Design & Decoration S04 ep19 : Jamie Ede Charles, EDE Antiques, [London]
Interview with Jamie Ede Charles
Charles Ede Limited is the Leading London-based dealer in Classical and pre-Classical Antiquities from Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and the Near East. All items are fully researched and are sold with an unconditional guarantee of authenticity.
My father was an academic. Very old fashion view the text was more important than the picture. Of course in the current world
that’s completely different. It’s hard to keep your attention on text because people are not used to reading a lot. But I continue
to do the text because I enjoy doing it and I also think that once you start putting things into the written word it really makes
you concentrate on what you doing and what you’re saying.
I’ve often found that I’ve uncovered potential problems with objects when I started to really do the research to write it down as
opposed to simply shoving it on the shelf and saying this is what it is.
After the war he went to printing. He was very interested in printing, he became a publisher and he started a Publishing
company. It’s really still quite famous today called the Folio Society, which was the first to mail order book club in Britain. And
it’s a very big business with over ¼ million members that was in 1947. In 1959, he started a thing called Folio Fine Arts which was
on offshoot intended to use the mail order potential of this huge mailing list. And he sold every kind of art there is a part from
oil painting. So prints, maps, drawings, find bindings, sculptures, modern sculptures, monitoring etchings and many of the
dealers today who are leaders; some of them at this fair had their first jobs with my father running small departments within
Folio Fine Arts.
He would put out a catalog every month with 500 objects in it and people ordered by post. It kicked off in 1959 it was called
Collectors Corner. And it had a clubhouse in London where you would go and have a sandwich and a glass of wine and have a
look at the things and buy them. It was very successful actually. One day he was walking out Cecil Court in West end London
looking for bindings I think; there’s a guy down there with bindings. And he saw this thing in the window and said “Roman pot
three and six”. Then he went and he said “That’s a very interesting pot, nice copy” and the guy said “Shhh copy, it’s an original
it’s fourth century A.D.” and that was it he was hooked. He started selling antiquities.
His real plan in life was to produce great quality for every man. The Folio Society books are beautifully designed, they are
beautifully bound. Anything he could find that as it were high culture which could be sold for a lowish price he was very keen
on. And antiquities absolutely fell into that niche. He sold the ?Folio in 1971 and set up as Charles Eden doing nothing but
antiquities. He became passionately involved in antiquities
From a very young age I wanted to go to the Army. I became an Army officer; I discovered very quickly that I was incredibly bad
at it. I left the Army and I went to my fathers at any chance of a job. I had bought a few things from him when I was a schoolboy.
His belief was you should understand the value of things when you are young. And I was buying Greek pots off him for £5, which
took me a year to pay for.
Although many countries, source countries for these things had laws in place for a long time, they have never really bothered to
enforce them. The Cairo [Egypt] Museum was selling antiquities up to 1976 in the museum, and certainly nobody was really
worrying about what was going on in the Mediterranean at all. So there was a constant new supply of material.
It became very expensive dealing with these small value items. When I started there was no VAT. There were no import duties,
no export duties. You went out, you bought something and put it on the shelf and that was it. Now of course there is a raft of
People had a lot of auctions. Now the auctions in those days were largely wholesale operations. Now retail, the auction houses
now are dealers in fact. But he bought from other dealers as well, and he bought from private collectors which is really what I do
He restricts himself in a way that many of us dealers of that generation did. He had a sort of price niche. He was uncomfortable
at selling things over £2000. This was something of a clash between him and I, because I was mostly pushing for higher quality
material. We worked together for 25 years, he died in 2002. We had great times together; terrific I couldn’t have had a better
teacher. But we did have structural differences in opinions in how the business should go.
I had one of only two known vases of FLUORSPAR, which was a very precious material to the Romans. Plini writes that Nero paid
a million SISTERSIS for a cup made of FLUORSPAR. FLUORSPAR is what we call Derbyshire blue john. So a lot of vulgar fluorite
[06:25], it’s banded green and yellow and red. And I found one of these things in an auction in Switzerland catalogued as fake
and I found the history back to 1917 and it’s now in the British Museum.
These things do go up and down in price sometimes. Two or three years back I had a very major Roman sculpture which I bought
as being 19th-century and I found a photograph of it taken in England in 1861, which makes it a very early private collection
photograph for a Roman sculpture. Fantastic piece now in an American Museum. I traced that piece from 1770. It came to
England and the price dropped by half between 1760 and 1840. And it then dropped in real terms by half again when it was sold
in 1947. Nobody had any money and lot 291 was four Roman Busts [07:30] and lot 292 was five Roman Busts [07:32]. It’s stuff
that we would kill for today and I sold it for several millions.
My father’s collectors were almost all academic. I mean they were doctors and dentists and lawyers. But they had collections
and that absolutely fell off the cliff. You know five years ago I didn’t have anybody that had a collection. I certainly not sold to
people who knew was that this by Crane was a painter and this was the only pot he had ever done which has a palmet below
the handle for example. And I used to have a lot of people like that who really understood that sort of stuff and who loved it.
But I’m starting to see the emergence of a new group of people who are taking it to a certain depth, which is very nice.
About four years ago I decided that I was no longer going to buy anything that I didn’t bother to take home. If I bought things
because they were achieved, I couldn’t sell them. The object has got to have something that sings to you and once you’ve get
that song going, life is incredibly exciting. I mean I regard my clients as fellow travelers on a journey; I know it sounds a bit
precious but it is absolutely right. That people that I have dealt with for 10 or 12 years and I’ve managed to help them build
substantial collections. This is something that we’ve done together, they provided the finance, I provided the expertise. And it’s
been incredibly exciting, wonderful. When new people come on to the staff and I’m talking to them and they say “one of the
pitfalls”. I say “The pitfall is that you can really get into this”.
From an emotional point of view I love anything that puts me back there. So for example I had a travel traveling compact mirror,
a soldier’s mirror and it was very small. Bronze, Roman and we opened it and the inside still had its silvering so it reflected
beautifully inside and I was the first face to look in that mirror for 2000 years. Now that’s sends a tingle down my spine, I really
I got a Terracotta over there on the shelf which is not that great work of art, it’s a relatively common type. But it’s one of the
only examples I have ever seen that has all of its original paint on. You know it’s always worn off and we have a view of what
Greek terra-cottas looked like and that view is completely distorted by the fact that most of them have lost their painted
decorations. Now when you have seen one that’s got it “Oh see that’s how it looked”.
Most of the Athenian vases come from Italy. And there was a time when the Etruscans were importing these things in large
quantities. They clearly had a balance of payment problem and so they started making themselves in that moment becomes
quite clear when the local Greeks in southern Italy start making their own vases. And the Athenians come over there to work.
Some of the later Athenian potters come to Sicily to work to supply the local market. And you know this is dynamic, there is a
trade dynamic there which we tend to not think about in a way. We have a rather dusty idea of the ancient world [11:10] and I
know that scholars have tried to dispel that in recent years. There have also been books on Sex in history, women in history,
cats in history and all that stuff. And there is nothing wrong with that because I do think that opens it up to us.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Jamie Ede Charles, EDE Antiques, London