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£98,000 MARBLE CHIMNEYPIECE SELLS FOR £3,800

The sale of some of the stock of John Hobbs took place at Dreweatts on 15 December 2010 when lots sold for a fraction of their retail ticket prices at Hobbs' Pimlico Road showrooms.

Mr. Hobbs was taken to court by Dennis Buggins for refusing to pay some restoration bills. After three years of battling, Hobbs finally settled out of court (for an amount rumoured to be a six figure sum) in December 2010, after an incredulous high court judge suggested that to continue with the case would be madness.

The case left Buggins without an exceptional antiques restoration business, and Hobbs in debt, discredited, and ejected from the UK's prestigious antique dealers association, B.A.D.A.

David Patrick Columbia of the New York Social Diary, whose readers typically bought from Hobbs stated (27 May 2008):
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'A popular topic among cognescenti . . . is the article in the New York Times by Christopher Mason about top antiquaire John Hobbs, and a lawsuit filed against him by a British furniture restorer, Dennis Buggins. The suit has implications that are rocking the world of antiques, auctions and interior decoration. Mr. Buggins has been doing business with Mr. Hobbs for more than 20 years. Mr. Hobbs, according to Mason, has many big name clients such as Oscar de la Renta, David Koch, Valentino, Leslie Wexner, people who can pay - and do - for the best of the best to decorate their gilded halls. In the last 16 years, he told Mason, his workshop has "handled about 1,875 items for Mr. Hobbs, more than half of which involved major alterations or outright inventions." Mr. Hobbs sold some of these pieces to obviously wealthy clients for prices like $450,000 and $1.2 million, indicating that the client thought he or she was getting authentic antiques of exceptional value. The $450,000 item cost, according to Buggins about $55,000 to put together. Hobbs, according to Buggins, referred to the original pieces as "blank canvases". So that's quite a bit of jack for something not-so-old. The shock of the new has taken on a new meaning.

The lawsuit has come about because the very talented Mr. Buggins claims Mr. Hobbs is in arrears to him for $840,000 and this debt has hobbled him financially forcing him to sell property including the buildings that housed his workshops. Mr. Hobbs has filed a counter-claim and questioned Mr. Buggins' veracity. However: Mr. Buggins has quite a bit of photographic evidence of the process of "making" these precious antiques.

I was reminded of a story told to me recently about a Wall Street banker who was having a confab with some clients one Saturday afternoon at his house in Southampton. The boys were all sitting around the dining room table with their pads and their pocket calculators, furiously writing down the details of their deal when the host's wife suddenly interrupted him. She needed a word with him privately. The man went into the kitchen where his wife asked if they could put something down to cover the dining room table since she'd paid $150,000 for it when they decorated the house. "150 grand?!" The banker was shocked. He apparently never knew how much he laid out to dine in his own house. He wrote a check for a budget and so great was the decorating budget that 150G's must have been a drop in the bucket.

