On March 29, the Financial Times ran a retrospective article
about Portobello Road in London. The theme was reflecting whether the
old-time tradition of the road as a center for antiques could
continue, given increasing property values and the replacing of old
facilities by new, expensive buildings. “The street market in
Portobello Road in 1962” was the caption on the illustration,
reproduced above. Quoted was Marion Gittleson, who had sold antiques
there “for more than 35 years.”
This stirred my memories of the district in London, where I often
went in the early 1960s. At that time the market, comprising several
blocks of stalls plus several permanent stores, was active only on
Sunday mornings. One of the stores open all week was that of Graham
Webb, whose cluttered premises were chock full of interesting antique
music boxes, a special interest of mine.
By 1962, the date of this photograph, I was a “regular” in London,
having visited there many times in the search of rare coins. The “big
three” coin dealers in the city were B.A. Seaby Ltd., Spink & Son,
and Baldwin’s. New on the scene was Michael Stewart Millward, a dealer
in the “American style,” constantly trading and with five or six
telephones on his desk in the street-level premises of Stewart Ward Ltd.
Viewed as Americans with more money than good sense, Jim and I were
“targets” for collectors and dealers with coins for sale. On one trip
we bought six leather-cased full Proof sets of 1826 from several
individuals. Imagine today, when a single coin from such a set merits
a splash in an auction listing!
Returning to Portobello Road, while most stalls also had
bric-a-brac, old toys and various second-hand goods, a lot of coins,
tokens and medals were always on display. The 1797 Soho Mint Cartwheel
pennies and twopence, always in worn grades, were very common and cost
a pound or two apiece, a pound being equivalent to about $3.25 in U.S.
funds. Admiral Vernon medals were also aplenty for a pound or so each.
There were enough coin scouts in London that there were few bargains
in (one always said “in,” not “on”) Portobello Road. However, I always
found a few things to buy.
Among the old-line British dealers, my closest friend was Doug
Liddell, who managed Spink’s.
The firm was located several floors up at 5 King St., St. James
(premises that had been damaged years earlier in the 1940 Battle of
Britain). Access was via a rickety old elevator cage. In a typical
London trip I would spend many thousands of pounds with him.