Speaking from Experience: Legacy firms on Navigating Marketplace Ups and Downs
This note appeared as part of a series of ‘interviews’, conducted by Laura Beach, at the end of a front page article celebrating ‘The Liverants of Colchester: Thoughts on Turning One Hundred’ published in Antiques and the Arts Weekly, 18 September 2020 issue. Like Blairman, Liverant is a multi-generational firm, now overseen by the ebullient Arthur and his wife Gigi. Others contributing to this celebration of passion, connoisseurship and longevity included Mark Schaeffer (A La Vielle Russie) Frank Levy (Bernard and S. Dean Levy), Tim Martin (S.J. Shrubsole).
H. BLAIRMAN & SONS, LTD.
Known internationally as an authority in Nineteenth Century English and Continental design, scholar-dealer Martin Levy is the fourth-generation head of H. Blairman & Sons, Ltd., the antiques concern founded by his great-grandfather Harris Blairman in Llandudno, North Wales, in 1884. A past chairman of the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA), Levy, the 2019 winner of the Society of Antiquaries of London’s Society Medal, is leading the campaign to fund the restoration of William Morris’s Kelmscott Manor.
What has made Blairman a success?
Perhaps it is knowing that it is never easy, learning from our mistakes (and yes, we still make them), enjoying the camaraderie of our colleagues and taking pleasure in sharing knowledge. My father taught me above all to be modest and to trade with integrity.
How have you navigated inevitable downturns?
I have never felt that the good times were quite as easy as they sometimes seemed. It was always, and remains, important to keep focused; to look after one’s customers; and, when competing aggressively, which we all do, be conscious of one’s decisions. The joy of a good business partnership is to have voices to balance the head and heart. My wife, Patricia, is the excellent ‘head’ in our business today. She makes me ask ‘Why?’ when I fall head-over-heels for a particularly uncommercial object. My father, who had exquisite taste, played the same role. Now as then, discussion and (sometimes) compromise lead to smarter outcomes.
What makes you most hopeful for the future?
I believe that our sense of history and the ways we like to create homes for others, as well as for ourselves, will ensure that the old and beautiful will always be cherished. I derive huge pleasure from observing younger collectors, curators and connoisseurs discovering the joy of historic objects. Learning to look, learning to see, learning to handle and learning to love. The future of the dealing world is tied to an enduring and irresistible passion for ‘things.’
Message for Arthur?
I’ve enjoyed the Liverant presentations at the Winter Show each January. Arthur shows his collection with enthusiasm and passion. Always smiling, always warm-hearted and always sticking on those red dots! Never change. You’re doing a fabulous job.