Remembering top dealer Marjorie E. Larmon

marg6Marjorie 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. marg3

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.marg4

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.marg5

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.marg1

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.

Marjorie inspecting a quilt

Marjorie inspecting a quilt

YOUR TRUCK IS ON FIRE!!!

truckIt had been a successful Odessa show.   On Saturday at opening we had just arrived due to a flat en route , and were bringing things off the truck as people came in.  Turns out people get excited by getting first crack at things, and several pieces were selling as they hit the ground.  The mood was jovial and spirited.  Dan Ackroyd and his wife came by and they were attracted to a two piece painted cupboard that they could see glimpses of on the still tied down load.  She told him to stay there until it was unloaded while she went on down the line, and he was good enough to suggest helping me unload rather than just standing there watching me.  Nice guy.  It turned out not to be the cupboard for them, but regular Toronto customers bought it right after, so this combined with other sales indicated a strong start.  It’s a great feeling to sell enough in the first hour that you have “made your table” as the expression goes, and you can relax a little knowing that even if nothing else sells you have had a good show.  It didn’t happen that often even then in the heyday of the nineties.

The day continued to go well in spite of the sweltering August heat, and we even had a few sales on Sunday. So, when five o’clock closing came, we were happy not to have a lot to load back on, although the Toronto couple needed the cupboard delivered to their home, and I bought a few things in the rough to take home.  By about seven we were loaded and on the 401 heading west.  We checked the radio for traffic and found out that things were moving slowly all the way to Toronto due to an accident and so decided to pull off at Belleville for dinner at a place we like down by the marine.  We felt a bit celebratory, and content to relax, sip wine, and eat seafood while looking out over the boats in the harbor, so by the time we finished our espresso it was probably pushing ten before we were back on the road to complete the five hour (in total) drive.  Feeling good and awake thanks to the espresso.   Of course we were younger then and able to stay up past ten.

So everything was going swimmingly. Traffic was clipping along, the CBC was playing an interesting documentary, the windows were down and the breeze was cool.  We hit Toronto about midnight and I was enjoying the fact that all four express lanes seemed almost empty.  Occasionally a big transport would go whooshing past me in spite us traveling at 120 Km per hour.  I was “in the zone” and enjoying the oddly luminescent mercury vapor lighting and passing cityscape when suddenly there is a pick-up right behind me flashing his lights, and hitting his horn.  “Alright already.  Go by me there’s another three lanes.”   What is with this guy?  Next thing he has pulled up right beside me, and a guy leans out the window and screams “Your truck is on fire!!”  Whaaat?  Looking in the rear view I see flames flaring up into the night off the top of my load and realized he’s right. Yikes! It was several minutes before I could pull off safely, all the while watching the flames get higher due to the combination of plenty of oxygen , and all that dry 100 year old wood.  I jumped out and surveyed the scene.  Indeed, I could see that at least three things were on fire and several blankets had ignited, and of course all this was tightly secured by ropes which are also on fire by this point. The situation looked dire. First things first.  Jeanine was by this point sleeping, and was not at all pleased to be woken up with the news that it was time to abandon ship and run for your life.  We both ran down into the ditch thinking that at any moment the thing may blow just like in the movies.  Then slowly reason supplanted panic, and we realized that the pieces on fire were up on top and we would have to stand there and watch it burn for a long time before it came anywhere near the gas tank.  Let alone heat up the steel of the truck bed enough to ignite anything, so we got busy and started untying things as fast as we could, throwing the burning blankets and ropes into the ditch and stomping them out.  My kingdom for a fire extinguisher.  I have always carried one thereafter, and so there’s a cautionary tale for you.  Other than gloves, all we had to fight the fire was a couple of large bottles of water which we saved to pour right on the burning wood parts of the furniture that had ignited. We unloaded and stomped and smothered for about fifteen minutes which seemed an eternity and before you knew it, the flames were out. The fire was mostly in the blankets as it turns out, and we quickly assessed that only three pieces of furniture were seriously damaged.  Unfortunately, one of them was the sold and paid for cupboard to be delivered to Toronto.  We sat in the ditch for several minutes making sure all the fire was out, as the traffic roared by quite oblivious to our drama.  Nobody stopped and the half expected police never showed up.  We settled our nerves, and tried to figure out how such a thing could happen.  Our best guess was that a trucker had thrown out a lit cigarette and it had landed in among the blankets.  A close call, but half an hour later we were reloaded and back on the road heading home, feeling grateful that things had not gotten worse.  The insurance paid for some of the damage.  Giving us the money we had paid for the cupboard before restoring it, and not the amount we had just sold it for.  However, something is better than nothing.  The hard part of course was phoning our good clients in Toronto and having to inform than that their beloved cupboard had met a deathly fate on the road home and we were tearing up their cheque.  Very nice folks, they were quite understanding although they didn’t entirely believe that we hadn’t sold the cupboard for more money and then made up the story, so they accepted our invitation to come out and see for themselves.  They were quite reassured when they saw it and marveled that the fire had not spread further to destroy more of the load.  We felt the same.  We were able to come up with another cupboard for them, and no one got hurt so I guess you can say that all’s well that ends well. Still, I would advise that get yourself a fire extinguisher, especially if you carry furniture on an open truck. The moment may arrive when you would give your left arm to have one, God forbid.

