By Adam Rockall on May 6, 2020 4:00:00 PM
Bringing you closer to today’s creators, collectors and curators
While lockdown has put a stop to weekends roaming Antique Fairs, not to mention my visit to Flea Markets across small French towns being rescheduled for next year, discovery is still something we continue to do here at William George.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Louis Walpole of LJW Antiques about his beginnings as an antique dealer, his favourite finds and his thoughts on how online has changed the industry for the better.
How did you get your start in the world of antiques and curiosities?
I've grown up in the trade; my dad's also an antique dealer, and so I have spent my life surrounded by old stuff and would spend my Saturdays looking after my dad's stand on London's famous Portobello Road Antique's market, which is where my love for the trade blossomed.
As a child, weekends and holidays were spent going around markets, auction houses and museums and so I have made some fantastic friendships, learned about a very diverse range of disciplines and spent my earnings collecting, buying and selling.
I eventually got a 'proper job' with a large tech firm (still never missing a Saturday at Portobello Road), however after a couple of years of juggling the two, very diverse jobs I realised that regular employment got nowhere near to matching the thrill of trading; travelling around the country finding wonderful objects and meeting the eclectic mix of people who hold a shared passion for these pieces... So I quit my job and began trading full time.
What led you to specialise in advertising and signage?
When I began trading full time a few years ago, I was very determined to distinguish myself from my father's business of high-end, more' traditional' antiques.
Whilst still in employment, I'd bought a few enamel/neon signs and some vintage posters to decorate my flat. When I first started going around the market's looking to buy something that broke away from the traditional, it was this style of vintage / antique piece that I was drawn to.
As with any discipline, once you start to focus on a specific field, you soon start to learn a good example from a bad one, the feel/quality of an earlier piece from a later one and an unusual example from a more common one. With this developing knowledge, I started to build a good customer base of decorators/collectors and things snowballed from there. As my stock and experience have grown I've started to expand my field; having a bit more faith/confidence in buying pieces that appeal to my eye I've begun venturing into decorative objects, small pieces of furniture and even jewellery.
Do you have a process/criteria for sourcing pieces?
When it comes to sourcing my stock, I preference buying at trade fairs, both in England and Western Europe. I've built a network of dealers that sell at these fairs whose style I like and have an affinity with. As well as selecting pieces from these dealers there are normally some bonus items to be found with other stallholders.
A life spent on the road, buying / collecting / delivering means I never turn down the opportunity to call into an antiques centre/salvage yard, and I do cover a select number of auction houses too.
I'm always open to the opportunity to buy good stock and have made some of my best purchases at the most unlikely of times and circumstances - an open mind (and some cash in the pocket) can sometimes pay off!
What is the favourite piece you have sourced?
Favourite piece? Can I only pick one?
That's difficult… I've just spent a little while scrolling through photographs of sold stock and concluded that I'm not a very good trader as there were countless pieces I'd buyback in a heartbeat - I think I'd be better suited to being an eccentric collector if the funds allowed it.
After much deliberation, the piece that I kept coming back to was this 'Carnival and Fun Fair' poster. For me, this had it all; the colourway, the subject matter and the graphics are all absolutely sublime. The level of detail is fantastic, and the more you looked at it, the more little design elements would become apparent.
I had this in pride of place at home for a long time and parted with it very begrudgingly - I've had rarer pieces, more valuable pieces, things with (for me) a perfect patina/surface, but it's this poster that I'd most like to live with!
Whilst you are a dealer - do you also have a collection yourself?
As the above answer should explain - I'm not very good at parting with my stock and develop far too much of an attachment with these items.
As a child, I spent my pocket money on Victorian glass inkwells (cool kid right?), and I think they're still boxed up in my parent's loft somewhere. Now I'm generally content with owning the items for a while and selling these pieces to fund the purchase of new items. Some of my stock I'm in no hurry to sell (and have made no efforts to make available for anyone else to buy) - a few examples of signage that are either particularly unusual in their subject matter or in a particularly good condition and I have amassed a small, unintentional collection of early drinking (wine) glasses that I find far more satisfying to use than anything that could be bought now.
