Antique shops exert a peculiar fascination on a great many people. The more expensive kind of antique shop where rare objects are beautifully displayed in glass cases to keep them free from dust is usually a forbidding place. But no one has to muster up courage to enter a less pretentious antique shop. There is always hope that in its labyrinth of musty, dark, disordered rooms a real rarity will be found amongst the piles of assorted junk that litter the floors.
No one discovers a rarity by chance. A truly dedicated searcher for art treasures must have patience, and above all, the ability to recognize the worth of something when he sees it. To do this, he must be at least as knowledgeable as the dealer. Like a scientist bent on making a discovery, he must cherish the hope that one day he will be amply rewarded.
My old friend, Frank Halliday, is just such a person. He has often described to me how he picked up a masterpiece for a mere &5. One Saturday morning, Frank visited an antique shop in my neighbourhood. As he had never been there before, he found a great deal to interest him. The morning passed rapidly and Frank was about to leave when he noticed a large packing-case lying on the floor. The dealer told him that it had just come in, but that he could not be bothered to open it. Frank begged him to do so and the dealer reluctantly prised it open. The contents were disappointing. Apart from an interesting-looking carved dagger, the box was full of crockery, much of it broken. Frank gently lifted the crockery out of the box and suddenly noticed a miniature Painting at the bottom of the packing-case. As its composition and line reminded him of an Italian painting he knew well, he decided to buy it. Glancing at it briefly, the dealer told him that it was worth &5. Frank could hardly conceal his excitement, for he knew that he had made a real discovery. The tiny painting proved to be an unknown masterpiece by Correggio and was worth thousands of pounds.