Throughout the showrooms, cabinets glimmer with silver, valuable china including Staffordshire, Majolica, and Quimper, and antique toys and games. Tonkin, a gracious, knowledgeable man, delights in sharing the provenance of his collectibles. On a leisurely tour through the warehouses he points out several antique velocipedes, intricate bikes for children made out of pine, brass and steel that are runaway sellers despite hefty price tags
Tonkin also offers custom designed furniture, wall coverings, mantels, and bookcases constructed in England using 19th- century woods, and custom designed lamps and shades. One of the hottest items sold to buyers around the world—primarily via the Internet—are large English pub signs, dozens of 1920s and 30s hand-painted beauties inscribed with names like Lord Nelson Home Brewery and Royal Oak Inn. Most of them came to Tonkin by way of a fairly new English law that requires breweries that buy privately owned pubs to display corporate logos on their signs. Suddenly, plastic was in and the antique heavy metal and wood signs found their way to antique experts like Bob Tonkin.
“For the present time, I’m the pub sign king of the North Atlantic,” Tonkin says with a chuckle. “With each pub sign you get a little history, a little art, and a lot of color.” The savvy marketer, whose background includes high-level positions with Macy’s and Sears, notes that the pub signs are popular with both homeowners and commercial customers. “The pub signs are perfect for making a large space interesting,” Tonkin says.
The job gives Tonkin and his wife, Johnna, a good reason to travel to Europe and enough rationale to have a home in England’s Cotswolds. It sounds like a beautiful way to work, and Tonkin agrees. As he says, “It’s a very nice life.”For more information, go to www.tonkin-of-nantucket.com.