The Toronto Harbourfront Market in its Heyday

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Every Sunday morning from the early 80’s to the late 90’s, the alarm would go off at our house at 4 a.m. The truck would be packed and the load tied down the day before, the lunch would be made and ready in the fridge, and our cloths would be set out. We would hop out of bed, get dressed, grab a coffee and get underway. An hour and a half later we would be pulling in to the Toronto Harbourfront Market, ready for another day of buying and selling. Rain or shine, we would make the journey, full of hope that the furniture and small items that we were offering would meet the approval of someone there.

When we started in the early 80’s the market would be held on about an acre of parkland near the terminal building, with the 100 or so vendors being set up in parking lots and green spaces right alongside the water. In the winter we would go across the road and inside an old one story warehouse. These were the glory days. It’s hard to imagine now just how “hot” the market was. The boomers in general had done well enough that their Toronto houses were paid for and they were madly buying up all the charming little farms and cottages within about a three-hour drive of Toronto. These rural places demanded antiques of course, being sympathetic to the rural environment, and a refreshing contrast to the city digs.

A loaded truck ready to go.

A loaded truck ready to go.

So in these days there was a large number of motivated collectors and dealers arriving about 6 a.m. vying to pick the best of what was being offered as it arrived. It was a thrill to arrive in our open pick-up truck, and have people run along beside us, racing up to the window to ask the price of the pieces they could see tied to the load. Often they would just say “yes, I’ll take it” even before it was unloaded, because they knew the competition was right behind them. It would happen occasionally that by the time we arrived at our spot, most of the furniture which could be seen was sold. Sometimes we had completely sold out by noon, but would still have to stay until five as to not create a disruption. We had our regular dealers whom we got to know would buy certain items without hesitation if the price was reasonable. You had to pay close attention. Sometimes two or three dealers would be right there as a piece was coming off and you had to be very conscious of who asked about the piece first, and who was next in line. It was easy with two people selling, under this kind of pressure to even sell the same piece to two different people. Tempers would flare. It was not always easy to sort out, and have everyone be happy with the results. It didn’t happen often, but it was difficult to avoid altogether.

Then by the mid-nineties, the Harbourfront development had other plans for the summertime parkland, and the wintertime warehouse, and so they built a brand new market at 390 Queen’s Quay W. As so often is the case, these new quarters under new management meant higher rents and lower sales. It continued to deteriorate until it was not profitable for us by the late nineties, and it eventually closed in early 2003.

Our friend, and avid collector Rod Brook used to say that he wanted to produce a book which presented exclusively all the incredible pieces that had been bought by collectors at the Harbourfront market during those glory years. Sadly, he died before he could accomplish this, but I’ll bet if someone took up the cause it would be an amazing document. For a while there it felt like it would never end, but then like everything else in life, it did.

