“It’s tragic – what are they going to do, put another hotel here? ”

 

In the fifteen minutes I’m chatting to Tim Nichols, five or six people come past, asking the most obscure questions about how to unlock an old folding camera, or how a modern plastic 3D contraption works; he’s never stumped. Yet the objects on his stall account for perhaps a century of industrial history, from Victorian cameras and frames, through charmingly clunky  devices made in Soviet Russia in the fifties and sixties, and quirky Japanese cameras of the seventies and eighties – although admittedly, in the four or five years we’ve been keeping an eye on his stall, it’s remained a digital-free zone. Sadly, over the last couple of months, Tim has become only an occasional visitor to Greenwich covered market; still, I was pleased to spot him last Thursday. His Victorian and Edwardian photo frames, originally made to view negatives from both sides, make beautiful Christmas presents, but grab them now – when they’re gone, they’re gone…

How long have you run a stall in Greenwich?
I’ve been coming to Greenwich since the day after the London bombings, July 2007. Before that I had a shop for 15 years in Arundel, then when we gave the shop up, we were doing fairs, antique fairs, camera fairs, and this was a great place to come inside of London -  it was  no hassle to get here, the stalls are reasonably priced. But now the price of fuel has gone up, I’m not doing Greenwich market every week, I’m just here for the Christmas period.

How did you come to sell cameras?
It’s in the blood. My father had a retail shop in Salisbury for years. I went abroad, I came back from travelling, and basically got into selling old cameras to  help the business survive. I was selling a lot of stuff to dealers up in Portobello Road, then I opened a shop in Arundel in 1990.

How do you like running a stall versus a shop?
It’s harder work – you’re up earlier, you got to set the stall up, then pack it up at the end of the day. But it gets you out and about – you’re not in the shop all day twiddling your thumbs, waiting for people to come in.

Is there more camaraderie among market traders than shop keepers?
Oh I think so, Yeah. In places like an antique centre you get a lot of bitchy dealers, whereas here everyone gets on.

You’ve got a very distinctive, but eclectic aesthetic, from sophisticated Edwardian plate cameras, through plastic 3D cameras. Are you selling to users, or collectors?
Seventy five per cent of what we sell probably ends up abroad. All ends up in the foreign trade.  Most of the cameras go to collections or for ornamentals.

Are you taken by the design of these objects?
I am,  especially the vintage wooden and brass cameras – if they come in in bits then I restore them. I have all the bits to do it and I put them together again, that’s what I tend to do. Without overdoing it, making them too perfect. I enjoy doing it, it’s a hobby, and I’m making money

What about the way cameras we made in Edwardian times?
They were obviously made by cabinet makers – craftsmen, really.  I don’t tend to like modern goods. I prefer these objects.

What’s the most precious object you’ve come across recently?
It is a Magic Lantern, an early slide projector. I found it in an open market in Sussex, and  rebuilt it, so it’s finally all complete – and up for sale for £2000 if anybody wants it.

How much time do you spend tracking objects down?
I got out around two or three mornings a week and that’s it.  I’ve been doing it for such a long time, things come to me now, people ring me up, which is a much easier way of doing it. It is getting harder, though, some things are definitely drying up. Then it comes up in one big hoard normally, you can go for weeks and weeks and weeks with nothing and you think nothing else is going to come in – then it suddenly all happens. It is still out there but you have to be on your guard.

Although you’re now only an occasional visitor to the covered market, how do you feel about the state of Greenwich, with one market gone, this one under thread, and only the smallest one safe for now?
It’s tragic, really. What are they going to do, put another hotel here? Where’s it going? It’s crazy.

Tim Nichols is at Greenwich Covered Market this Thursday, 22 December. You can also find him on eBay, user name Clickten.


Comments

One Response to “Tim Nicholls, Magic Lantern Magician”

  1. Kathryn on February 27th, 2012 6:15 pm

    Fishing tackle, feathers, denim, vintage cameras – items from yesteryear. A wonderful collection of stories and characters. Looking forward to seeing more from this cornucopia of wonders.