Benjamin Smith - The School for Scandal
SCHOOL: An institution for educating. SCANDAL: An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage. Now I don’t want to jump to conclusions... but it sounds like you’re a bit of a trouble maker!?
I was a very meek child at school, l wouldn’t say boo to a goose! It wasn’t a great experience, I failed pretty much everything academically. Possibly, it might be seen as making up for lost time, shall we say! Never a trouble maker, but I do enjoy people’s reactions to objects good or bad, excitement or animosity.
With a name like The School for Scandal there is nothing to suggest it was the brainchild of someone meek and mild. Rather that of a free spirit, perhaps even one that ran away to join a circus! Either way, the name works perfectly with your collection. When did ‘The Scandal’ start?
Well it all happened very organically over a number of years. As with a lot of people who do this for a living, it seems to stem from being a collector first and foremost. As a small boy, my parents would attend local auctions like the Acle General Sales in Norfolk and the like, and my dad would buy bits and bobs to fill their end of terrace. As a teenager, I had a thing for battered leather books, I would buy them just for the textural and visual qualities. I actually remember when I first met Hayley (who is still with me surprisingly), one of our first dates was interrupted when we drove past a skip that was full of books from a long since closed book shop. I had her loading tatty, rain-soaked books into her Fiat Punto, the suspension was never the same after that! I always remember being a collector of things and the business really took form around 10 years ago when I was a full time gambler and for the first time had some disposable income. I would spend my free time going to fairs and auctions. We lived in a studio flat in North London and space was a premium so things had to be sold to make way for the next thing.
A gambler? I had a feeling you’d have an interesting background, even if running away with the circus was a stretch too far! How does one become a full time gambler?
Yeah, it’s a bit of a strange one! It always sounds more glam than it actually was. I was working as a design technician in a school in South London at the time. A friend and I were trying out this gambling technique called arbitrage betting, where you basically cover all outcomes to make a small profit, we tried it out over weekends and lunch times at work, until Dale rang me up to say that he wasn’t allowed to use his phone at work anymore, so was going to quit his job! I did the same and we gambled full time for four or five years! It was fun for the first few years as you’re really doing the bookies over, but it got to the point where there would be pictures of me in shops and staff wouldn’t take our bets!
See, I knew you were a trouble maker! I suppose you’re still gambling today with antiques! Knowing what will sell is so unpredictable and sometimes you just have to take a ‘punt’. Have you ever taken a risk in buying something that just didn’t pay off?
I don’t gamble anymore, but I think this business fills that void. As you said it’s a bit of a rollercoaster at times and I see most items I buy as a bit of a gamble, well, an educated gamble I suppose. But to be honest I buy what I would live with, so in all fairness I tend to live with my mistakes.
Your choice of antiques and curios may seem ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’ to the average antiques buyer. Do you find your clients are eccentric and colourful characters?
In this day and age of the internet and the fact many things go overseas, I rarely get to meet any of them face to face, although the ones I have met are normally from creative backgrounds. The last few items have ended up with a tattoo artist, fashion designer and a conceptual artist.
Would you describe yourself as naturally creative or just experimental?
Well after secondary school was over I really have spent my time around creative folk, through chosen education in my home town of Great Yarmouth and Chelsea School of Art to the rare soul and disco scene in London. I’d like to think of myself as being naturally creative but that wouldn’t occur without constant experimenting.