I’ve only ever borrowed to buy a house – and a £500 parrot from Harrods
Antiques Roadshow jewels expert Geoffrey Munn on an unusual extravagance...
dmg media (UK)
Wealth & Personal Finance
ANTIQUES Roadshow jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn says he never buys antiques as an investment. Instead, he buys objects he loves – and holds on to them – regardless of their value. The 70year-old tells Donna Ferguson that the only time he has taken out a bank loan was to buy a parrot from Harrods. He lives in London with his wife Caroline. Q What did your parents teach you about money? A TO BE careful with it. My father was in the Royal Navy for 36 years and my mother was mainly a housewife, though she did teach typing. We lived right between two villages in Sussex. Money was tight and my father used to subsidise his income by keeping chickens and selling eggs at the door. Once a local farmer came across a pair of orphaned fox cubs. He knew our family loved animals so he said if we wanted them we could keep them. We did and they got into the press and ultimately on to Animal Magic, a very famous BBC children’s TV show. And so my brother Roger and I were on television for four minutes with our foxes, which was like being a mega-star in those days. Q How did you start your career in antiques? A I HAD always been interested and often scoured the antique shops in Brighton in my youth. All my friends were going to university but I wasn’t particularly successful at school and you needed really good grades to study arts subjects in those days. So aged 19, I was feeling slightly despondent. Then a friend’s mother suggested I look in the personal column of The Daily Telegraph because a well-known antiques store in Central London, Wartski, required an assistant. I got the job against all odds. By some fluke, I had seen an article in a magazine called the Antique Collector in a dentist’s waiting room and I referred to it in my interview. I didn’t know that my would-be boss was actually the author, and I think he might have been mildly flattered. It was the billiard break of a lifetime, getting that job. At the time, I had no idea where Piccadilly Circus was, I was completely innocent in every department. And then, within weeks, I was introduced to Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and the King of Greece as customers. Q Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? A NO, I could always see both ends and keep them together. When I started at Wartski, my wages were £750 a year. This was 50 years ago, but it was still a small amount. My bedsit cost £5 a week, so I had about £10 a week to live on and I cut my cloth accordingly. At Wartski customers would come in and spend ten times my annual wage on an object. Frank Sinatra, for example, was an enthusiastic buyer of Fabergé. I remember selling him a gold snuffbox and electric bell push in pink enamelled gold, both by Fabergé. There was a trail of luminaries coming in and out. Q Are you careful with money like your parents? A I HAVE never borrowed money, except to buy a house – and once, to buy a hand-reared parrot I met at the Harrods pet shop. I have always been very parrotminded and it was a sort of love affair: he had to be bought. But hand-reared parrots aren’t cheap and he cost £500, 27 years ago. So I went to the bank for a very shortterm loan to buy him. Of course, I don’t think the bank would have lent me the money to buy a parrot, so I had to pretend I was doing home improvements. I’ve still got him; his name is Keiko. Q What was the best year of your financial life? A I HAVEN’T really had one stand-out year because I’ve always had a salaried job. I ended up working at Wartski for 47 years. We had five Royal Warrants at one point – there was Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother, the Prince of Wales, the King of Greece and the King of Denmark. And of course, some of these people did turn up, which was amazing. I’ve had a magic life. Q The most expensive thing you bought for fun? A A DRAWING of a pyramid of heads, by Richard Dadd, which I bought for a few thousand pounds when I was 65. Dadd was a perfectly conventional Victorian artist until he went to the Holy Land and probably smoked too much marijuana, came back a complete psychopath and murdered his father in 1843. Then he was sectioned and sent to Broadmoor. The heads in my drawing are all inmates of Broadmoor and they are all smoking. I’m an eccentric, sun-faded old hippy, really and Dadd has always been a weird totem in my life. If I hadn’t gone to work for Wartski, I might be on a houseboat smoking all kinds of herbal cigarettes and writing poetry. As it is, I spent a good portion of my adult life wanting something by Richard Dadd. A pencil drawing is the only thing I have got – it’s the only thing I can afford. Q The best money decision you have made? A BUYING my current home in London 13 years ago. It’s a flat with a stunning view over the river – a ‘screensaver view’. Q What is your biggest money mistake? A I COULD have bought a massive oil painting by Cedric Morris, a contemporary of Lucian Freud, about 25 years ago for £3,000. I wasn’t quite convinced it was worth £3,000 but I did like it. That painting is probably worth £300,000 today. Q The costliest item you saw on Antiques Roadshow? A A FABERGÉ flower made of enamelled gold with diamond centres. On the Roadshow they had no idea I was going to tell them it was £1 million. Q What’s your top tip for buying antiques? A DON’T pursue bargains; they are usually cheap for a reason. Always follow your heart and buy what you like from an antiques dealer you trust. I’ve never bought anything cynically for investment. I have only ever bought things I love. And I’m a very bad seller. I just keep them. Q Do you save into a pension or invest in shares? A I SAVED into one from the age of 21 until I was 65. I receive my pension now. I don’t invest in the stock market. It’s too complicated and dangerous for me. My number one financial priority is to keep hold of my money. Q If you were Chancellor what would you do? A I WOULD invest in education and the arts. Education is the only route to the improvement of mankind. I would provide the greatest possible facilities to the next generation. M Munn’s autobiography, A Touch Of Gold, is out now