Hobbies fortunately were actively encouraged and soon Johnny was well known in all the antiques shops in Wells. His main interest then was unsurprisingly antique guns and he amassed quite a collection.
After leaving school he headed to Rome where his mother lived and where La Dolce Vita was in full swing. Deciding this was too much fun to miss, he relinquished his place at Dublin and quickly becoming fluent in Italian, he applied to take a degree in economics at Rome University.
Johnny’s first job on leaving uni was reading the news for Vatican Radio. After a night on the tiles in January the next day was the Epiphany. Arriving at the radio station at the top of Vatican City on Sunday morning, the text needed translating into English and on checking the dictionary for the word ‘Mago’ (Magi is plural) it said ‘magician’.
So Johnny announced to the world that the Three Magicians came to visit Baby Jesus. Unfortunately a cardinal was listening and so ended Johnny’s broadcasting career.
Subsequently he worked for the UN in Rome and then west Africa, where his French became nearly as good as his Italian. Back in Rome in the mid-60s, he spent the next 15 years working in the medical/pharmaceutical world, covering all Italy visiting hospitals.
All this time Johnny’s great hobby was antique arms, which he collected and sometimes sold and got to know the dealers.
Nearly 20 years passed. Married now with two daughters and in his forties, Johnny decided it was time to follow his dream and make his hobby his livelihood.
Back to London
After several months in Rome, he realised that the centre of the trade was London, so to the chagrin of his wife Suzanne it was it was back to London – in 1985.
First day at Portobello, a sheet on a table in the basement of an arcade in Westbourne Grove, was to Johnny’s suprise and delight, a sell-out.
He quickly learnt where to get his supplies such as Bermondsey, Newark and auction houses, and so began his quest for Italian Grand Tour items.
The Olympia Antiques Fair soon followed which was a highlight, then Parma twice a year and later Miami in January. In between he shared a table with other dealers at the Lille Brocante and then travelled together frequently in France covering all the main French fairs from north to south. This was the world he truly loved and would never miss a Saturday at Portobello. The last few years he continued to do the Adams Antiques Fair at Vincent Square, until the summer of 2018 when he became unwell.
Johnny loved his world of antiques with a passion and all the friends and acquaintances he met over the years meant so much to him. Up until Christmas he was watching the Antiques Roadshow, spotting his friends and acquaintances, discussing the objects on display and, of course, always telling us what they were worth, followed by: “I told you so.”
A Christmas card of a beautiful antique bowl arrived from a dealer friend and Johnny told Suzanne to give Frank a ring and ask “What’s the best?”
A dealer to the end!