Damp Squib

Well so much for William. Antique identification is a lifetime of work and interest. Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. But William didn’t seem to know much more than me really, despite him being close to me in age.

His interest was mostly in the stuff that I’d already identified as useful, although he did put his interest into one thing which I hadn’t rated so I’ll send that lot to him. As for my mum’s extensive and expensive porcelain habit, buffered for years by my dad’s auction addiction, he either couldn’t help me or didn’t fancy it. Maybe I didn’t help him too. I was deliberately downbeat about it all.  He’s probably used to people telling him “All these pieces are Ming dynasty, my granny told me.” I thought I’d go the other way for refreshment

Of some of the stuff I’ve saved from the smoke:

“These are probably good,” he says of troglodytic children proffering flowers that were covered in a membrane of tar until I sprayed them with bleach and chlorine, left them overnight in ammonia, went at them with oven cleaner and a wire brush and finally scraped the residue off with a tiny screwdriver. When they were smoked the contents of the trays looked like deadly mushrooms.


“They’re probably Derby by the patch marks.” I respond. “But they’re hideous. It’s like they’re trying to poison you.” His interest flicks away. It’s like I’m talking to a customer, not a potential ally, where I’m supposed to sell things. Come on mate. “What about these ones with the nodding heads? I haven’t cleaned them yet. They’re probably crap.”


His gaze passes them. Probably as I haven’t cleaned them but also as I suspect that they’re bad and he’s listening to me rather than using his gumption. Because he knows very little. Mum loved them though. I have to be careful not to be that guy who thinks his parents’ stuff is the best stuff in the world. Still, William doesn’t even lift them up to look for marks. Because he’s here to find the magical million pound piece. And this guy works for the bottom of the pile in my (maybe flawed) estimation of auction house ranking.

He picks up a platter. It’s very attractive. Mel picked it up too. It’s out because it’s interesting. I know it’s ribbonware. I think it might be German. “I like this,” he says. I say “Yes, me too. What is it?” He’s the expert. He turns it over to find the nothing useful that I found. *He keeps on doing this behaviour, as if I haven’t done the basics before calling him. Why would I call him if I hadn’t drawn a blank?* He draws a blank. “Well it’s ribbonware,” I prompt. “Any idea where it’s from though?” Nothing. Still. “Might be German?” He shrugs. He moves on.

“These pieces are definitely Nanking Cargo”, I say. “Some of them still have the Christies label from the original sale. Others I think are the same provenance but the label’s fallen off.”

He responds to the words “Nanking Cargo” with the silence of the person that doesn’t know about it, which is fine if you’re not “an expert” in porcelain, but shoddy if you are. I am deliberately vague about how many pieces there are. He shows no interest anyway. He’s losing points hand over fist now.

In 1752 the Dutch ship Geldermalsen sank with a consignment of porcelain from China, who had worked out how to make porcelain long long long before Europe did. The goods lay shipwrecked under the sea for over 200 years before Mike Hatcher found and salvaged the boat in 1986. It was a huge discovery, intact after all that time. Christie’s sold it all, broken up into lots. The pieces are valuable enough for their age, and more so for their provenance. Blank looks coming from our boy though. He’s overlooking things left right and centre. This is the wrong person and the wrong place to move this stuff. That much is clear.

“Seven years ago, we’d have taken all these boxes, organised them into lots, and sold them  all for you.” “But now?” “But now the market’s changed.” “So what are you going to take” “The things you already identified as valuable and told me were valuable. Those are the only things I want. Plus one surprise.” (Not his exact words but his content.) So he wants to cherry pick, and there is only one single item he has made me understand has value. Screw that. I’ll bring them the surprise item to sell because it surprised me. I’ll trade their 15% of that for his time – certainly not for his knowledge. He didn’t even want this cast iron clockdude.


Which is good as I love him. “He’s made of wood!” says William for a second, with a sneer, revealing the shape of  his expectation with this stuff. I almost wang him with it when he goes that far. In that moment I’m done with him. He’s an idiot. He’s a keen amateur, sent over when they can’t be bothered to send someone good. I hope that’s the case, because if that’s what passes for an expert I’m catching up with him after just three months of applied learning. He told me nothing new. But he missed a lot of stuff with value.

I stopped selling on eBay, which has been going very well, in order to make space for that doofus to come with his “big lot” potential. Seven years too late, he says. The bugger. He cost me a week of maximum one pound listings.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

3 thoughts on “Damp Squib”

  1. I didn’t know about Nanking Cargo–interesting story and valuable pieces–were those among the pieces that he wanted to cherry pick? I hope we learn more about the surprise.


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