The Customer is Always Right Eventually

Terzameron Day 3
March 23, 2020

Tim Martin



If I had a nickel for every time I’ve bashed my head against a wall about a client not buying something that they so obviously should buy, I’d probably have…[calculating]…five dollars and CTE. When you are a dealer you look on every really great purchase as a brilliant buy and a fine investment. Clients don’t always see it that way: to them investments are shares taken in wave-making companies like Apple and Oracle, Enron and Tyco.


Sometime around 2000 I went to lunch at Partridge’s, the vast Bond Street antiques emporium. They had a great cook, and a dining room where they served bibulous lunches on a table set with white linens and silver and flowers, the whole presided over by potty-mouthed Rosemary Partridge, who thought everything was really f*#@ing funny. The thing was, the Partridges were canny: in addition to the dirty jokes and the claret that seemed to refill itself, they also placed in front of you, for the duration of the meal, an object they thought you might like.


On one occasion, the object was one of a pair of livery pots known as the Rothschild-Rosebery livery pots (above left)—massive silver-gilt baluster flagons made in London in 1602 and—here I throw down my gauge: the finest pair of livery pots in the world. By the end of the meal….so fine was the food! so inexhaustible the decanter!….Reader, I bought them.


If you hear the Bronte echo it is because a couple of years later I felt that I hadn’t so much bought them as married them. Everyone I offered them to balked, offered too little, wanted to trade something for them that I didn’t want including, and I am not making this up, a vintage Ferrari…So I decided to do out loud what I’d been doing in my mind: grab a client by the lapel and say “what the hell’s the matter with you?!” The lucky client was Rita Gans.


At 4’11”, Rita was a little small for roughing up. Instead, I told her to meet me Monday morning outside the Met for what I warned her would be an awkwardly convoluted sales pitch. I walked her into the British Galleries, and showed her the Paston Livery Pots (above right). Very nice they are. Very special. One of the great pairs of livery pots, and illustrated in the famous Paston Treasure painting, but, I told Rita: hold them in your mind and we are going back to my shop.


You know where this is going. Back at the shop she saw the Rothschild-Rosebery pots (bigger, much heavier, fabulous gilding, just…beautiful) and she bought them. As she should have. They are now among the marvels at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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