Lawyer David Cooper is famous in legal and property circles as the ‘king of planning’ and is best known for advising Arsenal FC on their move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium in nearby Holloway.
He has been involved in many landmark property and planning cases and works with developers as well as tenants, and recently helped St James’ art gallery S Franses win its lease and rent dispute (ATG No 2499).
But his real passion is collecting: fast cars, art and antiques.
Properties in Belgravia are filled with more than 8000 items. Here he tells us about his habit.
ATG: How did you get the collecting bug for art and antiques?
David Cooper: I started to collect over 60 years ago, beginning with carriage clocks and then bracket clocks and then many other forms of art and antiques (see box below).
How would you describe your collecting habits?
It starts off with the joy – the value is secondary to the joy. I enjoy sharing my collection with visitors. My wife Marie Cooper has been supportive of my pursuits and has helped to cultivate and collect items in her own right.
Did you have a narrow collecting field and then widen it to other areas?
The areas have widened and widened since the years have gone by to paintings, photographs, carpets, netsuke, glass, bronzes and furniture etc.
What elements do you look for when considering a purchase?
Now I am only really looking for the best and the rarest.
Where do you find items to buy?
I mainly find items to buy through personal contacts and very rarely through the auctions.
How large is your collection?
I have 8200 individual pieces.
Have you considered selling any items from the collection?
I do sell items from time to time as my emphasis changes and I find I have too many of a particular item.
Is there one item you are still looking for?
Yes – I would like the Mona Lisa, but I do not think the French government is going to sell it at a price I can afford!
What advice would you give a young collector?
Try and buy the best in the category you can afford rather than the second best in the category you cannot afford.
You grew up in Manchester and now live in Belgravia in London. Do you travel?
I am self-made; I had nothing when I was young. Now I would not care if I never left Belgravia, Mayfair or the City again.
I do like to go to Bordeaux for the wine and Tuscany. But often the furthest I go is Chelsea.
I have never been down Oxford Street in my life. I could be classified as a Belgravian hermit. I have been there for 51 years.
David Cooper’s collecting career
I bought my first clock from dealer John Carlton Smith in the 1960s and went from English bracket clocks to longcase clocks to Tompion and Joseph Knibbs, George Graham and Daniel Quare: clocks were the main thing.
Then in the early 1970s I met a man from Qom and fell in love with Qom silk carpets – I have a very large collection.
There is the silver by Paul Storr then next was furniture, buying from dealer Stewart Whittington at Norman Adams in Knightsbridge. I bought English furniture: Chippendale and Sheraton to furnish my house – practical pieces.
Then there were the Pre- Raphaelites such as Gabriel Dante Rossetti, Sir John Everett Millais and Frederic Leighton. And I bought Christopher Dresser and then I went on to Art Deco. I bought Cartier clocks c.1900-39 from dealer Harry Fane but I know all the dealers and I buy Patek Philippe wristwatches.
For my children I started buying Mable Atwell and Louis Wain and Stevenson Brothers rocking horses.
Later I met Geoffrey Parker and bought game boards such as Monopoly sets.
Then came Italian inlaid marble, then I was buying columns, busts of Roman generals and later I got into music and I bought Jaques Samuel pianos and a 1905 Bechstein piano.
I was very much into decorating the house. Instead of interior designers I was buying and decorating myself, which is much better. I bought fireside grates, chandeliers, then more art such as Philip de László and Pablo Picasso.
On the eclectic side I’ve bought a stuffed bear from the Urals, a tiger, original Louis Vuitton trunks and I am now collecting black and white photos.
I have also collected coins for many years – I buy from the Royal Mint.
And of course the cars: I have 52.