REUBEN REUBENS   

  1939-2020

   
 
 

Late 1970s Early one Sunday morning I was strolling through Club Row antiques market in Londonís East End with a banjo over my shoulder (as you do)  Within minutes a man came running after me, do you want to sell, do you want to sell? he shouted. Of course I did, I had seen this man on television with his collection of banjos. My friend Joe told me where to find him. We quickly did a deal over a bacon sarnie and a mug of tea. The beginnings of a friendship. After a few encounters I lost touch for a few years due to various activities.

Reuben had started collecting at a very early age, coins , keys, old shoes.

The first significant collection were early instruments as he played lute and recorder with his fatherís family quartet. ...Those were the days. Early instruments had low value. Reuben at on time had a job as a conductor on the busses in SE London and was known to stop the bus when spying and instrument in a second hand shop. He once purchased an ophecliede from a scrap metal dealer who weight the instrument for brass value ( 3/6d)  On a Saturdays he swapped shifts to go to the Portobello Road market early . 5pm purchasing by 7pm selling on to dealers and making a weeks wages. He soon left the buses.

 

Gramophones and phonographs, enamel signs all featured in a big way at various times. Reuben spent much of his time searching for "goodies" as he called them. Exchange and Mart being well used.

 

Many people know Reuben for his collection of banjos (the number varied depending on when you asked him) 800 was probably the top number, all he would say were pre 1900.(the bass banjo not) with unrepeatable examples, paper Mache banjo, 13 string harp banjo, 12 string theorbo banjo. Tack heads, Tunbridge ware, he had them all (nearly)

The B.B.C  did an article in 1979. Reuben liked the attention. Sadly due to various reasons he sold the collection.

One of the most well know banjos of the collection was the whale bone instrument. Now in the New Before Whaling Museum. Massachusetts . Reuben's father had helped "source" the banjo and restore it.

Photo courtesy of the museum.

The banjo collection was dispersed the bulk ending up in the Tsmura collection and many of these later to a museum in Japan. It is interesting that many claims have been made by collectors owning ex Reuben banjos. So far it adds up to 1350, far more than he owned!!

In the late 1980s I found him again behind a stall in the Portobello Road antiques market. By this time he has sold his enormous banjo collection. Moving on to gas cookers!  Victorian loos, early electrics, guns, ethnic/south sea items.

After the banjos (and other items) Reuben collected cookers, his house became a cooker museum, not mush room for anything else.  No your ordinary modern gas appliances but Victorian models. 1992 they were sold at auction and did quite well.

 Cooker auction.

 

 

A shop was found in South London in the 1980s, one of Reuben's obsessions became ethnic artefacts from Oceania. 3000 items at one point.

30 years or so ago Reuben found a dealer in Portobello selling shoes for bound Chinese feet. He gradually purchased them to sell on his own stall. This was Lisa Tao, they were to be become best friends and  trading partners, sharing a stall.  A lovely lady who tried to be a steady influence on his compulsive buying.          

An interesting collection was of early electrical and scientific equipment. He once showed me the first portable radio, about 1 metre + long taking two people to carry it!                     In 2001 he went to  Washington DC, Smithsonian Institute when part of his collection now is on display.

READING RECOMMENDATION.   Portobello Voices. Blanche Girouard (author) Paperback (01 Sep 2013) Portobello market  characters featuring Reuben

Reuben posing with some of his previous collection of Tunbridge ware banjos.

 

  Apart from Portobello, Reuben was a frequent visitor to many large antique fairs, Ardingly, Detling, Newark etc. Perhaps most fun was Sunbury at Kempton Park. 6:30pm in the morning we would all rush round buying. We met up at about 8:30 for a bacon sarnie and tea, exchanging stories and comparing purchases and dealing.

One day in 2006 we filmed some of this as part of a series:-

Reuben appears in both these films.

www.youtube.com/watch1  

www.youtube.com/watch2

 

 
 

About 2010 Reuben started collecting instruments again and quickly amassed a respectable collection. Selling off a weapon collection and more to finance it.

   

 He always had a story to tell. The bag of bamboo flutes purchased that were really 18th/19thc boxwood and ivory examples. The concertina school clearance 40 concertinas for £5! The totem pole replicas of fibreglass. The one he purchased was the original.

We have another uncut film of his last collection. Hopefully sorted soon.

 

A good friend, a crafty sense of humour and an amazing knowledge of a wide range of antiques. Many people will miss him

 REUBEN AND LISA  2012

1929 Alvis Silver Eagle at the Halfway House, Brenchley. Riding in the stock   Duelling banjos

 

                                             

 

All old photos are from Reubens albums. Apologies if they are copyright.