It was about 9 p.m. when we started on our way to Edinburgh.
The weather was perfect. With the roads dry and no sign of rain, Tony, who was some type of dare devil drove his car like a Formula One champion. It was early Spring and the light was good until 9 p.m. We were reaching speeds approaching 125 miles per hour and I admired the way Tony drove and controlled the Jaguar. He was totally occupied and resigned to drive right through the night and he decided only to rest at the refreshment stations when he felt too tired to drive. I offered to take a session at the wheel, but he would not let anyone touch his beloved car. We had well over 1,000 miles to go before we arrived at Ester Henry’s Shop in Edinburgh.
By the time we passed Manchester it was nearly midnight and Tony told me that we would get to Edinburgh well before 9 a.m. We would therefore quite easily beat the Italian dealer, as the plane from Italy was not due in Scotland before that time. We stopped the car at the station in Carlisle and we both slept for 30 minutes.
During the journey, I discussed with Tony, that as this was his affair, I would be happy just to come for the ride, but Tony insisted that I could also do some purchasing. He said that the stock was of the highest quality and he wanted me to get some benefit out of the trip. He suggested that after he had purchased six times, I would be able to make one bid for whatever I chose. And this arrangement would continue throughout the transaction. I thought this was a very generous offer on his part and I was very happy to participate.
Leaving Manchester after a short rest, we were travelling along a practically empty road and making very good time. Tony seemed to shed his tension and became very much more relaxed. I could tell from his attitude that this would be a very important deal for him. At that time there was an unending demand for quality antiques and while Tony was supplying the West Kensington area, I had three shops to stock; at this time I had two large shops in Bournemouth, and one in London.
As we were approaching Scotland at about 6 a.m., a dense fog completely enveloped us, visibility was reduced to about ten yards and our speed was reduced to 10 miles per hour. There was no way we could get to the shop in Edinburgh by our hoped for time of 9 a.m. Tony became very depressed and he thought that his efforts to get to the shop in time would be of no avail, and that the big Italian dealer would get to the shop before us. This important deal would be lost in in the Scottish mist.
During the journey he told me that the son of Esther Henry was not a top class dealer like his mother and that he was short of money (probably due to death duties). He would be very anxious to sell and would do so at trade prices, somewhere around a third of what was displayed on the price ticket.
I told Tony that if there was fog in the area, then it was most likely that the airport in Edinburgh would be closed and we had every chance of getting there first. This calmed him down somewhat and we finally rolled into Edinburgh at 11 a.m.
Tony knocked on the door of the closed shop and to his delight, the son Paul appeared with a client who was fortunately only a small local dealer. Tony introduced me to Paul, and suggested that the local dealer could come back later as he and his friend Geoffrey wanted to do some serious business. This he agreed to do and we were the first serious dealers to arrive since he had decided to sell.
On entering the magnificent shop, I was amazed at the superb quality of the furniture, porcelain, silver, jewellery and objects d'art. The building was very old and had five floors all stocked out with treasures, that were now very hard to find. I have seen many antiques dealers operating swiftly in their purchasing programs, but never one so sure and quick as Tony did. He was very experienced in judging quality and could make up his mind in a flash. After he had finished his six purchases, he invited me to choose a purchase, which of course I did.
The prices were not especially low, but I could see a reasonable profit on the purchases. The buying went on for about an hour, by which time Tony had spent over £50,000. I was allowed my share as agreed. Tony told Paul that he and his friend Geoff, had unlimited funds and he was not to allow any clients into the shop during our purchasing. He was informed that even if it took three days, we did not want to be disturbed. Paul agreed to this. As we went round the shop, Tony attached his own printed buying tickets to the items he was interested in, with the agreed price to be totalled at the end of the deal.
At 12.45 a.m. there was a furious knocking at the door of the shop and Tony realised that the very important Italian dealer had arrived from Milan and he was demanding to be admitted into the shop. Paul having agreed not to admit any other dealer into the shop until we had finished our purchases, ignored the knocking. However the Italian looked through the letter box and saw some of Tony Cooper’s buying labels, and he yelled out in broken English, “Tony Cooper, if you do let me come into this shop, I will make sure that you will not be able to sell any of your goods in Italy again”. There was apparently a Mafia type of organisation in Italy at that time and Tony sold most of his antiques to the Italians.
Tony thought it out and decided to go outside and talk to him. After about fifteen minutes he entered the shop with the Italian and informed Paul that the Italian would continue the purchase instead of himself and that I would continue to buy after every six purchases. Of course I had to agree, as it was not my deal and it did not really affect my position. To my surprise Tony appeared quite content at this change of operation and quietly informed me that he could not afford to fall out with this powerful client. So that he agreed let him enter the shop and buy. As an afterthought he mentioned that the Italian agreed that Tony could keep all the purchases he has completed and that he would give Tony 15% of all the items he was able to buy from Paul in cash. I believe that the Italian spent £500,000, so you can see it was a good deal for Tony.
I personally spent over £50,000, and after three days I was absolutely exhausted, I bought some lovely antiques, and was able to stock out my three shops.
When we had all finished our business, and paid our bills, Tony asked Paul to show me the showroom in the basement. Removing the large Persian carpet on the shop’s floor, he tugged open a trap door and invited me to descend down some wooden steps. It was very dark like some large cave and I could just make out several glass cabinets. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Paul switched on the electric lights and all the cabinets glowed with the most amazing treasures; jade, ivory, enamels, rare porcelains, Sevres, Meissen and fabulous jewellery with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. I have never seen such a superb private collection in my life and I do not expect to see one again. Paul said that he had enough money at the moment and that he did not want to sell any of the basement treasures at the moment, but would get in touch with Tony if he wanted to sell.
Tony informed me some time later, that one of the biggest London Dealers finally bought all the basement collection and it must have realised over £1,000,000.
I remained very friendly with Tony for over 30 years and often saw him when I came to London. In the latter years he had purchased a lovely cottage in Ripley, Surrey, he had a lovely wife named Joan, the only trouble was that he became so rich that women & drink took their toll. He stupidly divorced his wife and then became dependant on drink.
After opening a very up-market antique shop in the village of Ripley, I used to see him in the large pub, opposite his shop where he would be drinking alone. He was always pleased to see me and we would reminisce about all the good times we had had. He had not remarried, but told me that he had a 'few irons in the fire'.
I learned to my dismay, that Tony Cooper had died at the same Pub, when he was on his own, which was quite sad. He had not reached 60 years of age.