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-or jar—the ceramic passion touched his heart, and the produce of the sale of his humble shop was soon converted into bric-à-brac.
As regards myself, the writer of these pages, I am very very far from believing that I know much, though the voice of art has induced me not only to study it theoretically, but also to follow its pursuit in every possible manner, in order to gain knowledge; visiting exhibitions and choice private collections, diving into out-of-the-way regions in cities abroad and at home, and never passing the most humble shop without peeping into its recesses.
On the very day I write these lines I have received a letter from a friend, asking me to tell him what the letters S and A, on a fine piece of china amount to. My reply was, no one, whatever his knowledge, practically or theoretically, can tell until he sees and handles the china ; it may be soft paste, it may be hard, it may be the production of to-day, or that of ages past. S A may only be the mark of the painter, or stand for Swansea ; and I take this opportunity of naming to novices who seek to collect porcelain (not that all the works on the subject may instruct), and other foreign works, though prices, as in most sales, are by no means to be relied on as to the actual value of the specimens sold ; simply that the possessor of a well-known collection often obtains fabulous sums, whereas those of one unknown are frequently sacrificed.
As regards the ci-devant dealers of Weisbaden, so is it in all the great capitals of Europe, for, although there are unquestionably men of the highest respectability, integrity, and knowledge, who probably commenced their career as art dealers with some capital, which capital has been doubled, nay trebled, by experience subsequently gained, there are hundreds, at home and abroad, who have commenced the trade as did my friend, with a majolica vase, or Dresden teapot.
Not ten years since, I recollect a dealer at Vienna whose whole stock and capital would not have been valued at probably two hundred florins, whose shop may now be estimated at thousands of pounds; while his wife, whom I have seen sweeping up the floors and watching the pot au feu in
preparation for a very scanty meal, now dresses in silk attire, and learns English and music. And why not, if they have been honestly gained ? Alas! that is not always the case, as I have endeavoured to show, from the utter want of knowledge of twothirds of purchasers.
At Berlin it is the same; dirty little shops, the contents of which appeared as valueless, have risen in a few years into magazines containing great value. In fact, I greatly offended a bric-à-brac dealer at Berlin, perhaps unkindly, whose shop was in the year '63 one of the most humble, in ’75 one of renown. Paying him a visit one morning, I found myself in the presence of a lady anxious to purchase two Dresden figures, undoubtedly very good ones; the price he demanded two hundred thalers; on hearing this, perhaps incautiously, my face, I fear, said francs; indeed, I spoilt the market, not wishing her to be swindled. Having selected a very choice Frankenthal cup, he snatched it out of my hand most rudely, adding, “I will sell you nothing !” I confess that the spirit of an Englishman took possession of my hands, but a moment's consideration, however, and I dropped happily into the spirit of a gentleman, and left the shop without breaking the cup on his head.
Nevertheless, this individual in former days was indebted to me, or rather received from me many thalers and some good advice, but he is now possibly a millionaire. In fact many dirty little shops ten years since are now filled with art treasures ; and so it is in our own dear England.
Meanwhile, it has always appeared strange, in this era of advertisements, how rarely one appears from a bric-à-brac dealer, though I have seen in foreign capitals advertisements emanating from dealers from afar, stating their hotel or temporary resting-place and readiness to purchase ; and was once greatly amused at seeing a gaudy advertisement framed and glazed in a public resort which delicacy prevents my naming ; certainly as 'cute a means of publicity as could possibly be.
Indeed, the history of many bric-à-brac dealers would be highly interesting. Couriers and waiters, grocers and shoemakers, have left their former trade for the far more refined and, I conclude, profitable one of art-collecting and selling. Indeed, if pursued with knowledge and taste, I doubt very much if collecting works of art is not one of the best investments of the present day. For my part, I should enjoy a walk through the rural districts of old England, as abroad, solely in search of ancient china and old carving; and assured am I that in many a humble cottage, as in many a substantial farm or costly mansion, there could still be found specimens of great value that might be secured, as it is said, for a song. I was recently passing up Hill Street in Richmond, Surrey, when I observed that which I had never previously seen even in that beautiful and much-frequented locality—a bric-àbrac shop, which I entered, and was kindly accosted by the owner, a highly respectable and obliging man. The shop contained several good specimens, a few moderate figures in Dresden and Chelsea, some old clocks, pictures, &c.