OBITUARY : George Lambor

Ward Rutherford
Tuesday 24 June 1997 00:02

While fascination with the ancient past is common enough, few show the dedication of George Lambor.

In 1981 a return trip to his native Poland included a visit to Biskupin, where archaeologists had uncovered an Iron Age lakeside village. To inform the general public an exhibition had opened which, Lambor agreed, deserved to be seen outside Poland. Back in Britain he found enthusiasm but a notable lack of practical help. Then in his mid-fifties, he took a second job, as a waiter in a Hove hotel, to raise money and during a nine-month tour of Britain in 1984 the exhibition was seen by 92,000 visitors. Four years later, when his Polish friends wanted a British exhibition, he used similar methods to finance it.

George Lambor was born in the Carpathian town of Nowy Sacz in 1927. In 1939, at the Russo-German invasion of Poland, he was only 12 and it was decided he would be safer out of the country. While his father and mother and his younger brother and sister remained in Poland, he travelled to France with two aunts. When France, too, was over-run, he came to Britain. Throughout the Second World War he was at Ampleforth, the Benedictine public school, and there learnt that his father, a Resistance activist, had been executed.

Lambor was always fascinated by antiquity and planned to become an archaeologist, but his father's death meant he needed to help to support his family. He enrolled for a course in Polish law at Oxford but, as the country was part of the Soviet bloc, its legal system was being revolutionised. At the urging of his family, he switched to economics, to find it so uncongenial that he dropped out and took a job on a Polish- language newspaper. A variety of occupations followed, including a period as stage manager to a touring theatrical company in which his first wife, Margaret Palliser, was a dancer.

When the touring company broke up, he and Margaret went to Scotland. To make ends meet, he again had to take anything that offered itself, including door-to-door salesmanship and work at a sawmill. Meanwhile, he was carving out a career as a short-story writer; editors compared his work with that of another Polish expatriate, Joseph Conrad.

In the mid-Sixties the couple moved to Brighton, where Lambor opened his first antiquities gallery, because, in his own words, he wanted to "get on first-name terms with as many antiquities as possible". Later this was followed by another in the Chenil Galleries in Chelsea.

As he got involved in the antiquities business, he became concerned at the not always ill-founded charges of illicit dealing levelled at some in the trade. In 1981 he founded ADA, the Antiquities Dealers Association, which laid down rigid conditions for the conduct of business. For six years he was its secretary and subsequently a committee member.

He also initiated a campaign to establish a register of antiquities in private hands. Besides confirming provenance - itself a deterrent to illegality - by ensuring that the whereabouts of a given antiquity was known at any time, it would aid serious research.

At the same time he wanted to persuade museums to make far more of their collections accessible, as well as providing facilities for all students, including non-professional ones. All formed part of another of his major preoccupations: that of bringing together the often antagonistic parties involved in antiquities. In 1991 he founded ALG, the Antiquities Liaison Group, as a forum for academic and amateur bodies. A combination of apathy and self- interest frustrated progress.

From the mid-Eighties Lambor had been considering launching an antiquities magazine, not only for collectors, but for all interested in the ancient world. In the autumn of 1986 he made an attempt with Agora Magazine, aimed at customers of his Brighton gallery. Its reception was enthusiastic enough to prove he had found a gap in the market and in February 1987, renamed Ancient, it was launched. It now sells not only in Britain, but in many other parts of the world. With its last issue it broke into the American market and it is poised to break into Australia, where it already has a number of subscribers.

With Lambor's death questions hang over its future, but there is hope that it will continue.

George Lambor, antiquities collector and dealer: born Nowy Sacz, Poland 12 April 1927: married 1952 Margaret Palliser (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1982), 1982 Florangel Serrano de Arocha: died Hove, East Sussex 16 June 1997.

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