Back in the early 80s, I made my first trip abroad, to London, invited by an old friend Stan Mirkin, who had an antiques business in Pound Ridge, New York. Stan made several buying trips abroad every year, and he always invited a friend to accompany him as he wasn't in great health and liked to have someone nearby. "How would you like to go to London, all expense paid, first class, for two weeks?" was how he asked. Then in my struggling writer mode, what could I say but "yes." Stan was a great travel companion. He loved England, he loved to eat., he loved to tour, and he loved to laugh. He was also a shrewd and successful businessman. He rented a spacious three bedroom flat off Kensington High Street for 100 pounds a night from two American dealers, Jean Amory and Sandra Feigen. Every morning at 8:30 a "courier" (a car and driver hired specifically by antiques dealers) would pick us up and drive us out to the countryside where Stan would make the rounds. Stan was a great success for several reasons, one of which was he knew his customer and he always bought with them in mind, and sometimes even specifically. The first expedition we made on this trip was to a great old revived Victorian pile out in Essex called Durwards Hall which was owned by a crisply chic octogenarian woman named Dora Ratcliffe. We arrived shortly after eleven in the morning and Dora met us in her library - a large room with towering bookshelves and an excessive amount of 18th and 19th century furniture. The whole house, I later learned was a storeroom (or showroom) of Mrs. Ratcliffe's furniture. Shortly after meeting, we all sat down and a maid wheeled in a cart with a large silver tray that was filled with Smoked Scottish Salmon, the garnishes, caviar with garnishes, hams, turkeys, breads, cheeses and Bloody Marys. And so there we sat on this chilly and grey November day, in front of the crackling fire in the marble Victorian fireplace, enjoying Dora Ratcliffe's repast. While Stan and his hostess talked about "what" he was looking for. He had a list. Mrs. Smith out in New Canaan needed a Queen Anne dining table with twelve chairs. Mrs. McNaughton over in Wilton wanted a Chinoise secretary, Mrs. Noonover in Greenwich wanted a George II bureau plat. Uh-huh-uh-huh-uh-huh, went Dora Ratcliffe (well, not uh-huh, but something like it). Presently, luncheon over, Bloodys swilled, tea drunk, we went out to "the stables" to have a look. The stables were several brick one story barns a couple hundred yards from the big house. They were once for the horses, and the carriages, and later the automobiles. Now they were for the workmen - craftsmen, actually - who "created" furniture for Dora Ratcliffe's inventory and her clients. And Mrs Goodbody over in Darien who wanted the Regency commode for her guestroom. It was fascinating to see.

Stan explained that these very talented men would take old (antique) furniture pieces acquired here there and everywhere - all over England, and restore it or even remake it, using original pieces and adding whatever needed to be added to make it whole again (or for the first time). A kind of glorified re-cycling, they took something broken (but formerly wonderful) and put it back together again. Even more wonderful was that when Mrs. Smith ordered her Queen Anne diningroom table, she had the perfect length for the perfect proportion of her soon-to-be perfect dining room in New Canaan. In the almost two weeks, we covered much of the countryside all the way to Yorkshire and down to Cornwall visiting antiques dealers of all interests and styles. There were many other dealers, I soon learned, who employed Dora Ratcliffe's accommodating techniques in their own workshops with their own brilliant (or at least very talented craftsmen). Not everyone we visited operated this way, but quite a few did. It wasn't a secret; it was the way men and women kept their businesses alive.

Stan Mirkin was a jolly and generous fellow. If he had a very good client who was especially enthusiastic about their houses, he'd sometimes take them along on a buying trip. On my trip, we were also joined by a beautiful, raven-haired wife of a very famously successful New York fashion photographer who had lots to spend. Her name was Linda Horn and her interest became a passion and her passion eventually became a very successful antiques business here in Manhattan. Linda saw everything that I saw. And probably more. I learned on that trip, thanks to Stan, the inside workings of the international antiques business. There are different levels of price points - and different levels of high clientele -- from the low five-figures to the high seven-, eight-, and nine figures that people pay for the things they like. No matter, all of it is basically very expensive furniture. This is not to be confused with the furniture that you might find in the Wrightsman Collection at the Met. That is priceless furniture. I'm talking about the stuff that the rich (very often newly rich) buy for their houses today. Thorstein Veblen explained it succinctly in 1899 in his "The Theory of the Leisure Class": While men may have set out with disapproving an inexpensive manner of living because it indicated inability to spend much, and so indicated a lack of pecuniary success, they end by falling into the habit of disapproving cheap things as being intrinsically dishonorable or unworthy because they are cheap. A century later, has anything changed? Well, yes, the technology has advanced to stages where detection is easier and so is high toned amalgamation. But the heat to acquire has not lessened.'
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So there you have it. An outsiders take on the UK antiques trade. Although some of the trade is completely untruthful all of the time, and most of the trade is untruthful some of the time, some of the trade is meticulously honest all of the time. A problem for some buyers is how to work out who is which, but not all buyers care. Some see antiques merely as decorators objects. Kirstie Allsopp, trawling around Newark or Ardingly on her show before Christmas, said that it did not matter whether an object was repro or genuine, the important thing was whether the buyer liked the object. It is important to like the object, of course, but many buyers also want to know that the seller's description of the object is a hundred per cent accurate too.

ID : (57065)
Date Created : 13 January 2011 01:11:33 PM
Date Modified : 13 January 2011 01:11:38 PM


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