Published: May 29, 2012
Mike Gould was truly a legendary “character” of the antiques business, larger than life, and louder.
Many of us came of age in this industry under Mike and Marilyn in the golden age of Wilton. During show setup, Mike assumed the role he was born to play: the voluble, gruff, tough-love drill sergeant/generalissimo, keeping his boot-camp dealers in line and on time. Without Mike’s martial discipline, Wilton could never have succeeded as brilliantly as it did for decades. With a single day of setup and a single day of selling to the public, the show had a frenetic pace and required split-second orchestration.
Despite this short window of opportunity, no show ever looked more polished nor came up with more amazing Americana, fresh to the market and dazzling to the eye. Sleep-deprived and shell-shocked, we loyally followed our commander through the logistical nightmare of getting us all unloaded and set up within a matter of hours.
Mischievous children that all dealers are, we somehow learned to follow the rules, and when we misbehaved, heaven forbid, we heard about it, and how. Mike bellowed because he cared about us and about the show, and his preshow volume was calibrated to the magnitude of that concern and love.
There were three laws of Wilton by which Mike’s preshow universe was governed: unload on time (and quickly); move your empty van; and never, ever drink or eat on the field-house floor. Easier said than done. The pace of preshow selling was legendary, and much of it was done between the truck and the unloading door. Your bladder may have been ready to explode, but you learned that leaving an empty van at an unloading door when other dealers were waiting was tantamount to desertion. Eating or drinking on the floor was grounds for corporal, if not capital, punishment.
With the clock ticking, and with preshow selling going on constantly, neither hunger, thirst nor low blood sugar could get us off that floor to the cafeteria. Rather stand outside the field house door in howling wind, pelting rain or blowing snow than make the trek to the lunch room or risk getting caught by Mike with food or drink on that floor. With a bloodhound’s nose, Mike could ferret out contraband from the other end of the show.
When setup was over, Mike was transformed from generalissimo to ambassador of good will, entertaining the long lines of waiting and eager early buyers with his New York stories, his sparkling wit and his gentlemanly charm. He loved those buyers just as he loved his dealers, because he understood that without both, there was no antiques business. It was never about Mike or Marilyn, or the power of the manager: it was only about great dealers with great merchandise doing great business, and all in record time, and for many years, four times a year. Personal likes and dislikes and show politics did not matter: Wilton was a meritocracy, strictly and cleanly run like some well-ordered outpost of Singapore.
Mike’s stories and jokes were always charming, always long, and (almost) always hilarious. He always seemed to time the punch line to my perching at the top of an 8-foot ladder rigging the heaviest object in my booth. He could out-talk anyone, even me. I will always savor the memory of Mike in conversation with another legend of our business, Paul Weld (whose booth was always across from mine): cultural and stylistic opposites, both titans of wisdom and humor, two sides of the same coin.
No one ever did show “facilities” the way Mike did: his authenticity and New York intensity were only matched by his great eye, ineffable and gruff charm and his consummate power as the ultimate kibbitzer. What you saw is what you got. Fools were not suffered gladly or at all. If Seinfeld had ever done an episode on the antiques business, Mike would have been its comic hero. But we do not need Jerry,
we knew and loved Mike.
South Hadley, Mass.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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