Obituary: David Nickerson

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The Independent Online
David Nickerson was the "dealer's dealer" who for the last 28 years ran Mallett's Bourdon House, the 18th-century house in Mayfair which is an outpost of Mallett's of Bond Street.

Nickerson had two outstanding qualities; his highly individual and informed "eye" when it came to works of art, and a talent for making and keeping friends from every walk of life from Norfolk countrymen to international clients, all of whom were attracted by his enthusiasm for anything to which he set his mind, from restoring a barn with his own hands to picking gilt out of a Gothic mirror with a dental pick.

He took over Mallett at Bourdon House in 1967. Gradually he transformed its elegant rooms into a Kunstkammer of antiques both witty and eccentric, ranging from the classical antique and fine furniture to the incidental; Cubist Art Deco shagreen dressing cases, collections of walking sticks and carving knives, all the best of their kind. "One never knew what one was going to find when one went in there," remembers Mark Birley, one of his clients.

Bourdon House became much more than an antique shop. It reflected Nickerson's love of objects of quality which interested him because they informed upon the culture from whence they came and the people that had commissioned, made, or owned them. He could perceive visual connections between seemingly disparate objects; fine neo-classical Waterford glass urns lived in harmony next to a Greek head of a slave, an 18th-century gaming set and a Phil May drawing.

Nickerson was born in 1933 in London, but spent his early years in Norfolk. During his first half at Eton, he contracted tuberculosis in one kidney which eventually had to be removed, and spent the next three years in bed. In this period of enforced inactivity he developed his eye and his love of history. He attended Norwich High School, where he played cricket but, as a semi-invalid, had to have a runner, and in 1953 went up to Trinity, Cambridge.

In 1957 he joined Mallett's in Bond Street, under Francis Egerton. Here he began to form his many friendships in the London dealing world and with clients, among whom were Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Crosby and Hope were at Mallett's one day with Nickerson deciding whether one of them should buy a very large mirror; spontaneously, the three broke into a soft shoe shuffle - to be observed with horror by Francis Egerton, who was conducting a Royal Personage round.

Nickerson remained at Bourdon House until June this year, when he became a consultant to Mallett's. Like Bourdon House, his houses in London and Norfolk were full of the unusual and the beautiful. So were his pockets, which always contained mysterious and tiny sculptures, intaglios (one of his passions) and minuscule carved fragments. He loved the beautiful even in fragment form and would buy, for instance, two supporters for a missing clock, knowing that eventually he would find the last piece in the puzzle. Once he bought two bases, suspecting that they had been intended for two Kandler swans. Years later, he found the swans he knew should be perched on them.

Meredith Etherington-Smith

David George Francois Nickerson, antique dealer: born London 24 March 1933; married 1958 Sara Jewson (two sons, one daughter); died London 23 November 1995.