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loading the truck for another Harbourfront Sunday.

“Your Cat is on Fire” – adventures with Albert

Our adjoining shed workshops

Our adjoining shed workshops

We were just on the phone with our daughter Cassandra, and she reminded me it’s Friday.  Somehow with the jet lag I was thinking it’s still Thursday.  It always takes me a couple of days to get back in to swing of things.  So as not to tax my tired brain too much, rather than going into something more serious, I turn to a little tale of barely averted disaster from back in the days when we lived and worked at the old church in Wyecombe Ontario.  Back in the days when we were called Old Church Trading.

albert

Albert

This story involves our faithful, for the past thirty years, assistant Albert.  Albert is a wonderful guy.  We continue to be good friends.  He is actually more a member of the family at this point,  and at 70 years old he is still happy as a clam to come over from time to time to help us with the garden or whatever, and  he can still out work a man half his age.  We met him early on after moving to the church when we bought some children’s yard chairs that he was making and selling from his trailer home in nearby Courtland.  During the conversation over the chair purchase he became aware that we had lots of work to do on the property and asked if we would be interested in hiring him.  He seemed like a nice fellow and his price was right so we said “sure let’s give it a try.’  Well Albert turned out to be a real blessing.  He would come on time very morning and work hard with enthusiasm and dedication, without ever a complaint.  I have always been more likely to say to Albert to slow down and take it a little easy, rather than to hurry up and get on with it.  Salt of the earth kind of guy.  We soon noticed that he never brought or ate a lunch, and so asked him why, and expressed our concern as to his well being.  He said, “oh I eat a good breakfast and then have dinner when I get home so it’s o.k.  That’s when Albert started having lunch with us.   Albert we came to find out, was a ward of the court and had never learned to read or write. He had lived almost as a slave on a nearby farm until he was 18 and legally able to leave.  I will not denigrate him by suggesting that he is unintelligent because  in spite of his lack of education he is very creative in finding ways to do things his own way, and very capable at many things.  Let’s just say that he is an original thinker, and because he is always working so hard to please, everything is great as long as you don’t leave him too long unattended, because sometimes he is a bit overzealous.  So understanding this, we come to our story.

It was an unusually hot, and windy spring morning, and I had spent it working indoors, while Albert on instruction raked up the leaves and limbs that had fallen on the yard over the winter.  At noon Jeanine had prepared some delicious soup and so we called Albert in for lunch.  As usual we had enjoyed our lunch together and conversation and was just  finishing a cup of coffee when there came a frantic knock on the door.  We opened it to find a local farmer shouting “your cats on fire, your cat’s on fire”.  We looked across the room and saw our cat Elvis sleeping there so we were puzzled to say the least.  “He’s  o.k. he’s right over there.”  We had misunderstood.  “Oh, our shack is on fire” What the…?

We ran out and indeed one of our three little out buildings was indeed engulfed in flames along one wall.  It didn’t take long to realize that Albert had piled up the refuse at the edge of the property, and had taken the initiative to light it.  Then when called him he had then come in for lunch, assuming I guess that it would be fine. Well the wind had picked up and it wasn’t fine. The fire had run along the dry weeds and caught under the edge of the little building. The dry hot wind had fanned it, and it was already burning pretty convincingly all along the wood siding.  Yikes! Crap.  Albert get out the hose and shovels and get over here pronto.  Albert is pretty darn fast when he needs to be so within seconds he was back and we were throwing dirt on the fire and spraying the side of the building with all the water that our little well pump could muster.  It didn’t take a minute to realize it was a losing battle so  Jeanine ran in and phoned the fire department.   Albert and I continued to fight the blaze as best we could but it had now jumped on to the pile of one hundred year old pine barn planks which we had stacked neatly with two inch spacers in between so they would not rot.  Well let me tell you, when that hot dry wind blew the flames across that dry stacked wood, whoosh, up she went like a match shooting flames into the sky. Holy Crap!  Our main effort at this point was to just stop the flames from reaching our two adjoined work shop buildings which were a mere three feet away. All we could do was to spray the walls to try to keep it from igniting.  Of course the work shop was full of valuable antiques and combustible chemicals, and also was just a few feet away from the church so things were beginning to look pretty bad. Just when it seemed hopeless the entire Langton volunteer fire department arrived with both their trucks because they had understood from Jeanine’s frantic call that the whole church was on fire.  They got out one of their big hoses and within five minutes extinguished the burning pile of boards and the burning shack, and left us with a cautionary note and a bill for $175.  Whew, thanks fellows for coming out so quickly and getting this situation back in control. I lost my two big pile of pine boards and we had to restore one side of our little shack but we were so grateful that things had not been worse that we just took a moment to thank our lucky stars and the brave men who volunteer to fight fires.   Albert, of course felt bad enough as it was without reprimanding him further, so we just got on with cleaning up the mess.  However, we all learned a valuable lesson that day.

