What you need to know:
There are not many antiquarians known to the Ugandan public, in fact, many may not see the purpose of collecting antiques. Yet there are those that love following the stories behind those precious lamp holders, beds and sofas from the past. Not just for the sake of collecting, but the history that each and every item they collect comes with.
From way back in the day, I have been a lover of old things; finger rings, lampshades and lots of other knickknacks. The beauty of owning these ancient things is that they are one-of-a-kind items, which you are unlikely to find anywhere, so antiques score 100 per cent on the scale of uniqueness. The trouble with antiques is that they are not sold everywhere. You have to have a keen eye or a bunch of connected friends with similar tastes to get your hands on some of these pieces.
Not an ordinary love
They are not your ordinary household goods. Antiques are quaint and ancient. They are bits and bobs collected from the old world. These items are not sold in regular shops on your average street. For one thing, antiques are not easy to come by and to qualify as things of value, they must have a back story. In order to find these sought after but precious and rare items, one may need to put in some leg work and it is while walking through the back streets that you will likely find a corner shop full of the goodies. If you are not lucky to stumble on a dealer or antiques’ shop, then you have to rely on word of mouth recommendation from others with similar interests to point you in the right direction.
In the past, while walking around Kampala, I have stumbled on a flea market at Centenary Park where, fortunately, I managed to pick up a lamp holder with a woven lampshade. The lampshade has served me well and though I was unable to trace its story and previous owner, every time I look at it, there is the secret satisfaction of sharing in the original owner’s good taste.
Then there were the signature rings, from a shop in the central business district. However, the shop where the rings used to be is no more. My newest connection to the world of antiques came via WhatsApp. A fan shared photos after visiting a shop. You can find antiques in other places though, if you have an eye for the stuff. One of the most memorable collections I have seen was a wall of teaspoons in the house of one of my interview subjects.
Little shops and covid
In order not to spoil it for the collectors, I can only say that there is a little shop on Ggaba Road where you can find old world things. For the antique lovers, part of the thrill of finding stuff is in the chase. If you can hunt down the shop, you will find a variety of antiquated stuff; from cutlery to crockery and jewellery among others. By October though, when the airport reopened, the antique shop proprietors were running out of some items, with no quick way to replace.
In much the same way as other businesses were affected by the Covid -19 closures, the antiques’ business suffered its own blow. According to Jollen Nakirayi, an antiques’ vendor, they have been unable to travel to restock the antique shop in Bbunga, Kampala. Notably, some popular items such as wind chimes are out of stock, when I ask.
However, Covid-19 is not the only obstacle that the antique sellers have to overcome. One of the other challenges is a limited understanding of antiques on the market.
“Out of 10, there is one customer interested in antiques,” says Nakirayi. The trouble with the local market is that majority do not understand the value of the old hand-me-down commodities. Nakirayi shares that when some customers saunter into the shop and see the antique cupboards and dresser sets, some suggest repainting the olden pieces whose wooden exterior often looks rugged and weather-beaten. What they do not seem to get is that the more dated they look, the more valuable the pieces. A dresser drawer set that rises up to the height of an average adult, goes for Shs4-5m.
Perhaps one of the most prized pieces in the shop, is a bed, which goes for Shs15m. At the mention of the price, I can’t help asking what is so special about the bed that it should cost an arm and a leg. I jokingly ask if the bed once belonged to a king and my guess turns out to be right. This bed is not just your ordinary king sized bed. This bed belonged to an actual king and queen.
“They took the time to varnish it. I have the details. Someone just ordered it because it is not the normal size. It is six by seven. The bed is bigger and longer than usual so it would not fit in the normal houses,” explains Nakirayi.
Where do antiques come from?
Many of the pieces in the antique shop are bought from Asian collectors and therefore, trace their origins to India and the East. This includes the cupboards, dresser drawers, pure silver anklets, gold and delicate pointy shoes, among others. Why is that, I ask? Can we not find local items, collected perhaps from Ugandan houses, backyards and so forth?
There are a few local items mixed in with the antiques and some of the items of Ugandan origin include; oil paintings, notably one of a hustler lion, which I learn is in great demand because, apparently, it looks uncompromising and pushes its owners to get out of the house and hustle. Well, in an antique shop, the stories never end. Every piece has a story like that of the hustler lion.
Mixing antiques with modern items
Once you have selected a theme around which to select your items, you’re ready to start exploring specific options. As you look through catalogs, websites, showrooms, and antique galleries keep these tips in mind for mixing old and new:
- Put a modern, streamlined bench under an ornate console or desk.
• An ornate Loius XIV gilt mirror (or any other decorative French mirror) looks great in an ultra modern room.
• A modern Lucite or glass dining table surrounded by Lucite chairs is stunning when paired with an ornate crystal chandelier and antique silver mirror.
• A rustic dining table paired with modern aluminum chairs creates terrific contrast.
• Cover an old regency or Louis Bergere chair in an ultra-modern fabric.
• A piece of modern art in a room filled with antiques creates a pop.