Mad collectors #6

In 1981 when I had moved back to London from Paris, I would go to Grays Mews Antique Market every Monday to meet my colleague, the toy and tin dealer Stuart Cropper. Close to him was an upmarket jewellery dealer who had been working for the Foreign Office in Malaysia. One day he introduced me his ex-assistant, a very British mature 'blue stocking' by the name of Eileen Scott.

Over the coming year I would sell Eileen Victorian and Edwardian dexterity puzzles. She trained me to find sliding block puzzles, rolling ball puzzles, wire puzzles and tangrams opening up a new world to me. A passionate collector in a man's international puzzle world, she was so grateful when I found her a new treasure and, like the lady she was, never tried to beat me down on the price. She knew that I was looking especially for her and even wanted duplicates to exchange with other collectors when they had international puzzle parties. Of course she was a clever patient mathematical intellectual with a good brain and plenty of time to work each puzzle out.

I had just married Magical Martin who was a magician's supplier of imported American tricks working out of his office in Shepherds Bush called 'The Magic Studio.' In 1983 we had moved into a large Edwardian house in Kensington Park Road, running parallel to Portobello Road, filling it with antiques and bric-a-brac. When Eileen came around to visit after about a year, she looked around and smiled.

     'I suppose we all helped pay for this!' she exclaimed.

When her health failed, she decided to introduce me to Mr Big in the puzzle world, Edward Hordern, who had decided to collect old puzzles and enlarge his ever expanding modern collection. I came highly recommended as the potential supplier. Thus one day the two very British 'Middle England' collectors came to tea so I was introduced formally and briefed.

Edward, the industrialist and manufacturer of Breeze Blocks, entered my life and remained in it on and off for the next 20 years. He got on well with Martin whose name by coincidence was Breese but with an 's', as they had both worked in the world of advertising for many years and understood one another 'man to man'. Eventually they would collaborate on the reprint of the famous Victorian puzzle 'bible' 'Puzzles old and new' by Professor Hoffmann. Some magic tricks overlapped into the puzzle world with several conjurers into solving dexterity puzzles. These two marginal worlds collided to stretch the mind.

When I went to my Saturday Portobello stand, I would first get to the market at dawn especially for Edward and comb the length of the market looking for new additions to his growing vintage collection.

I was already a vintage games specialist taking games to Paris to supply the Franco-American Jane Bouvard before she opened her shop on the Left Bank. Then I searched for Edward at Marche Montreuil, Vanves and Clignancourt as well as the brocante fairs at La Villette and Chatou.

In Paris the paper boxed puzzles, with attractive graphic labels on the top of the box, were circa 1900 and came in large boxes mixed  with a few magic tricks.  I would give those wooden boxes to my friend, another mad collector, Jean Eden to store his circus and clown ephemera. Then I would transfer the multitude of small puzzle boxes into my suitcase and shlep them back to London for the Master of the game to puzzle out!  My prices, bien sur, were high because I went to a lot of trouble to locate the dexterity puzzles and bring them back. Edward got personal VIP service and he paid for it, like Leslie Cole, my number one conjuring collector. I was not into turning a quick profit. No, I was expensive but worth it! My clients appreciated what I came up with even though neither Edward Hordern nor Mr Cole ever enthused. I expect they thought the price would be higher if they whooped with joy, like the little boys that they both were at heart playing with their new toys.

I arrived back in London with mechanical postcards, mechanical trade cards, optical illusions, hidden pictures, metamorphose images, pre-cinema items and ceramic puzzle jugs. Before the mobile phone it was a long winded process to sell a valuable ceramic antique puzzle jug. I had to take a Polaroid and post it to him. Later, when he trusted me completely, I would phone him, reversing the charges and describe the reserved item in great detail plus its measurements and price. Edward always bought and was was never dissatisfied with his purchase, having taken a risk. His word was his bond.

When I went on my honeymoon to Bodrum, Turkey in 1983, he asked me to buy modern plastic colourful puzzles. I raided a local toy shop and the bewildered owner asked how many children I had! Then we went to the Greek Aegean island of Samos, the birthplace of Pythagoras. There I found a handmade ceramic Eureka 'puzzle', where you must not overfill the Pythagorian vessel with water.  I bought a few Eureka samples and, when I went back years later, Edward gave me an order of 30 or 40 for the forthcoming Tokyo puzzle party. It was a good way of paying for at least half of the summer holiday!

When Edward did not agree with the total asked due to currency rates of exchange or considered I was asking him too much, he would demand Martin should come down from his office and give the final price: all in the fun of the afternoon!

Edward loved to take time off from his important breeze block manufacturing company in Bedfordshire and have a day in London drinking over a wine fuelled lunch in the City. I always could tell because his nose would be red and blotchy when he arrived to sit or lie on the floor playing, like a schoolboy, with the puzzles I had found on my latest Parisian educational voyage of discovery.

I was often offered at short notice, expensive complimentary tickets for the front stalls at Covent Garden for opera and ballets from the box office manager Tony Mabbot who was also a magician. I gave a couple to Edward and Wendy, his wife, on several occasions and as a thank you we would be invited to the Savoy for a pre-theatre dinner. Even in Paris Edward, the gourmand, invited me for lunch at the epicurean 'Le Train Bleu' and he certainly knew about fine food and wines.