Oh, and early photographs - I've a real thing for buying black and white photographs with an unusual subject matter; fancy dress parties etc. and I can't imagine parting with these. But strictly speaking,' no' - I haven't got a specific or disciplined collection.
Do you feel that the industry has changed over the last 5 years?
I definitely think it has and I suspect that it will change a whole lot more over the coming weeks/months of this pandemic. But change isn't by any means a bad thing.
The main difference I suspect has been a slow and somewhat reluctant adoption/acceptance of technology. A prime example of this is Instagram, which has grown in use and popularity over the past couple of years and has definitely helped a lot of dealers connect with each other and with the buying public. It provides a fantastic platform that can be engaged with by all generations of dealer; some use it for selling, some for sharing and some for socialising but it functions well on all levels.
Talking of Instagram, the LJW Antiques page shows collaborations with luxury motorcar showrooms - what do you think the link is between luxury/classic cars and the pieces you have?
I've been very fortunate to collaborate with a couple of different luxury car dealerships/showrooms, and there's hopefully more of that to come.
A large part of classic/luxury car ownership is about the aesthetics of the vehicle and, in the case of the classics, about their history and development.
The vintage signage fits in with that perfectly; the vibrant colours and glossy surfaces of the enamel signs display incredibly well with the cars. The subject matter/wording of the advertising provides an often fascinating insight into automotive history; the changing attitudes to and popularity of the combustion engine.
Building the showroom displays is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my business - a rich wall of signage with a luxury or classic car in front of it is a wonderfully opulent/indulgent sight, and it evokes that somewhat irrational 'want'/’need' that buying/collecting is really all about!
I saw that LJW Antiques are renovating 'The Old Confectioners' in Margate. Can you tell us about your plans for this and what is next for LJW Antiques?
'The Old Confectioners' in Margate is currently what I'm relentlessly working towards and the motivation for some almightily early starts and long days on the road.
It will be my shop with my living behind and, if all goes to plan, holiday letting/accommodation above.
Until a year ago I was living in a studio flat in SE London which was absolutely crammed to the ceiling with stock and had overflowed into a worryingly insecure, leaking lock-up on a nearby estate. The whole experience was cramped and woefully inefficient.
Something had to change, and a large part of that was accepting that I would, for the first time in my life, have to move away from London so that I could afford to have a bit more space around me to live/work.
The hunt began, and I viewed properties over the south of England but very quickly fell head over heels in love with Margate - the sunsets are fantastic, and the seaside town has a wonderful energy to it with lots of small businesses, cafes, pubs.
The property that I fell for is a shop with accommodation at the Cliftonville end of Margate just back from the seafront - woefully neglected, I was advised that it wouldn't pass a mortgage survey - undeterred, I arrange a private loan instead and have spent the past nine months realising my naivety.
Unfortunately, very little of the property's original features remain, and the few that do are rotten; actually, anything that's wooden is rotten. So I'm currently in the process of stripping out everything affected by dry rot so that I can start again.
It's a long way from the 'lick of paint' and a few reconfigurations that I'd initially had in mind, but I've got my mind around the task ahead and am looking forward to saving the building from a century or more of bodge jobs and cover-ups. It will eventually be ready for living in and trading from, and when it is I'm hoping it will be a window into my taste and style!
The best things are worth working/waiting for, right?
There is an Instagram account - @theoldconfectioners on which I'll be posting updates as soon as work can resume.
Where can people find out more about LJW Antiques?
I desperately try (though am not that brilliant at) keeping my Instagram page - @ljwantiques updated with some of my favourite finds/pieces, postings are more sporadic than they should be, but the above renovation project consumes a lot of my spare time/energy.