The Cambridge Glass Fair
three hundred years of collectable glass in one day
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When and how did you become interested in Glass ?
Donald and I started collecting glass after he came home from a trip to the Design Museum in Ghent where there was an exhibition of Italian glass which completely knocked him out! Interestingly, we have never seriously collected Italian glass but it started off an interest which as any glass collector will tell you became an obsession.
We also have German friends who have a fantastic collection of very old wine glasses. When we visited them we were encouraged after dinner to choose a glass for Schnapps from the collection for our "digestif." At first we had no idea whether we were choosing a glass worth a pound or a thousand pounds but the experience of drinking from these really old glasses was filled with a sense of history.
We then made the first of many trips to the wonderful Broadfield House and after that like many before us we were well and truly trapped by the world of glass!
Anne Ferguson had been similarly interested in glass for a few years and as we were really good friends we all spent a lot of time on Sunday morning trips to car boots and auctions sharing knowledge and fighting over the best bits!
In Glasgow we have a really old market called the Barrows and we scoured that for glass. We had no budget so our buying criteria had to be interesting and cheap. The result was a huge quantity of mistakes with a few real gems!
Very soon we realised that we didn’t really want all the glass we had bought (including by the way the inevitable glass fish! - we still don’t really know where they originated from!) and as it was filling our homes we had to do something!
Donald decided we needed to sell it and booked us all into our first ever antique fair to sell off what we didn’t want. We then realised that as dealers we had access to a lot of the best glass around and at a general fair there were often 'bargains' to be had from people who were concentrating on other areas. At that time in Scotland very few dealers were specialising in glass so ACD glass was born!
In its heyday Ingleston in Edinburgh was a great fair and Anne, Donald and I have made some of our best friends among the dealers and customers there. We were encouraged to go further afield to exhibit and we have shown regularly at Newark, Swinderby, the National Glass Fair and many others including Cambridge from its beginning. Obviously for us every fair is a marathon journey from the West coast of Scotland but we have met such interesting people and seen so much of England that we feel really privileged to be part of the glass world.
Our personal collection has changed a bit over the years as our knowledge has increased but it is firmly set in the 20th century. For us – as with all collectors I suppose- the fun of collecting is in the chase. Once you have it all, the “need’ seems to disappear. Having been dealers now for over 10 years we have at least seen and handled most of what is interesting in glass.
When we were first married in the 1970s we desperately wanted to buy Scandinavian glass but it was way out of our price range so now we have a good collection of glass and ceramics from the 50s-70s which we still enjoy.
Our interest in glass started immediately after the Manchester Whitefriars exhibition. Both Whitefriars books had been published so we bought them and became really interested in the early 20th century pieces. We have some beautiful cloudy, huge latticed and threaded examples which we still love.
Scottish glass – Monart, Vasart etc has always been part of our selling collection but recently we have started to pick up Caithness paperweights which are fantastic examples of the best of 20th century glassmaking and have still to find their price level.
We all collect for our own use the best drinking glasses produced during the 20th century – Stuart from the 1930s! We have almost every possible glass shape in Tamara, Woodchester and we use it every day!
Collections other than Glass
We are all major collectors of stuff! This surrounds us and basically takes over our lives but within it our first collecting experience was with Staffordshire flatback figures which incongruously we still have. Royal Copenhagen and Poole ceramics from the 1960s and 70s are an ongoing interest and we are literally drowning in books!
I suppose that growing up in the fifties and sixties has left us with a bit of a passion about that period – it does seem to sum up the 20th century. The 1930s started the Modernist look with Stuart and Keith Murray and the Scandinavians took it on during and after the war. At home we constantly strive for (and fail miserably!) a minimalist lifestyle in keeping with Scandinavian Modern principals. I would have liked to have known Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva. When I met the textile designer Lucienne Day who was a friend of Wirkkala’s, she told me he was a really interesting man, so I would put him on my list of all time dinner guests. You also have to respect and admire Geoffrey Baxter for picking up and running with the best of the 20th century and then making it his own – even if you don’t really like it.
Worst and Best Aspects of Dealing
Without a doubt the worst aspect of being a dealer is packing up after every fair. Next to that is packing up before a fair and selecting what to take – almost inevitably taking the wrong things. Breakages are going to happen and you can only buy lots of bubble wrap and hope for the best.
The best aspect is meeting people and sharing knowledge. Fellow dealers are now amongst our best friends and come from all over Britain and the same can be said about customers. Finding the right piece for the right customer is very rewarding.
One of the best pieces we ever found and sold was from an antique centre in Essex which we were visiting with a collector friend. We both reached to the bottom shelf of a cabinet for a piece of geometric Murano when I experienced a heart-stopping moment and picked up an odd piece next to it. When I confirmed that it was a really rare piece of Whitefriars Evening Sky, we were delighted to pass it on to a serious Scottish Whitefriars collector for his collection. It was one of those moments which every dealer hits where knowledge can give you a wonderful bargain – unfortunately these moments happen very rarely.
Best advice given
I don’t remember being given any good advice when we started and we certainly never listened to any, which probably is the reason why we made so many mistakes. We just jumped into dealing with a bit of knowledge and a lot of nerve and I suppose that way you learn fast!
We learned a lot about the business by good examples like Nigel Benson and Jeanette Hayhurst and realised from an unforgettable day spent with Charles Hajdamach at Broadfield that glass archives were basically dusty rooms and cupboards filled with lots of ordinary but some really fabulous pieces of glass.
Best advice to pass on
The best pieces of advice we have to pass on to future collectors are:
Don’t start - it becomes an obsession!
Buying and collecting has nothing to do with need!
Buy or borrow as many reference books as you can find – knowledge can save you a lot of money.
Buy what you can afford and upgrade your collection as you can afford to.
Talk to Charles Hajdamach – he is enthusiastic about all glass especially Avon and Pyrex!!
In 2000 Anne and I were commissioned by A&C Black to write a book on dining during the 20th century. We were both lecturing at Glasgow School of Art at the time and wanted to combine our research in glass, general art and design and food. The result was A Century of Dining in Style which was published in December 2006 and is an information- packed but light-hearted history-by-decades of dining in the 20th century. We called on all our friends from the antique trade for wonderful pieces to photograph and visited many archives and private collectors. This was a direct result of becoming dealers in glass and only goes to show that you never can tell where you will end up in this business.