Each month we're profiling familiar faces from the Leslieville Flea to learn how they got their start and what to expect from them at the market.
Ahead of the July 8 market at Ashbridge Estate, we've checked in with Samson Books and Vintage, which, as you might've guessed from the name is one-part second-hand books and one-part vintage furniture and stoneware.
TELL US ABOUT SAMSON BOOKS AND VINTAGE.
Samson Books and Vintage are separate businesses, but we help and support each other as partners in life and work. The bookmobile is Greg’s labour of love; out of the van he sells secondhand books meant to be read, which means literary fiction, literary non-fiction, children’s books, vintage cookbooks and DIY guides, and other miscellanea, rather than collectors’ items or first editions, although he does have a few of those, too. Mostly, we both just love books and Greg loves matching the right person up with the right book.
On the vintage side, which is me [Pam], I focus on vintage and antique china and stoneware, especially pieces designed by Susie Cooper, Scandinavian stoneware, and, of course, English china and stoneware. Furniture-wise, I really just look for attractive design, nice textures, and value, whether it’s a trendy 1970s Danish modern chair, a less trendy but beautiful oak table from the 19th century, or a souvenir linen tea towel. I could call my vintage business 'Stuff Pam Likes' but Samson Vintage is a better name.
HOW DID YOU START DOING THIS?
We’re both semi-retired, although, despite our grey hair, we’re not actually that old. Greg was a librarian and I was the vice-principal of a private school until a couple of years ago. After spending six months renovating a rather battered historic home in Quinte West, we decided it was time to get busy with something else. The book van was cooked up between us in a series of conversations while we were sanding floors or painting or whatever, and it became a reality this spring with the purchase of a big white van, which Greg proceeded to customize to make his book van. He also sells online through ABebooks. Greg had been selling books at a local market, and I decided to piggyback on his table and sell some of the vintage pieces. I got hooked and started buying specially to resale and then got involved with the vintage resale community in the region. I now have a booth at the FAB4 Market, which is on Old Highway 2 between Trenton and Belleville, and maintain an Etsy store as well. I still teach part-time at Trent University, so the active, hands-on nature of vintage selling provides a nice balance in my life. For both of us, freedom and autonomy are paramount when it comes to our work, as well as following our passions.
WHAT'S THE CRAZIEST STORY YOU HAVE A FIND?
Greg’s craziest story, in a frustrating way, is about the time he went out to pick up some books that were advertised as free, only to be asked for $100 as he was loading the boxes into his van. He negotiated the price down, and later found that the boxes were full of borderline pornography — and a hollowed out book full of mouse droppings. Most of that load went into recycling or for donation, although he did manage to sell a few of the books. The best book find story involves a vintage interior design book that we bought on a whim at a thrift store, only to discover that it was a first edition of On Living - With Taste by David Hicks from 1968 and worth quite a bit of money.
In terms of vintage finds, the most satisfying finds are things like the turquoise vinyl chair that I pulled out of a very dirty old shed; it looked like garbage and was probably destined for landfill, but, after a few rounds of cleaning, revealed itself to be the most brilliant turquoise and chrome piece. That stumble-upon aspect of this work and the excitement of identifying something well-designed and desirable in a pile of junk or dirty surroundings is addictive.
BEST VINTAGE SCORE?
Greg’s best score was a signed copy of Phoebe Gilman’s The Balloon Tree. At his first bookmobile pop-up, a customer asked him to come around and pick up some donations. In the boxes was this beautiful book, which he posted on ABebooks. Someone bought it right away, and told Greg it had been her favourite book as a child. Not only that, but she had a relative who lived close to us, so Greg was able to deliver the book personally, which he always enjoys.
My best score was probably a mid-century modern buffet, which the owner was trying to clear out of his storage space. We had actually gone there to pick up a table and chairs, and the owner offhandedly mentioned that he had “this old buffet too”, which turned out to be a gorgeous, well-preserved locally made walnut piece. I did sell it, but to a friend who has a sublime store and I was happy to see it featured in her stock. One of the most interesting and educational thrift store finds was a small, hand-painted teapot in Art Deco style. It was signed by “Ada M. Huddell” who turned out to be a minor Montreal artist, one of a handful of female artists who held group shows in Quebec in the 1930s and '40s. The teapot sold on Etsy to a collector in California.
DID YOU REGRET SELLING THEM?
We’re not sorry about selling them because if we kept everything we found and loved, we’d be buried underneath it all.
TELL US ABOUT ONE FANTASTIC THING YOU'RE BRINGING TO THE MARKET ON JULY 8.
We’ll bring the David Hicks book!