Another of my haunts was the Ephemera Society where I exhibited setting up a table of French paper stock for new and old collectors. I would buy in Paris for the English paper collectors and buy at the Society for my French collectors who I would see at the 'vieux papier' show in Paris. Edward never came to the fairs because Sunday was family day and he was not a member of the society.

We had been invited for lunch to his Middle England' home somewhere in Bedfordshire where he had a farm and his wife, Wendy, had riding stables. Another world to escape from, far away from his relaxing exciting fantasy world. His horsy wife had no interest in his passion nor the dealer of dreams - ME.

Then my life changed around 1986. Through a recommendation from a top picture researcher in the publishing industry, i was listed in the big directory 'UK Picture Sources' in 1985 as an archive/photo library called Retrograph.  Soon I began to get serious publishing nostalgia image enquiries and realised that I could have my cake and eat it too. I was overnight in a 'real' business which was not in a Mickey Mouse world, the only one I had lived in and knew like the back of my paw.

I had no energy to go Saturday hunting at dawn for Edward and lost my passion for racing around for my number one client. I could sell intangible images not tangible ones. I could licence reproduction rights for more money to the publishing world. For me it was real business and making an independent living but for Edward it appeared, in his eyes, betrayal! One day I got a phone call from a 'cold' Edward saying he wanted to come to London to speak to me. I had nothing to sell him that day so I was somewhat surprised. He arrived very formally, detached and straight to the point.

     'You're not coming up with much these days, Jilliana. Why not?'
     'I've opened my own archive and photo library called Retrograph.' I        
     confessed proudly.
     'I'm not interested. I will from now on get up at 4.00 am and drive to
     Portobello and the Ephemera Fairs and find all your sources.'

From then on our client/relationship changed. He was not interested in my new budding career and never once asked me how I was getting on. I suppose he thought I had rejected him.  He continued to stay in touch with Martin, buying unique wooden Hoffman reproductions and together they produced the 'bible' of their puzzle collector's world, 'Puzzles old and new' by Professor Hoffman. Edward took all the credit because he wrote the foreword but it was Martin who published the book because he had moved from niche conjuring and Sherlock Holmes pastiches into a mainstream book publisher. Edward, however, put up the capital so Martin did the photography and packaged the first edition of the facsimile.

The years drifted by and I lost interest. Edward had became just another of my numerous clients. The spark had gone. I was the owner of a successful photo library and archive doing picture research for the picture researchers who instructed me to research in my vast archive. I loved the visual research because I had an eidetic memory and could work quickly. Faxes had just been invented and so hundreds of images were faxed to the researchers or picture editors. I was part of a different world to the international collectors world and it was more lucrative.  I was still in the Mickey Mouse world but now it was instead of cash, administration, phone calls, invoices and chasing up the constant bad debts.

One evening years later I received a phone call from a detached Edward informing me he had terminal pancreatic cancer. What can one say? Why inform estranged me as I now only sold him French puzzles and Ephemera and the odd hard to find  puzzle jug or curiosity from the pre-cinema  world?

He lived a year longer than predicted because he went to a controversial alternative cancer clinic in Texas. It unfortunately did not work for him.  One day he called at our house unexpectedly to see Martin who hardly recognised him because he had lost so much weight and his face had become so gaunt. It was obvious Edward had come to say 'adieu' as he was fond of my magical husband.

We, the collectables dealers at Lipka's Collectors Arcade, didn't see Edward for a long while when one fine day he turned up, still collecting to his last breath, carrying the inevitable Tesco's plastic carrier bag with hundreds of fifty pound notes stuffed in a crumpled brown paper bag concealed inside. He shook hands with all of us and finally thanked me for finding him wonderful puzzles over the years. We never saw him again.

Poor Edward died aged only 59 in 2000. A sad loss to the collectors world. His family have, however, given his important collection to his friend the puzzle collector and games specialist James Dalgety who thankfully created The Puzzle Museum in Somerset.

 Life, too, is the puzzle we mortals are still trying to unravel.

Written in the Villa Perla, Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey on 26/3/17.


In May 2018 I travelled to Rhodes to meet my dear Belgian travelling companion and friend Willy, who lives in Crete. We meet annually and this year Willy wanted to introduce me to the magical tiny island of Kastellorizo, just a short boat ride from Kas on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey. 

We were in Venetian architectural splendour for only 3 nights, lazing around in cafes on the waterfront sipping fresh lemonade one early evening. Suddenly, out of glorious Mediterranean blue, a youthful looking man joined one of the locals sitting at our neighbouring table demanding that he solve his enormous metal linking ring puzzle.

Seeing the puzzle brought back a flood of memories of Edward Hordern and my magical husband Martin who overlapped at times into the puzzle world. Of course I had to speak to this Greek Australian man as to what his connection was with the elite world of international puzzle parties and puzzle collecting.

His name was Pantazis Houlis and he had moved back to his birthplace after a lifetime in Australia. He was a mathematician and inventor of enigma. Synchronicity had struck yet again. He knew three puzzle collectors that I used to know and two who had passed away by reputation. The next day I interviewed him about his involvement and inventions. Thankfully Edward’s name will live on in the enigmatic world of puzzles for ever.

Updated in a magical garden swaying gently in a hammock by a stream in the mountains just outside Kalkan, Turkey. 15.6.18.


Wikipedia - Edward Hordern
Wikipedia - puzzle jug
ABE - Professor Hoffmann's Puzzles old and new
Google - Le Train Bleu Paris
Google - Cancer clinics Mexico
Google - cancer clinics in Texas