“John Hardy’s shop in Oadby was like no other. He was only really happy when the shop was empty and everything sold, although that gave cause to bemoan the lack of stock.”
This is how Michael Mays, consultant valuer for Gildings (20% buyer’s premium), described the dealer who was resident at 91 London Road in the Leicestershire town from the mid 1960s and expanded into the adjoining property some 20 years later.
He died about a year ago and on January 10 the Market Harborough auction house offered his personal collection which included about 100 lots of militaria among 250 in all (such as ceramics).
Although Hardy was a “general dealer without pretence” – his local paper advertisements claimed alongside his phone number, ‘If it’s broken or damaged, don’t worry, I will have bought worse!’ – his main interest remained remained militaria, especially edged weapons.
Mays said Hardy was “a character: curmudgeonly but kind, worldly wise but prone to naivety, knowledgeable but in a gloriously eccentric way; and funny in a way that disarmed and won people around”.
He added: “The kitchen, warmed by an Aga all year long, was a place of slightly grudging hospitality: tea or coffee – don’t outstay your welcome and don’t, please don’t, put your empty cup in the wrong sink – it was in the kitchen-cum-innersanctum that John held court and where the world was put to rights.
“The backroom upstairs was devoted to the objects he had began to collect in his youth, and over the following years he travelled around the eastern counties in search of the old and unusual – sticking to the mantra that if it is broken or damaged, no matter. The backroom was supposed to be secret but it was poorly kept, for he enjoyed showing his collection to those who expressed keen interest.”
Gildings director Will Gilding said: “It was a great event really, helped obviously by a good quantity of really interesting edged weapons, guns, and other militaria, combined with the catalogue being online over the Christmas period for that little longer exposure.
“It resulted in some very busy viewing days and an equally good turnout on the sale day itself. In this day and age I think that’s a nice acknowledgement as to what you have on offer, it’s worth the specialist buyers turning out for it – rather than selling to a smattering of an audience and the web camera for people buying online. That being said, the internet bidders clearly played their part on the day.”
The auction as a whole “had a great pull from around the world with bidders joining from North America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, so truly global”.
All of the John Hardy militaria lots sold, with the edged weapons of British origin performing particularly well despite lots of rust evident.
“We had over 500 registered bidders, mostly online, naturally, but for the edged weapons it tended to be those who had made the journey that had the most success, often outcompeting determined internet and phone bidders,” added Gilding.
He said of the edged weapons: “Clearly they often far exceeded our pre-sale estimates but we knew John very well and knew that in his own collection he had some interesting items, across all categories. It’s not unusual for a dealer-collector to keep some of the most interesting pieces for their own collection and John wasn’t afraid of a bit of rust or damage – quite the opposite in fact – the ‘warts and all’ approach.”
Against what Gilding said was a “conservative” pre-sale estimate of £48,000-72,000, the sale total for the John Hardy Collection was just a shade over £130,000 for 250 lots; 25 were unsold but that was mainly in the picture and furniture section.
Pictured here is a selection of militaria highlights – most bought by the UK-based specialist trade.