Turn the clock back to the technologically simpler days of December 1999 and an ATG interview with apothecaries dealer Laurence Cooper.
Reporter Christopher Wright asks if the moment comes when Cooper has to hook up to the internet to keep trade going, will he carry on?
“Probably not,” answers Cooper. “But for the time being it is business as usual.”
Hook up to the internet? How far we have come, but back then many in the trade viewed computer technology as almost akin to the devil’s work.
And times change – Cooper is still going and indeed even has a website…
His interest in antique bottles started when digging for them as a schoolboy. Victorian bottle dump digs had been pioneered in the early 1960s by a small group of social historians and amateur archaeologists.
“There was a girl in my class who walked along the river at Putney looking for artefacts: mudlarking,” he says. “I used to go with her and did a spot of metal detecting, although this was not as fulfilling as dump digging.”
Cooper and his parents then roamed the countryside picking villages with adjoining dump sites. “Dumps were easy to find and every enthusiast was at that time fairly free with their knowledge of new places.”
Soon the Coopers had amassed so much material they took a stall at Portobello, while Laurence ran round buying more stock. “Portobello and Bermondsey were the original venues for the bottle market,” he says.
A friend of his had been successfully standing in both Covent Garden and Camden Lock markets selling medals and Cooper looked anew at his collections, particularly the baby bottles which were flourishing as a specialist area at that time.
In 1984, he set up on his own at Camden Lock, then opened a shop in Portobello and has not looked back.
Meanwhile, specialist auctioneer BBR had been set up in Elsecar, South Yorkshire, by Alan Blakeman in 1978. He has found that this niche collecting area is a winner, holding regular catalogued auctions and specialist fairs, selling Victorian bottles, potlids, advertising and related collectables which sometimes reach the very top prices.
“Dumps were easy to find and every enthusiast at that time was fairly free with their knowledge of new places
As dump sites became exhausted, dealers such as Cooper honed in on different sources for their stock.
“When chemists and brewers were revamping their premises in the 1960s they would throw everything out of the cellar and onto the skip. I liked to be one of the first on the scene. So, new markets appeared – breweriana, kitchenalia and pharmacopoeia – all of which was the legacy of the trade in Victorian bottles in the 1970s.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Cooper now deals online as The Antique Dispensary and at BBR’s fairs, where he has been standing since 1985 and will be setting up at the Summer National on Saturday and Sunday, July 1-2.
And what of today’s bottle market?
“Like many others, this has dipped and risen since 1999 and right now is levelling out after the crash of 2008,” says Cooper. “I have always been very eclectic in my buying patterns and never followed trends.”
And as for that new-fangled internet, he adds: “Since leaving the London scene the website has been my saving grace – it reaches out globally and ticks over nicely with new and old stock that I have had packed away for many years.
“Finding new fresh-to-the market items is more difficult these days as many collectors are linked into the same search engines that back in the early 2000s were used mostly by dealers.
“Thankfully between the auctions/fairs/collectors’ collections and general wheeling and dealing I hope to continue a successful 40-year business.”