I met Esther Henry when she came into my first little shop I had opened on Richmond Hill. It was 1949, and England was still feeling the financial effects of the war. The small distribution of money given to all the ex service men, about £100, had swiftly been squandered and small shops were fighting to make their expenses.
A small elderly lady walked into my shop and told me she was looking for fine enamels and early Miessen porcelain. She also said that if the goods were of a fine quality, the price would not be too important. She seemed a little tired and I suggested that before she looked at the stock, I would make her a cup of tea. She sank down on my best chair, and gratefully agreed.
She told me that she had a fabulous antiques shop in Edinburgh, and that her client, Queen Mary, only bought the finest antiques that were available. I was able to satisfy her with several quality specimens and as the morning passed, we then became quite friendly. I was delighted. It was the best week’s takings I had made for over a month and she was so pleasant. Unlike most of the trade, she did not begrudge me my small profit.
She was a lady in her 70’s, quite well dressed but she did look her age. All the expensive clothing could not disguise the fact that she resembled a scrawny chicken. She had however, a lovely Scottish charm and a warm friendship developed between us for many years. Every Spring she would arrive at the shop, not only to buy, but to renew our friendship.
After her purchases, she would always invite me my first wife and I to have dinner with her at the Haven Hotel, Sandbanks.
She told us that she was a little lonely, as her husband had passed away a few years ago, and she missed having some company.
She often told me about her fabulous antique Shop in Edinburgh and how, when her Husband died, she struggled to emulate his antiques skills and run the Shop. Before he died, she was not allowed to take command of the business, but she told me she always loved the trade. She said she had doubled the stock and takings in three years, the Royal Family often visited the shop and although payment was slow the cheque always eventually arrived.
She was not too embarrassed to let me know that she was a very rich woman, and her name amongst the trade became very well known. I can remember the occasion when King Farouk’s antiques were offered for sale (Farouk was an avid collector). He was being kicked out of his throne by the military Colonels, including Nasser. All the prominent antique dealers in the U.K. were invited to bid for the treasures collected over many years. I had an invitation, but knowing the tough opposition I would have to face decided to give it a miss. Not so for our Esther. She turned up in Cairo in all her brash splendour, with nearly a million pounds to spend, which was an enormous amount in those days.
To her annoyance she discovered that the Auction was to be held in French of which she did not understand a word. As the auction started in that language, she let out a scream of protest to the Sotheby Auctioneers, yelling at them that she had a vast amount of money, and she was leaving the auction to go back home with her cash! The auctioneers then had second thoughts about the French language, and deferred the auction for several hours until they had found an auctioneer that could sell the goods in English. Esther being content by this decision, and having frightened off the opposition, by her strong financial statement, she told me later "I bought some of the most exquisite Antiques in the world, for quite low prices".
Of course the story of Esther, and the Auction made the headlines in all the International newspapers. She became world famous. Her only faux par was to tell everyone how cheap the prices were. The Egyptian Government and the population in Egypt were not amused.
During her next visit, Esther told me that as a local councillor, she would visit various local prisons in the Edinburgh area as part of her duties. On one of these visits she had met a very nice young man. He was a Hungarian refugee and was stateless. He also was an aristocrat, one of the minor princes of the country and she said she liked him very much. She asked me if I would check him over, as she had been very lonely and would quite like to get married again. She announced that this man Paul was in his early 40’s, but she felt that she could love him. In those days if people wanted to live with somebody they had to marry.
I, of course, told her to be careful and not to rush into something that she might regret, and she promised that she would bring him to Bournemouth on her next visit. I could not wait for that time to come, and low and behold, she arrived into my shop with him. I was pleasantly surprised of how nice he was, and he told me that although Esther was much older than he was, he had a warm loving feeling for her, and would marry her if she so desired. Esther on her part, could not stop herself telling me how much I have paid for his suit, shoes, and underwear. She certainly made no secret that her relationship was not platonic, and that she adored sleeping with him.
During the Dance, after the meal at the Haven Hotel, the two of them could not have danced closer, and it was obvious that they were lovers. I had time, the next day to talk to Paul, and found him to be a very pleasant fellow. He told me not to worry for Esther as he had great feeling for her, and he would be good for her too. I mentioned the thirty odd years difference, in ages and he said that was not important. In the end I told Esther when she was alone, that I liked her Paul and wished her every success in their relationship. I had to mention however, that it was not respectful for her to advertise the fact that she was buying all his clothes and that most men would be embarrassed, feeling like bought cattle. She listened carefully and agreed with me.
Before they returned the next day to Edinburgh, she told me that Paul was learning the antiques trade fast, and he was already becoming an expert of Faberge enamels and it was not the case of him being a passenger in her business but would become a great asset.
I was looking forwards, very much to their next visit which arrived the following month...and what a difference four weeks could bring. They arrived into the shop like two lovers, except Paul had a new confidence and knowledge, which he discreetly portrayed. Esther treated him as an equal with great respect. On his own, Paul told me that they were getting married next week which would be a private affair. He also told me that Esther was a fabulously wealthy woman, and he had persuaded her to buy a beautiful mansion which they had chosen together, and had now purchased, instead of living above the shop as they were at present.
Paul told me that he and Esther were going on the first holiday she had ever had, which was an around the world trip by air, stopping at all the most exotic countries and staying at all the finest hotels. They would then return to Edinburgh to luxuriously furnish the mansion they had just bought.
Sadly the story did not finish too well. I remember reading in the newspapers about an aeroplane that had landed in the Everglade swamp. The article mentioned that all the passengers were killed including two prominent antique dealers From Edinburgh.