Charlie Gladstone's Dinky Toys & A Big Fat Battered Urn
Charlie wears many hats: entrepreneur, festival founder, brand and restaurant owner. Today he talks us through his love of collecting.
Interview by Hugo Ross
Photo by Charlie Gladstone
Dec 14, 2018
VM: Hi Charlie! Thank you for joining us. We are going to ask you a few questions about your favourite personal objects and your relationship to them. Are you a big collector / object influenced person?
CG: I am a collector. Big time. I have been forever; well, since I was about 6, back in the early 1970s.
Beer mats, records, art, photographs, 1940s bear-shaped money boxes, axes, giant boxes of matches, sew-on-patches, miniature trophies, taxidermy. Gawd, I’m obsessive. I can’t stop. Everything looks better in multiples; Andy Warhol understood this, that there is particular beauty in the prosaic when displayed in numbers. But individual items are okay with me, too. My homes are shrines to these collections and ejects; rows of American motorcycle helmets, model planes, painted paddles, objects bought in the souks of Morocco or markets of India or malls of America, signed, flags, beaten up chairs, drums. One offs, collections, big, small, pointless, functional, beautiful, funny, stupid, awe-inspiring.
Sounds impressive! Please choose one or a handful of objects to talk about.
I choose two pieces for this challenge. The object that I think began it all and my most recent purchase; bookends in my collecting. This isn’t to suggest I have finished I haven’t- but it’s nice to think in symmetry.
First, a Dinky toy; an orange Mini. Given to me by beloved maternal Grandmother, her last present before she died. It’s provenance made it too significant to unbox and play with and so it has been displayed at home ever since; that’s nearly 50 years. A perfect piece of British design in a perfect colour (the colour of happiness) with a perfect back story that now sits in a glass case in my hall in Wales.
Sentimentalism 101. Did this object start your obsession with collection?
This object taught me something, that there is a beauty in objects and that it is often enough to just admire them, that you don’t have to use them to make them resonate. I have collected a few other Dinky toys, not many -maybe thirty- but this is the important one. It is better to look at it, to hold on to what it means, than to play with it, break it, lose it. In many ways this is what MoMA in New York does and it speaks to me clearly; it understands that a great object is as beautiful as the finest art. So, that helicopter that famously hangs in its main hall asks us to question whether it is art or an utilitarian object and answers us clearly with it doesn’t matter which, it just is.
Pre-war Dinky toys can fetch up to £10,000 in some instances. They are a strong representation of Britain’s historical toy industry, but ceased manufacturing in Britain in 1979. Do you have any others that make up a collection?
I also have several complete boxes of road signs by Dinky. I know this is a bit weird (it’s the adult with the transit thing but, having said that, if it’s okay with Sir Rod Stewart, it’s okay with me). I like the simple vernacular design of these which remain pretty much unchanged since Margaret Calvert designed them in the 1936.
What is the second object you would like to discuss and why?
My second, a four foot tall 1930s metal urn, (pictured) beaten, patinated, dark, bashed, perfect; it has lived well despite the obvious mistreatment. This is my most recent object, purchased three days ago and already sitting beside a large painting in our house in France. We drove for nearly 2 hours to a brocante to find this; we make the same journey each summer as this is a very good market, an increasing rarity today. It belonged to some friends with great taste, Jean-Claude and Colette. They are traders, brocanteurs as they are known here. They are beautifully dressed -he in his late 60s she a decade or so younger- in that low key way that only the most confident can carry off. They were normcore before it was a thing and they’re good at it, refined and elegant. We’ve been to their house, it’s dark, cool; the wooden floors are perfect, the colours soft, the objects the finest they have found in their searches. I always try to buy from them, because I trust their taste, sure, but more because I like them and this means I like the object. I can’t love something if it’s sold by an arsehole, not however beautiful it is. So, now the urn is ours and it’s beautiful, storied and has something of these quiet, warm, elegant people in it. It’ll sit where it sits forever, i suspect, long after I am gone.
How important is legacy and passing on these objects to your children and perhaps friends?
The importance comes with their interest in them. A lot of it is financially worthless so it’s all about sentimental value and if they have an attachment then that’s great. If not they can box it up and do what they want with it. Having said that, my records and CDs, of which there are about 12,000 do form an important personal library.
Do you see your relationship with these objects cultivating anything else in your life
It all feeds backwards and forwards. An interest leads to an object, an object sparks an interest or a memory. I remember where I got everything; everything adds up to one great big rich layered tapestry.