and what clients may find irresistible. But most of all I look forward to watching and learning from the selling machine that is Roger Lamb my neighbour.