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The late Reuben Reubens among his 900-strong collection of banjos.

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He was born to a musical family, at the outbreak of the World War in 1939.

Reuben’s lifelong passion for collecting began at the age of three, when his father, working as an electrical engineer at Kings College Hospital, brought home a large collection of old electrical plugs and switches he had removed. He would put some of them under Reuben’s pillow and say they came from the Tooth Fairy.

By the time he was six he had collections of keys, coins and old shoes.

Just after the war, money was tight and there was very little interest in antiques. Reuben was able to buy old pistols by weight, never paying more than a pound.

Unannounced stops

On leaving school he became apprenticed to a surveyor, a job he disliked. After this he moved on to the buses working as a conductor, always stopping the bus when it went by an antiques shop, making the passengers wait while he went in to make a purchase.

In 1965, Reuben rented for £7 a week a small shop in Consort Road, Peckham. There he lived with his wife Doreen and son Reuben.

Every week he would purchase items from the local dustmen and scrap yards. It was here that he bought his first electric motor, which took two men to lift back to the shop. These he collected for eight years. Advertising in Exchange and Mart and The Electrical Engineer magazine he soon amassed an impressive and bulky collection of over 300 items.

A compulsory purchase order on the shop forced Reuben to look for new accommodation, and luckily at the same time he was able to sell his collection for the money he needed to buy ‘The White Lodge’ in Camberwell.

Banjo obsession

Over the next 40 years Reuben was able to continue his early passion for collecting banjos, for which he was well known throughout the music world. After his collection reached 900 items he sold his collection to a musical instrument museum in Japan.

Further collections followed, and after finding an early gas cooker in a house in the Old Kent Road, he filled his next shop with early cookers from the 1840s to 1900. He eventually sold them all, for a loss, at Christie’s auction rooms in South Kensington.

In the last few years his friend, Lisa, who he met through his collecting of Chinese bound-feet shoes, has given him great friendship and support.

Reuben did not want a funeral but it is hoped that a meeting to celebrate his life will happen some time in the future.

He is survived by his son, and a daughter, Ellie.

Fletcher Wallis


Extraordinary collecting

ATG adds: After reading this wonderful account, we were intrigued to find out more about the late Reuben Reubens and his extraordinary penchant for offbeat collecting.

He appears to have left very little in the way of his own digital footprint but we did track down the following items which we enjoyed and we encourage readers to check out for themselves:

A BBC report from 1979

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Reuben Reubens’ banjo collection featured on the BBC.

A BBC reporter visited Reuben’s house. The report begins: “This is the home of one of the worst banjo players in the world. He’s been practising for 30 years and he still can’t get it right.

“Reuben Reubens has got what’s thought to be the biggest collection of antique banjos in the world. He’s got 600 of the things in his house – on the floor, up the walls, even in his bedroom and he can’t play a single one.

“It’s not that he can’t hit the right notes, he just can’t get them in the right order.”

You can access it from the BBC Archive Twitter page (you do not need to be a member of Twitter to see it) via https://atg.news/banjo

Cooker auction

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An Independent report of his cooker collection auction at CSK.

A report from the Independent newspaper in 1992 ahead of the auction of Reuben’s cookers at Christie’s South Kensington

“Mr Reubens and I sat amid the Eurekas, Eclipses, Puritans and Cheerfuls in his shop, drinking sweet tea with evaporated milk (every dealer drinks tea with evaporated milk), contemplating why fashionable society appeared to have so little faith in old cookers…

“He glanced at his red Volvo estate parked outside – only two years old but already ‘knackered’, he said, through carrying gas cookers. He has driven it to Scotland, Wales and East Anglia in his searches.”

The article also revealed that Reuben had other collections including tribal art. His collection of 3000 figures, vessels and weapons made £89,000 at Bonhams in May 1990 – less than what he reckoned he must have paid for them.

See the article via https://atg.news/Reuben