Paul Fraser welcomes John Bly to the expert panel
John Bly is an antiques dealer, author, after-dinner speaker and broadcaster who is best known from the BBC Antiques Roadshow
We are delighted to welcome John Bly to the expert panel of Paul Fraser Collectibles, the World's No. 1 Collectibles News Service.
John's knowledge of the antique market is second to none. Here he shares that experience with you...
"Just recently I bought a new feather duster; my old one had deteriorated beyond respectability.
Not from use I hasten to add but from simply standing as decoration in a pot next to my 'bar'.
This latest model is quite magnificent being made of the proudest and glossiest black feathers from the tail of some far-eastern cockerel.
It was priced at one pound in a charity shop so I gave a little more because it serves so well to inform anyone who gets a drink in my house that mine is indeed a 'Cocktail Bar'.
There are many references to drinks being called cocktails going back well into the 18th century but it is surely with the days of prohibition in America that they are most commonly associated.
My own favourite concerns a woman barkeeper in a New York speakeasy who was aware that people were getting more drinks than they were paying for (the potential penalty of the American good-natured way of running up a tab instead of demanding money each time you make an order as we have always so discourteously done in England).
So she dashed to the kitchen and plucked a handful of various coloured feathers from the poultry hanging there to use as markers for the clientele, giving out a fresh one with each drink.
This might well be origin of the customary brightly-coloured insignia-bearing stirring sticks that you get automatically put in your drink in any bar in the States. (It's quite alarming how many can quickly accumulate next to one's glass when being looked after by a good bartender.)
My own preferred cocktails are the traditional Martini, made with gin not vodka and a true Manhattan Perfect made with both sweet and dry vermouth and Canadian Club.
Each drink has an interesting history which is too long to be included here, save to say that the Martini was a late 19th century invention, the true version of which should be served with glass, gin and vermouth all at room temperature, the ice added after the mix to release the juniper essences of the gin and the herbal infusions in the vermouth.
Obviously it should be stirred and not shaken.
In fact the drink ordered by James Bond to be "shaken not stirred" is correctly called a 'Bradford' so recorded in 1948.
The Manhattan is also a 19th century concoction preceding the legend of it first being ordered by Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's mother, as something new for a presidential bash.
As with the Martini the original used a sweet vermouth but a taste for the dry came in after the turn of the century and my 'perfect' variation is rather like the old 'gin-and-mixed' of the early post-war (II) era.
Anyway speakeasies and prohibition leads to thinking about gangsters and then naturally to guns. From then on the train of thought diversifies to an awesome degree; from guns to cowboys and Colts and long-barrelled Buntlines.
The latter so named after Ned Buntline the pseudonym of Edward Judson a writer and publisher of Western stories. Then further back to percussion caps and flintlocks before them.
When anyone mentions guns I am reminded of the very first item I bought at auction.
I was eleven years old and sat on my dad's shoulders at the back of the assembled crowd to bid for a pair of duelling pistols by John Twigg, a noted gun maker to the extent that he is regarded by many as the father of the duelling pistol.
I unwittingly irritated the other buyers by increasing the price in one shilling increments.
The bidding went thus: "One pound, one pound ten shillings, two pounds"…"and one shilling".
And so on all the way to the princely sum of "Twelve pounds and one shilling".
Ah, those were indeed the days.
As I grew older my own interest in firearms moved across to 19th and early 20th century America, but I've never actually owned one of those renowned Colt pistols.
Apart from the usual schoolboy fad of cowboys and Indians my fascination in this genre was rekindled when as an antique dealer I was invited to channel one or two remnants from the Steam Yacht Nahlin into the Maritime Museum at Greenwhich.
The yacht was built for Lady Annie HenriettaYule who established the Hanstead Stud, one of the most influential and long-lasting blood-lines in the world.
In 1936 Lady Yule lent the S.Y.Nahlin to Edward VIII for his notorious cruise with Mrs Simpson and meanwhile took a holiday in her home in El Ceilito Road, above Santa Barbara, and spent some while in the Tecolote Ranch that belonged to her friend the oil tycoon and yachting enthusiast Silsby Spalding.
This visit was recorded by the society photographer B.C. Thayer in a large album showing her Ladyship in cowboy gear. Fascinating, for she looks all the world like Tom Mix with a healthy bosom.
In the album is a rare photograph of the Western artist E. Borien who had became a friend of the Yules.
He painted many cowboy pictures for them as well as vignette place cards for dinner parties. In his time Borien was as fashionable as Remington.
(To get back to where we began and cocktails and my favourite, the Martini. It would be only fair to quote the cautionary note struck by Dorothy Parker:- "I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host.")" John Bly.
- Both the unique photograph album and collection of vignette place cards are now available for purchase.
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