Effortlessly glamorous, achingly stylish; old money grandeur with a humorous undertone. This is the Spencer Swaffer Antiques look. Spencer Swaffer has been dealing in Arundel for 50 years and, was an international trade dealer from the start. His business today is one of the most celebrated in the world of decorative antiques and is an almost compulsory port of call for hundreds of top dealers and decorators. His clients are from both trade and private sectors, but Spencer describes himself as a dealer's dealer.
His stock changes so fast that in no two weeks will the showrooms look the same, and as every piece is unique and impossible to repeat, buyers are advised to trust their instinct when they see something that attracts them. For many year's Spencer made a weekly journey every Thursday to Paris, getting to the flea market for 5am, flying home on Friday lunchtime, and back in the shop by mid afternoon. He is known in Paris as Le Fleaman, and is respected for the quality and quantity of stock that he exports. But with the flea market sadly in decline, he is more likely to be found in other European countries or hunting the English auction houses for fresh stock. Spencer Swaffer's shop is one of the most talked about in the world, but despite its exalted position at the top it remains what it has always been - the place where the Trade come to buy. "I own my building," he says. "I have no borrowing, and overheads are low in the countryside. If I buy something for £2,000 I am happy to turn it over for £2,200 - and always have been. I always say I can't wait to buy it - and then I can't wait to sell it!"
At the age of 11, Spencer Swaffer had his own museum. Made up by bric-a-brac that he bought in Brighton junk shops, he charged two pence entry fee to anyone who wished to see it and was featured on the BBC Radio Today programme. A Brighton dealer heard the broadcast, paid his entry fee to see the collection, and quickly offered Spencer £50 for two pieces of Egyptian pottery. Realising that he would rather have £50 than the exhibits, the young Spencer instantly converted from museum curator to antiques dealer.
NO LAZY COUNTRY SHOP
The often whimsical and humorous style of Spencer Swaffer Antiques belies the seriousness with which its owner takes his business and the punishingly long hours that he personally spends maintaining a constantly changing supply. He is, in short, something of a phenomenon within the trade. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when we remember that he was running a museum even before taking his eleven plus. Spencer Swaffer Antiques is no lazy country shop.