My dear friend,
and early mentor, Vivian Andersen of Kensington Church Street has
died aged 86.
seaman, magicians assistant, synchronised swimming troupe manager,
civil engineer, hang glider and antiques dealer, had owned and run
Lacquer Chest with his wife Gretchen since the 1950s. The shop is a
For a husband
and wife to run any business together requires a special chemistry.
The dynamic of operating a thriving antiques shop together would lead
a saint to reach for the chill out pills.
Lacquer Chest was always Gretchen`s passion. She loved the chase,
she loved the shop, and she still loves the deal sixty years on.
in the early fifties was owned by Viv`s mother, Esme. But she tired
of it uttering the dealer`s lament “theres nothing to buy anymore”
Gretchen`s idea to take it on and she rapidly filled it with an
apparently random selection of pottery and enamel ware fulfilling a
look which is best described as Plain English. The rent was £125
Viv soon joined
her as the shop thrived. On his deathbed this month, Viv likened
Lacquer chest to “an oil well, a small one.” He would scour the
dozens of junk shops abounding in the London suburbs. His love of
engineering led him to specialise in rise and fall lighting. His
military links fed his interest in campaign furniture.
It was during
such buying trips that he unearthed a previously unknown red
washstand by William Burges in a Philips secondary sale in Lisson
Grove. It is now in a public collection. In those early years he
also bought two clocks by Charles Rennie Macintosh, giving one of
them to his son Toby. All of this at a time when Arts and Crafts
was unconsidered like so many great dealers before him, Viv was
ahead of his time.
But Viv was
just as happy pootling about in the little workshop at the back of
the shop. He used to joke “if a jobs worth doing, it`s worth
doing badly!” He was one of the original upcyclers. Turning
wooden lavatory seats into mirrors and verdigris ballcocks into
pawnbrokers` signs. He invented the caustic tank, and the shop sold
stripped pine for many years.
He continued to
buy, always the ultimate customer for a 2` 6” military chest,
always standing at the back of a country auction room to bid for an
obscure lot. But somewhere along the way his enthusiasm dimmed.
His family will
tell you, part with love, part with despair, that Viv never grew
up. He would much rather be hang gliding over the south downs,
windsurfing on the English Channel or playing tennis with his friend
Brian Ferry, as he did until September of this year.
For Viv it was
never about the money, something about the money appalled him. He
loved white loggerhead turtle shells but he lost heart when the price
went over 7/6. When Gretchen once paid me £2200 for one, we both
thought he was going to combust.
Viv was a great
optimist. He didn`t make judgements about people which is why he had
so many friends. This quality was good for antiques dealing, both
buying and selling. People trusted him and liked him immediately.
To young dealers he was especially generous. When I was first in
Arundel he took me to the Isle of Wight where he introduced me to the
dealers. They all called him Mr Andersen with a certain reverence.
He made me peer through a letter box in Union Street, Ryde, to see a
flight of hundreds of mahogany apothecary drawers, discarded in the
side corridor of a chemist shop. He had been trying to buy them for
since the 1950`s. I peeped in on them for the next thirty years,
but last summer they had gone.
affronted by Gretchen`s buying, Viv would still come along later to
pick up. Even in his eighties he would haul a heavy dresser base
onto the roof of the latest ageing Volvo estate rather than pay a
carrier. He dressed with understated style. His tailor was the
Oxfam shop just down the road from the auction room in Worthing. Viv
was always careful with money.
was born in Nanital Hill Station, India on August 13th
1927. His mother Esme`s family, the Herseys, were fabulously
wealthy. Viv remembered hundreds of acres of their own land as well
as their own elephants. His father, Freddy, was Colonel in Cavalry
who lost all interest in the British Army when it switched from
horses to tanks. When Viv was five the family returned to England,
wintering in Hampstead and spending their summers at the Meynells`
intellectual commune at Greatham in West Sussex. At sixteen Viv
joined the Royal Naval Academy at Pangbourne, but disliking the
strict regime and cold showers, quickly transferred to the Merchant
It was a
bizarre incident during the second war which Viv always said started
him on the road to dealing. Aboard the Liberty ship SS Samson, sent
to China with a cargo of belts and lipsticks, Viv was about to throw
overboard a pair of his old shoes. “Johnny, Johnny how much you
want for shoes?” came a cry from the dock. A deal was swiftly
concluded exchanging a mah jong set for the discarded shoes. The
dealer was born.
England, Viv was recruited as assistant to Jasper Maskelyne, the
great wartime magician. Viv thus saw out the last days of the British
music hall dressed as a china man.
career was followed by one still more curious, a spell as manager of
a synchronised swimming troupe who toured the lidos of the south of
Next stop was
Regent Street Poly where he gained a degree in Civil Engineering. He
went on to work for Ove Arup the global firm of consulting engineers
and assisted with the designs for the Royal Mint.
He met Gretchen
when the London taxi she had bought for £50 broke down. Always
perfectly mannered, Viv stopped to help and accompanied her to a
nightclub in Swallow Street off Piccadilly.
Viv is survived
by Gretchen and their three children, Emily in photography, Ben in
property and Toby in music. He died, after a battle with cancer,
at four am on a Saturday morning with his family around him. At 6 am
Gretchen, in an act only understandable to true dealers, went to
Portobello antiques market. She bought the best Noah`s Ark she had
seen for years. I don`t know how much she paid but you can be
certain Viv wouldn`t have given more than 7/6.
appears in todays Antiques Trade Gazette.