Every month we are putting the spotlight on one of the many vintage businesses around the North East of Scotland, often hidden away in corners or back alleys. This month we are showcasing a vintage trader up in the north of Aberdeenshire: Curtiss and Clementine, located inside the little treasure trove shop called HQ in the harbour of Banff. This business is owned by Rachel Kennedy, who specialises in vintage finds and collectables from sometimes as old as the 19th century. Being a historian, Rachel certainly knows her stuff and she is a star at finding unusual items with a past. If you are looking for quirky and wonderful vintage, visit Banff and make a day of it!
The idea for my business grew out of a passion for history, so when it came to thinking of a name it felt right to look at my own family history and my mixed English and Scots parentage. I spent a lot of time with my paternal Scots grandmother as a child, whose maiden name was Clementine McGregor, before moving here from London ten years ago. Lawrence Curtiss was my maternal English grandfather. Sadly, I never knew him and since the Curtiss surname hasn’t carried on into the next generation, I thought it would be nice to use it as a way of remembering his side of the family.
How long have you been running the shop?
The shop where I am based is called HQ, we opened last July so we are coming up to a year. I share the space with another local business called Threadbear, who are based in Banff and make hand-made gifts and home furnishings.
What made you want to start selling vintage?
Being involved in vintage and antiques and having my own business has given me the chance to follow a dream. I’ve been a fan of vintage since the late 1980s during my art student days when I used to love visiting all the second-hand shops in Brighton, but I started collecting as a child (glass animals, then clay pipes after a bit of random digging in our front garden in London!) and ended up working in museums as a curator, so I’m probably programmed to seek out vintage objects, especially if they have a good design or are a bit unusual. I also love 20th century studio ceramics and glass and pretty much anything eighteenth century, which was my area of expertise, so selling enables me to indulge in all my interests and passions!
What makes your business special in the area?
When I first started my business a few years ago initially from home, there were only a couple of vintage businesses that I was aware of and no vintage shops or fairs at all in or around Banff. Things have changed since then, which is great, but it has been exciting to be part of starting something new. Together with the vintage fairs that I run as well, I feel I am offering a unique shopping experience for the local community here in Banff and Macduff as well as visitors to the area. I also try and source items that have a local connection (like the vintage milk bottles from local dairies I have in HQ at the moment) which has been a nice way to offer more personal items to local customers.
What is the weirdest item you have ever had in your shop?
Oh, that’s easy! I have in stock at the moment a miniature china figurine called a Frozen Charlotte or Charlie. It’s teensy. Made from glazed bisque porcelain with hand-painted black hair. These dolls were made in Germany from the mid 1800s to 1920s, originally as bath dolls I think, but became popular in the States after a poem called Young Charlotte, about a young woman who froze to death whilst driving in an open carriage with her beau on New Year’s Eve. These tiny dolls are now very collectable although many find them creepy – you can sometimes find them in mini metal coffins which is quite macabre.
What has been the most beautiful item you have ever had in the shop?
I was lucky enough to find in France last year an absolutely beautiful lidded pot by Arabia Finland, in mint condition. It was hand-painted in a gorgeously rich, dark cobalt blue design onto a translucent fine white China. The design was very simple and was signed ET, for one of their most respected designers Esteri Tomula, who worked at the factory between 1947-84. From my research, it appeared to be a studio production from the 1950s which was unusual and so quite rare too. The combination of beauty, design, rarity and condition just made it a very striking thing and a lovely pot. The icing on the cake was that it was bought by an artist who really loved it.
What do you like about your job?
Can I say everything? (Laughing) I love being independent, my own boss. I love hunting out the stock, researching it, displaying it and meeting customers. I really do learn something new every day and that keeps it all interesting and stimulating. It also gives me a chance to talk about the history of an item and to share what I have learned with customers which is very rewarding. It’s such a privilege too, to handle items that are 50, 100, sometimes even 150 years old, especially if I get to meet the current owners who know the history of these items. Hey, I’m even getting a bit fitter from all the heavy lifting of boxes that I do with my fairs..
What is the biggest challenge?
In today’s current economic climate, I would say being a sole trader in anything is really tough. You have got to work hard to keep motivated and be sensitive to market trends as well as stay true to your own ideas. Selling is probably the biggest challenge and I think most vintage businesses and antiques dealers feel that. I also think that although the idea of vintage is really growing in Scotland, the idea of buying second hand doesn’t appeal to many and it’s a challenge to try and change that.
Why should people buy vintage?
Actually, I wouldn’t say people should as its a personal taste but, I do believe that in today’s world of limited resources, it’s a much greener way to shop. I also think that buying vintage ensures a variety in your wardrobe or home and that has to be a good thing in my book. Buying vintage can also stimulate discussion between the generations which I love (eg where on earth did you find that? Or, I used to have one of those when I was young) and allows for self-expression too, which can be hugely creative.
You can buy Vintage from Curtiss and Clementine here:
Shop – HQ, 8b Quayside, Banff AB45 1HQ. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30-4pm
Rachel organises several fairs a year at Banff Castle:
- Saturday 9 July, 10am-4pm
- Saturday 10 September, 10am – 4pm.
Rachel is also a regular exhibitor at the Aberdeen Antiques & Collectors Market, which takes place every month at the Hilton Tree Tops Hotel, Aberdeen.