I don’t usually do this – I’m only the secretary at Bloom Antiques in Portsmouth’s Albert Road – but they’re all away at a fair in Brighton. My boss, who owns the shop, Mr Bloom has been harping on about it for weeks, so when I saw the auction catalogue and there it was, I couldn’t help it. I shut the shop and dashed down to the Guildhall at lunchtime, swiftly grabbing a seat near the front, right in the auctioneer’s eyeline.
Never seen that auctioneer before. Introduces himself as Louis; not local, sounds more like London. Anyway, I’m waiting for it to come up, it’s not really an antique, more a collectable, but it’s a one-off Susie Cooper vase. It’s quite small, cream and green, little hand-painted flowers, and the designer’s signature character, a stag, prominently painted on the side, whereas it’s normally just stamped on the base. Mr Bloom reckoned this was Miss Cooper’s first ever firing for Gray’s Pottery and mega-important. I just liked the simplicity of it. Here we go, “Susie Cooper vase, early 1920s, A.E. Gray Ltd. Potteries. Who’ll start me at £50?” Louis booms, leaning over the lectern. I’m looking in my compact mirror behind me. Nobody moves. Then a hand appears from the back, a punter, yes, he’ll give fifty, and we’re off.
I jump in at £75, knowing Mr Bloom has said its worth at least £200, but in a sale like this, the audience aren’t likely to know that. “£75… do I see £80?” Louis casts his eyes across the crowd. “£80 at the back, original bidder, thank you, sir… now, £85?” My hand shoots up. “£85, thank you, miss, against you, sir, £90?” I angle my mirror and spot him, my rival, it’s nobody I know, certainly not a dealer, but is he a pottery expert? A Susie Cooper fan? Better keep going!
We’re at £145, it’s just me and him. Louis encourages my rival to top my bids, huh, are they in league? We’re on ones now, £189, £190, £191. This is nonsense! Mr Bloom had said “If you ever see that, Alice, buy it, I’ll refund you, I promise!” I stick my hand up and mouth “two hundred” at the auctioneer. He takes the bid. Silence. A very long silence. Louis bangs the gavel after giving the old “going, going, gone!” rhetoric. It’s mine! I’m so pleased, really, Mr Bloom will be delighted!
Back at the shop, Bloom and his Albert Road cohorts have returned. I excitedly show him my purchase. A horrified look crosses his face. “It’s the Susie Cooper vase, the one you were raving about!” I protest. He says nothing and unwraps a package he’s got in his coat pocket. There, lying in the tissue paper is an identical vase. “But how?” I ask. “Oh Alice, didn’t you hear me say this morning, a friend of mine in Brighton had found it in London. He was keeping it for me. This… this is a very expensive fake!”