We talk to Morgan Strickland Antiques – well known figures on the national and international fairs circuit and with a combined experience of over 60 years, Gavin Morgan and Gary Strickland have worked together since 1990.
Specialists in Liberty metalwork and Archibald Knox in particular, Morgan Strickland Ltd also carry an extensive stock of good Jugendstil, Secession and Darmstadt, Wiener Werkstatte, WMF, Kayserzinn, Osiris, Art Glass including Lalique, Gallé, Daum, Schneider and Loetz, ceramics, good lighting and small furniture and fittings.
We talk to them about becoming business partners with their if you can’t beat them join them strategy and how they have changed the focus of the business to concentrate on fairs.
ANF: How long have you been in partnership?
MS: Gary and I have worked together in some capacity since about 1990. Firstly, both as part of JAG Decorative Arts, then forming Morgan Strickland in 2005.
ANF: We heard that it was a case of if you can’t beat them, join them, because as solo dealers working at the same level buying Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco you were always fighting for the same choice stock?
MS: When we first started in the 1980’s, we spent several years running around the fairs and markets trying to beat each other to the next great piece. We seemed to win and lose in about equal measure and eventually we realised that we could be so much more productive if we pooled resources.
ANF: How did you adapt from running your business, then known as JAG Decorative Arts, from the salubrious environs of Kensington Church Street to website and fairs only? Was there a noticeable effect either way?
MS: Our store in Kensington was great in its day and gave us a solid grounding and strong customer base. We had a good domestic market but also a very strong overseas clientele. The combination of the advent of the internet and the 9/11 tragedy meant that our overseas clients stopped visiting in person. Our business changed almost overnight and we had to adapt. We concentrated on the website and this was successful, but we found it a very dry way of doing business. We missed the personal aspect and the face to face interaction, so fairs were the obvious next step. These days nearly all our business happens at the fairs. We enjoy being able to offer the personal touch and many of our customers we now consider to be friends.
ANF: Your client base is quite diverse with museums, institutions, private buyers, collectors and trade buyers – how does this diversity affect your buying if at all?
MS: We very seldom buy with a specific buyer in mind. If it’s great design, well made and the price seems reasonable we will try and buy it. Both Gary and I have always trusted our eye and our knowledge, we try and buy the best that we can and our customers seem to trust our judgement.
ANF: You moved out of your showroom around the time of the tech revolution and the rise and rise of dealer and portal websites. How much do you rely on digital platforms in the business today? Do you think being a member of a respected trade association like LAPADA and CINOA has helped to build your digital client base?
MS: Our business is based on trust and confidence so being a member of a professional body such as LAPADA and CINOA adds an extra layer. We know this is a consideration for many of our customers. We have not concentrated on our digital presence up until now and currently we do not belong to any portals or digital platforms. We do approximately one fair a month and more often than not our stock sells before it has a chance to appear on our website. Our energies have gone into building up our presence at the fairs but in 2019 we intend to work on the digital side.
ANF: Morgan Strickland is a very well known brand across the international fairs landscape, exhibiting at LAPADA London and Olympia Antique Fairs, The Antiques Dealers’ Fair Limited at Mayfair and Petworth, The Antiques for Everyone show at the NEC, The Penman Chelsea Town Hall and Miami Beach, USA. What is the focus for your fairs schedule each year and how do the US fairs differ from the UK fairs?
MS: We try and average a show a month. We both have families, so we have to find a work/home balance and for that reason we are travelling less further afield than once we did. We generally concentrate on fairs in the South East of England – the exception to the to that is the Antiques for Everyone show which is an integral part of our year. Our next event will be The Mayfair Fine Art & Antiques Fair 10-13 January organised by The Antiques Dealers Fair Limited and we also exhibit with them at Petworth Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair in May and we have a busy year ahead with the return of the Penman Chelsea Antiques Fair and our regular appearances at Summer Olympia and the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair. Although we enjoyed doing the Original Miami Beach fair, the logistics and costs of shipping along with disruptions to the venue over the last few years have made it less appealing.
ANF: How much do you vary your stock from fair to fair? Do you find that tastes vary regionally?
MS: There are subtle variations in regional taste and depending on our stock level in relation to our exhibition space we sometimes tailor our stock to our surroundings. Equally, the fairs are our showroom now so we always want to put on the best show that we can.
ANF: You are veterans of many antiques fairs internationally. What appeals to you about the boutique style of the Antiques Dealers Fair Limited Mayfair event you will be attending 10-13 January 2019?
MS: The Mayfair is a beautifully staged, intimate fair. For customers it is a manageable size and a great opportunity to see some of the UK’s foremost dealers with a very high standard of stock. The timing is perfect too. It is the first major London fair of the year and after a relatively long lay off over the Christmas and New Year period, buyers come eager to restart the year.
ANF: Both of you have worked in the industry for 30 years. What do you think have been the most important influences during that critical period and what has been positive and what has been negative in your field and generally?
MS: The internet has without doubt effected the biggest change to the antiques business since we started dealing. Five minutes on the internet can provide people with enough knowledge to give them the confidence not to seek the advice of a specialist. Sadly, we meet many collectors who have dramatically overpaid or bought fakes or over restored pieces rather than seek this advice. The finer points of knowledge are something that can only be built up with years of experience so there will always be a role for experts and specialists.
Another challenge for dealers has been the auction houses. Over the thirty plus years that we have been dealing auction houses have tried, and in some cases succeeded, to reposition themselves as retailers. However most do not offer the assurances and follow up service that reputable dealers offer. Generally, when buying at auction it is “buyer beware” in terms of authenticity and condition. If a dealer were to operate in this manner, they would be out of business in no time and this is why vetted fairs have become more and more relevant to the buying public.
ANF: What would be your absolutely ideal find as a “sleeper” in a rural auction or antiques shop? Have you ever had one of these in real life?
MS: Over the years we have been fortunate enough to find several stand out pieces that have been overlooked. These include a unique Tudric pewter clock by Archibald Knox, an important table by Henry van de Velde and an early silver jug by Josef Hoffman. However, the best buys are not those that make the most money. We both get more enjoyment from a humble, well designed piece that speaks to us emotionally.
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