Marjorie Larmon did not suffer fools. Born on November 14, 1912, she had been interested and involved with antiques since an early age. Her parents Roy and Ruby Sackrider were both interested in things from the past. At an early age, she and her father would look for antiques while selling maple syrup door to door. In the 1960’s she and her husband Clarence were able to buy the family homestead just outside Burgessville, Ontario, and Marjorie came into her own as an antique dealer, naming her business “The Pig and Plow”. If she got to know you, and liked you, she would tell you stories of her glory days, driving her hearse to Quebec and filling it with merchandise. Going into the ditch on the way back from a winter auction, etc. She placed many antiques in important collections over the years, and was an enthusiastic collector herself. Her barn was full of wonderful things, but the real treat was if she were to invite you into her home, where she kept the best stuff.
Over the years she gave lectures, interviews, and conducted study classes at museums and historical societies. In 1982 the Art Gallery of Windsor held a show of her folk art collection entitled “Celebration”. In 2005 she brought out a little book outlining the story of her life entitled “Diamond Buckles on my Shoes” She was the real deal. She developed many lasting friendships and was always friendly and welcoming to knowledgeable collectors, but if she found you to be rude, or boorish, she did not hesitate to send you packing. When we moved to the church in Wyecombe we were told by other dealers to go and see her, but be careful in our approach, especially in trying to get a better price. Frankly we were intimidated and didn’t even go to see her for a year or two later, at which point we felt we had enough knowledge to not be rejected outright.
On that first visit we realized that there was no reason to worry. She had heard of us through her main picker Jim Sherman, who had occasionally bought things from us for her. So when we gave our names she was immediately warm and welcoming, suggesting that after we had finished in the barn she would make us a cup of tea and show us her collection. We made a couple of purchases that day, and in the way of negotiation we simply asked her for her dealer price. She looked a bit stern at first, but then offered a fair reduction and so we accepted without argument. We had made her good books. Actually, that’s the way we have always preferred to negotiate. Most people respect this approach and give you good prices. Also, I find it saves a lot of energy.
So we loaded our purchases and made our way to the house for tea and a tour. Mind blowing. What a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. Her collection was better than what you would see at most museums, and she was sharp witted and quick to give you the story behind every piece. We made several trips to see Marjorie over the following years. She and Clarence were always welcoming. So it continued until after the death of her beloved sister Ina in 2000, and Clarence’s death in 2002 when it gradually became too much for her to continue even with the generous help of Jim Sherman, and so in 2006 she decided to retire. She and Jim Sherman arranged a classic one-day auction, with nearby auctioneers Jim Anderson, and Gerry Brooks, and everything went up for sale. It will be ten years since that historic auction this September 23rd, and will be the subject of a future blog.
There are a few funny stories of Marjorie turfing out dealers for one transgression or another, but I prefer to remember her by telling about a visit we had with her shortly before she closed the shop. She had called and offered to sell us back a beautiful pair of large finials that Jim had bought for her a few months earlier. We couldn’t quite figure out why she would want to do this, but we liked the finials and the Bowmanville show was coming up so we said yes, and made the trip to pick them up.
We finished our business in the barn and headed to the house for tea. We had a lovely chat and then she said “Come into the living room. There is something I want to show you.” We sat ourselves on the couch and waited feeling very curious. “Phil open up that corner cupboard and you see that decorated box on the top shelf; bring that down for me.” I brought down the most gorgeously carved and polychrome painted Scandinavian wedding box I had ever seen. “Jeanine, you are French, and this wedding box is French so I want you to buy it from me and take it to the Bowmanville show, and sell it for a lot of money.” We knew it was not French but we were smart enough not to contradict her, and so we timidly suggested that yes it was a lovely thing to offer us, and how much did she want for it? We were bracing for a big number and wondering if we could afford it. “Give me $200.” We could not believe our ears. We wondered if maybe she was losing it a little bit or we hadn’t heard right, or perhaps she meant to say something else, so we questioned her. “Marjorie, that’s a wonderful offer, but are you sure that’s all you want? I mean….” She cut me off. “No that’s the price and I won’t take a dollar more. You’ve been good friends and customers and I want you to sell it at Bowmanville. Do we have a deal? Of course we do Marjorie and thank you.
We took it the following month to the show as she requested. We labeled it correctly as a Scandinavian wedding box in pristine condition with no repairs, and from the collection of Marjorie Larmon; and then we were totally shocked when the vetters came by and said we could not show it because it was not Canadian. Feeling a mix of rejection, disappointment, and some relief as we were happy to take it home and keep it for ourselves we put it aside. Then within moments, the vetter who had rejected it for inclusion in the show circled back and asked, “So what’s my dealer price on that.” We held our nose and sold it to him. Marjorie was thrilled when we told her what we got for it. We didn’t tell her the circumstance.
One of the last times we saw Marjorie we were delighted when she pulled up with Jim Sherman to see our newly opened Shadfly Antiques shop in Port Dover. By this point she was using a walker and she moved slowly and carefully, and of course this was after the auction and she was living in a retirement home so she was not considering any purchases, but she seemed to really enjoy herself and wrote a nice little note in our visitor’s book. Short and sweet. “A great little shop”, and her signature. She looked up at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, I would have written something longer, and better but you gave me a lousy pen.” Ah Marjorie, you were an original and we miss you.