The Age of The Antique Shops Has Changed

Chip Off The Old Block

Precious objects, art and artefacts discreetly decorate the home of Jonathan Macey.

Paintings by Fang Zhaoling, Lin Fengmian and Yun Huai'e brighten the plastered white walls with Zen-like brushstrokes. A bronze sculpture of Salvador Dali sits quietly on a coffee table in the living room. After seeing his eclectic private collection, it's surprising to find out this Winchester chap, who moved to Hong Kong seven years ago, wasn't that into art. "I thought I was going to be footballer or an economist, but ended up an auctioneer. It all went wrong." It was his father, Denis, a dealer and restorer of antique English furniture, who spotted his talent and encouraged him to enter the trade. Macey said he was probably the least academically gifted among all of his siblings, but he had what it takes to be a good auctioneer and art dealer.

After graduating with a business studies degree, he started working at his father's antique shop in London. There, he acquired the knowledge to repair imperial furniture, antique long-case clocks and bracket clocks. Macey later got his foot in the door at Phillips Son & Neale, one of the four remaining Georgian auction houses in London, whose operations in Britain were purchased by Bonhams, turning the firm into the world's third largest auction house that it is today. Macey, then 25, was first hired as a porter - a job he hated. For not only was he earning a pittance, 4,000 (HK$48,353) a year, he was asked to do things that might seem humiliating to a young university graduate brimming with hope and self-importance.

"I had an awful boss who was a woman and she made me brush the steps," Macey recalled. "But my father said to me that it was the best job I would ever have in the world. He insisted that I stay and learn everything I could learn at that auction house." It turned out that his father knew best. Macey went on to accumulate a wealth of New Bond Street connections, while he was loading the backs of the cars of some of the wealthiest families in England. That knowledge and experience still serve him today. "The age of the antique shops has changed. No more big overheads for the dealers. The '70s and '80s in the UK were the golden time to be an antique dealer," he reminisced. Macey stayed at Phillips until he and his father started their own antique dealing business. The duo later brought it to Asia, leading Macey to come to Hong Kong in 2008.

In 2013, he set up an auctioneering and valuation firm, as well as an art gallery, under the name Macey and Sons. The firm also handles art-related insurance, storage, and investment consulting matters - focusing mainly on Chinese and East Asian art. Macey said his father, now in his 70s, is still active in the business. Plenty of rich families and firms will opt for smaller, independent dealers like the Maceys instead of big auction houses because of the confidentiality and personalized service.

The younger Macey also calls his father up in Britain almost daily for advice. "If I have a terrible time, I'll tell him. He often says 'that's the way the business works. Don't cry about it and get on with it. If it's that bad, open up an ice-cream shop. People will come and see you then."'

Macey hopes that someday, one of his four children will choose to follow in his footsteps, inheriting the family's business started by him and their grandfather. However, his youngest daughter, Imogen, has a creative soul, while his twin boys, Max and Guy, are also not suited for the profession. "The twins boy will probably turn out to be brutal bankers or lawyers because they were asking me last Easter how they could make some money. They're 12," Macey lamented. He is resting his hopes on his oldest son Tom. The 18-year-old is studying at an agricultural college in England to become a gamekeeper. But he was in Hong Kong only weeks ago to work as an intern at the family firm.

"There is something in Tom. He's a bit like myself in that if you show him the trade, he will do very well," Macey said.