Mark Griffin

 

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"Collecting is a passion. It can be an obsession but above all it should come from the heart. 
Two pieces of 18th century porcelain is a coincidence. Three is a collection..."

 

Mark Griffin

 

 

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An interview with Mark Griffin


Tell us about you and Arbatel Antiques?

I have been buying and collecting 18th Century English porcelain since 2005. Taking this passion further by going into business seemed the logical next step so I set up Arbatel Antiques in 2011.

You are the new kid on the block among some many very well established ceramics dealers. You've been described as having a good eye for rare and interesting pieces...

Yes – thank you. I've been very lucky and privileged to meet some incredible dealers both here and abroad who have been both helpful and encouraging. As for finding interesting pieces - I think I can say that I have an ability for spotting good pieces amongst the many. I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty and rummaging in boxes or travelling to remote auction houses because I've seen a photo online of a job lot of six plates and a wooden doll. It's not the plates or wooden doll I'm interested in, however, it's the small tea bowl that's out of focus at the edge of the photo that has grabbed my attention.

I also find pieces abroad in the U.S., Europe, South Africa and I've even started taking road trips to rather obscure villages in European countries. Every town and village has car boot sales or house clearances and I try and do little tours and pick up items on the way. If I find something, fantastic, if I don't, I've seen another part of the World and met some interesting people along the way.  

 

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Do you ever keep any pieces that you find?

Not at the moment no. As I'm a new business, it's all about turning stock over. There's a certain freedom about that but I also love the part of the business where I connect the pieces I have found with a collector who will give them a good home.

You have an extensive knowledge on the history of English porcelain, from Chelsea, Worcester, Bow etc and you are now moving into European porcelain as well?

My first interest was Worcester because of my father's collection of blue and white. But as I came across different pieces at antiques fairs and auctions, I naturally began to learn about the other English factories. The fascinating thing is that if you look at the history of English porcelain you will find a lot of the factories are inter-linked. One person set up one factory, then helped set up a rival, one painter who specialised in flower painting worked for Worcester then moved on to Derby. It was a very small World it seems.

As for European porcelain, I am becoming more and more fascinated by the origin of porcelain and it's factories there. After all, the Europeans found out the secret for making 'white gold' decades before us. I read the novel The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson in a day and was riveted. It's the true story of the Meissen porcelain factory and how European porcelain first began. It revolves around an alchemist who believes he can turn lead to gold, a king obsessed with exquisite porcelain and a war raging on the continent – what could possibly go wrong?

Where does the name Arbatel come from?

Arbatel is one of the arch-angels, known as the revealing angel.

Dealing in ceramics is a huge departure from your earlier career where you played Trojan on ITV's Gladiators for five years. What was the show actually like?

Gladiators was an amazing experience. It was exciting, demanding and a wonderful way to challenge myself physically. We filmed in front of 10,000 screaming fans every week and in those days I think it was Gladiators and Blind Date that were staple Saturday night viewing. After five years on the show I got a call from Disney and was offered my first tv series in the U.S. called Action Man. I filmed in Florida & L.A., and loved it so much I decided to move there.

And you stayed in the U.S. for fourteen years?

That's right. I enjoyed a successful career as a professional actor, script writer and director working with stars such as Eddie Murphy, Diane Keaton, Jeff Daniels, Mark Harmon and Jean Claude Van Damme. I also wrote my first play “Thousand Yard Stare” which was performed in L.A.and won critical acclaim. And in between the entertainment side of things I found time to renovate houses in the Hollywood Hills.

So is the acting all behind you now?

Actually, no, I'm still a working actor. I've been on a few tv series since I've been back, done some London theatre and just played the role of Lancelot in a movie called Dragons Of Camelot which will be released at the end of this Summer. I have a script in pre-production back in L.A. and I have another film that begins shooting in August.

 

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So how did you make the switch from actor to porcelain dealer?

Interestingly enough, I went to my first ever antiques auction whilst filming in Canada. I was exploring Vancouver and came across Maynards Auction House on Main Street. I popped in, curious, and it was there that I spotted my first pieces of Worcester porcelain.

So you knew what it was already?

My father has a large collection of Worcester blue & white so I had seen pieces before and I immediately recognised the patterns. I decided to buy them as a gift, went to the auction that night and bought the lot. The rest as they say is history.

What do you like doing best?

I get excited when I see a rare piece for the first time and realise I might be onto something. An obscure photo on-line, a saucer among a collection of old china in a box – it could be anything. Then the research really begins. Can I get there and see it in person? Can I verify what I think it is? Are there any identical shapes, patterns in my reference books – if not I'll always check the V&A database. There will be a photo and record of a similar item somewhere, it's just a question of finding it.

 

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So it's like un-earthing treasure in a way?

Absolutely! Move over Indiana Jones! All I need now is decent hat and a bull whip.

What about fakes? Are there many fakes on the market?

There are a few. Some of them deliberate, some of them were made at a later date as replacements for lost or broken originals. I mean, Edme & Emile Samson were prolific makers of porcelain in the late 18th early 19th century who made thousands of pieces of porcelain in the Worcester style. I can spot a piece of Samson at fifty paces now, although there are a few pieces of “18th Century English porcelain” that have been made oversea in the last decade and shipped over. I should know – I've bought a few myself.

Ouch!

Yes exactly. But you live and learn. I'm also a little wary of Ebay.

Any favourite factories or pieces you've found?

That's a tough question. I think each factory has it's own voice. There are subtle differences in the potting, the colour of the porcelain, the thickness of the glaze, the style or delicacy of the painting. From Bristol to Worcester they all have their own idiosyncrasies, their own beauty. Chelsea I find exceptional, especially the Hans Sloane pieces. I've found a few of them and even managed to match up the art work to Ehret's original sketches. That's the part of this that I really enjoy. The research.

One of may favourite pieces this year was a stunning piece of mid 18th Century Doccia. It was my first piece of Italian porcelain, almost mint condition, large as well and I used about a mile of bubble wrap when I took it to London. It very swiftly found a very good home. Now – funnily enough - I see Doccia every where I look.

So what does the future hold for you and Arbatel Antiques?

Meeting new people, finding new pieces. That's one of the things I love about what I'm doing. Somewhere out there are more rare and interesting pieces just waiting to be discovered – it's my job to find them.

Good luck, Mark, thanks for taking the time.

Thank you.

 

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