As I have mentioned in a previous blog, we spent every Sunday for much of the 1980’s attending the Toronto Harbourfront Antique market. It was a very lively market in those days, and you could rely on hundreds of people to attend. Most of them serious buyers looking for a special decorative object, or piece of antique furniture to decorate their homes, as was popular at the time. Also, it was a time when several Toronto people had already bought and furnished their house in the city, and they were all going out into the hinterland and buying up the low priced rural properties which would become their country week-end homes. For these in particular, they were looking for antique country furniture, most often in refinished pine, or similar. For an antique dealer these were heady times.
So eventually, within this continuous flow of humanity you would soon learn to recognize the specialty collectors or dealers who would arrive every Sunday to scan the market for their select products. Some smaller Toronto dealers would set up to sell, and to advertise their shop but there were several more dealers who had established shops in the city, and they would come by to add to their stock. You got to know these people as regular buyers, and you would get to know what they are after, and try to supply it.
One fellow would buy any refinished pine chest of drawers I would bring, and at a price close to what I would get from the public. Another dealer only wanted original paint pieces, and he would be there every week as you pulled in, hopping alongside the truck and pointing at anything of interest with the same question, “how much for this”, followed by a “ yes, I’ll take it, hold it for me and I’ll be back to settle up. He would then run off to follow the next truck in. Generally there would be five or six of these alfa type dealers to deal with right off the top so it made for an exciting first hour. Although you had to be on your toes especially when you brought in something really good, and there was a frenzy to determine who of the group was the first to commit. Get this wrong and people got offended. Guys would get pretty mad at each other over lost treasure.
Then as the day wore on many other dealers and collectors would make their way to your booth, most often looking for specific items. There was the pen guy. At some point he would slide up beside you and say quietly “got any pens for me?” If the answer was no he would just keep walking. However, if you did have something it wasn’t a certainty that he would be interested. He was after top end Parkers, etc, so once in a while I would come across something he liked, but for the most part I gave up after a half dozen failed attempts. Still he appeared like clock-work every week.
Then there was the defrocked priest couple who would always turn up seeking Catholic items. Extraordinary looking guys with extravagant wardrobe and hair down to their asses. As I was so often in Quebec, I usually did have something to show them. They really knew their stuff and would explain to me the symbolism and meanings of the pieces. They bought only occasionally, and I always looked forward to the little theology lesson in the middle of the day.
Later in the morning, preferring to get up at a civilized hour, along would come MonsieurTaschereau , a possible candidate for anything spectacular I might have. He had wonderful taste, and a highly respected shop in the Four Seasons tour. A relatively small space, but full of good things. He was very dry and came across as haughty at first, but when you got to know him he was down to earth, and a good guy. When he bought something from me, no matter how small he would always ask me to deliver. Then he would grab a ride so he didn’t have to take the transit back. I didn’t mind because we always had interesting conversation on the way, and I loved looking at his shop.
Another in this category was a lady named Susan Miller who had a wicker shop on Mount Pleasant for years. She was an institution with all the upper crust for their supply of white wicker furniture. All the rage for your patios and sun rooms, and Susan could be relied on for the best, and the whitest. No matter how good I would think the white paint finish was on a piece she would always say, “well, off course I will have to have it repainted”. It was part of her negotiation technique, but just the beginning. She was a lovely, refined lady always decked out in top end white and beige clothes with highly coiffed white hair adorned with a beige, wicker looking, basket-weave hair band. To top it off. It was her costume. Susan was lovely, but she was tough as nails. She had a special technique. For instance, if she liked a chair, but didn’t like the price she would simply sit in it, carry on pleasant conversation, ask for the occasional glass of water, and wait until you couldn’t stand it any longer and would say “O.K. you win Susan. It’s yours for what you asked, and of course I am happy to deliver it today. And of course she would always grab a ride. Again, I really didn’t mind because the conversation was good. I got to know a lot about Susan. How she took all her meals at Fran’s. How she couldn’t stand the smell of garlic and wouldn’t touch the stuff. It is what she disliked most about taking the transit. How she met her husband when she was a hairdresser at Eaton’s. Ah, so that’s the reason for the perfect hair all those years later. How her husband was an accomplished accountant and had written the Canadian tax code. Unfortunately he had died young, so she used some of her capital to set up the wicker store, and as it turned out she was really good at it, and enjoyed it, so it became her life until she retired (I think) at about age 70.
Being such divergent people I have to say we got along very well, and over the many trips up Mount Pleasant to deliver her and her wicker I got to know her. “One day we were riding along when she looked over and said “You know Phil I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve worked hard, and you want to know what I can tell you about life?” Pregnant pause while I imagined she was going to go on about family, or good friends or the like, but then she said “In the end Phil, you know who your best friend will be? “ Please tell me. She looked at me squarely and said, “a couple of bucks in your pocket”. When you get older and need some help, that’s what it comes down to. A couple of bucks in your pocket.” It surprised me, and puzzled me for a moment, but I could see from her expression that she was right.