From fire-fighting to French polishing… but you'll be lucky to meet him in person!
Mark Purkis, one of The Old Cinema’s most long-standing dealers, is so charmingly self-deprecating, he seems surprised at the success of his eclectic but fascinating collection. I was first struck by his impressive range of American polished steel cabinets in various shapes and sizes but Mark also deals in traditional painted dressers and armoires, 1970’s teak sideboards and coffee tables; some beautiful Arts & Crafts pieces, and has a selection of rather handy 19th century chests and blanket boxes.
Perhaps most quirky of all, there is even a striking set of station scales used in bygone days when passengers apparently used to like to weigh themselves on station platforms. I would rather eat my copy of Metro than weigh myself on a station platform – but they would perhaps offer a rather amusing and unusual icebreaker to a bachelor pad.
Somewhat belying his diffidence, Mark is one of The Old Cinema’s favourite dealers. Just the mention of his name brings a smile to the faces of the staff; “Oh yes, Mark, he’s such a nice chap – we love Mark”. When I arrive for our meeting and ask Fleur on the front desk if Mark’s here yet, she beams at me: “He’s here; he’s just bought us all coffee – I’ll take you up to him!”
We find Mark – tall, slim, quietly spoken, and with an air of slightly nervous bemusement – overseeing a delivery. I am introduced to his companion, BB; a tiny, trembling and exquisitely beautiful Italian greyhound, a regular star on the shop's Instagram.
We settle into a pair of French leather club armchairs, with BB pressed against my leg, staring at me beseechingly. I ask Mark how he got involved in all this, wondering if he had a childhood passion for collecting, or maybe a relative in the business?
It seems not, and in fact, slightly to his own surprise, he found himself training and working as a fireman for several years before he got bored with putting out fires and packed in the hose and helmet to go travelling in Asia. On his return he bought a flat and started doing it up, finding he rather enjoyed the process – which, it seems, is where it all began.
Mark has a keen eye for what will sell, even if it’s discarded and broken, and will spend hours fixing, stripping, polishing or re-painting it. I get the impression he is something of a perfectionist; he points to the pair of Bauhaus-style, painted chests from a factory in Berlin.
“They will go soon, they’re wonderful but they took a long time to paint because it has to be done properly." The result is striking, and whilst we talk, people stop to admire them.
Old haberdashers’ cabinets also sell well, some recently sourced from Selfridges, and Mark recalls a finely-clad customer who bought one for his shoe collection – a different pair in each drawer!
Like many dealers, Mark dislikes the business of selling and is happy leaving it to The Old Cinema experts. Does he have any other interests? He is unwilling to commit on this but does admit to photography and has recently completed a series of street scenes in the Middle East, where his daughter works as a journalist. I suspect he’s rather good at it but, of course, he adamantly denies this.
Sensing that he is keen to get on, I thank him for his time and he springs up, appearing slightly relieved. One last question – does he have a headshot we can use for this piece? A look of alarm crosses his face, but he is ready for me: “No, I’ve checked, I don’t need to have one” he says quickly. “Oh pleeeease”, I entreat, but he is firm; all he will allow is a picture of his dog. He then disappears into his cavern of treasures with BB and you’ll have to take my word for it – it really is worth a visit.
The Old Cinema deals in mostly one-time, individual items. Our dealers are constantly sourcing new stock, so get in touch via our website for help finding similar pieces.
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