Let’s visit a French antique market

FullSizeRender (2)The first Sunday of every month, there is an antique market in the town of Soumoulou, 10 km from the city of Pau in the South West of France. It goes from 8 am until 6 pm, and on average has about 100 dealers in attendance. Twice a year, in the spring and fall they have a large show which brings in about another 100 dealers. In this it is roughly equivalent to the Aberfoyle antique market held near Guelph, Ontario. Because my wife Jeanine is from this area, we have been visiting this market from time to time over the past thirty years, and like Aberfoyle we have seen changes. Primarily, a rise in interest and prices until about 2008, followed by a precipitous fall. There is still good attendance and sales taking place, but the packages being carried are smaller and fewer in number.
Still, it is a wonderful way for a person of my persuasion to spend a morning and so it was with great excitement that I woke, had breakfast, and got everyone underway, determined to get first dibs on anything special that may arrive. You’ve got to be on your toes. I remember a few years back being very disappointed missing out on a 100 years old terra cotta bust of an aristocratic French gentleman because I was still trying to figure out the exchange while a more astute dealer stepped in and bought it. Another time I almost cried because I was a few seconds behind a man from Provence in committing to what remains in my mind the most beautiful wrought iron butterfly panel which had graced the entrance of an old restaurant. IN A GADDA DA VIDA baby, indeed.

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Pictured here are confit pots. They are a local redware which are glazed on the inside, and part way down the outside. They were used to preserve cooked duck in goose fat before the days of refrigeration. As long as the pieces did not touch each other they would keep for about three years like this, getting more tasty all the while. To my mind Duck confit is one of the most delicious things you will encounter on this earth. Be sure to try it, if you get the opportunity. Today, these beautiful pots are used mostly as patio pots.  At one point about twenty years ago you would do well to find one available because they enjoyed such popularity in the States that all of them seemed to end up there. These were offered from 45 to 65 Euros. Hard to transport or I would have been tempted. For the scores of them that we have carted back over the years , we have kept only a few for ourselves.

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These little birch-bark storage boxes were very tempting ranging from 35 to 45 Euros each. The dealer said he bought them in Biarritz, and thought them to be local, but I was uncertain as I have never seen other examples here. Lovely patina and in excellent condition. Looking at the picture I wish I had bought them.  I find I never regret the things I buy, only the things I pass on.

 

 

FullSizeRender (5)I have brought back several of these wine bottle drying racks over the years. People made and bottled their own wine here so the bottles would be cleaned out and dried to be reused.

I love the exchanges here between dealers and potential customers. It’s a more in your face, and no bars held. I overheard a woman who was negotiating the purchase of a vase say, “what, did you wake up in the middle of the night after dreaming that price”. The dealer laughed and a deal was made. We had a wonderful morning looking at everything. Most of it very different than the things offered at home, and we managed to find a half a dozen things that we could fit in out suitcases and bring back as gifts. There’s nothing I enjoy more that an antique market on a crisp spring morning. You never know what you will find.

 

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