The treasures of Gamze Ulusoy


by  Sibel Dorsan


No amount of functionality or minimalism can quench the urge to acquire rare objects imbued with the tastes, skills and dramas of past generations. Born collector Gamze Ulusoy is helping to keep the passion alive in an Ankara antique shop which makes her customers – or visitors - feel very much at home. She also offers some tangible advice.


The term “antiques” is generally used to designate works of art and other objects of historical value which are at least 100-150 years old. But it is not just age or history that qualifies an object for the epithet “antique”. At the same time, the item must be aesthetically pleasing, and reflect the crafts or tastes of a given era. It has to be well preserved, and capable of carrying out the same function which it performed in the past. And it should be sufficiently rare that it is possible to estimate the number of surviving examples.


The collection of such objects is almost as old as the history of human existence. It can be said to begin with the storage of treasure in temples. In the United Kingdom, where antiques are highly regarded not only for their aesthetic values but also for their historical importance, artefacts illustrating the history of the country have been collectors’ items ever since the 16th century. The museums containing the most renowned antique collections opened in London in 1857, in Vienna in 1863, in Paris in 1882 and in New York in 1897. In the twentieth century, the collection of antiques gained widespread popularity well beyond the confines of these cities. And if anybody thinks modern Ankara is an unlikely place for the pursuit of this passion, they have yet to visit Gamze Ulusoy’s Tahran Caddesi shop.


Early start


The interior looks not so much like a shop where antiques are sold, as like a house which happens to be full of them. Collecting runs in Ulusoy’s veins. Every time she went to the Citadel as a child, she would buy some object or other with her pocket money and add it to her modest collection. As a middle school student in the 1980s, she proposed to buy a series of four small Yalçýn Gökçebað paintings depicting the four seasons, which she came across at a joint exhibition at the Mi-Ge Gallery owned by her aunt. These were to adorn her bedroom. Her mother said ‘No’ to that. But her urge to accumulate went unabated. In time, it was to turn almost into an addiction.


“Most antiques can be collected,” Ulusoy told Diplomat, “But not all collectables are antiques.” She no longer searches for things to collect; instead, people come to her, inviting her into their homes to value their precious articles. Sometimes something valuable comes to light; as often as not, the objects she is called on to survey prove to be of little worth. While Ankara’s hidden treasures are limited, the most incredible artefacts can be found collecting dust in Istanbul homes, she says.


How to buy


Not everybody is willing to sell. When they are, it means more work. Although some painstaking and expensive operations such as upholstery and the transportation and restoration of furniture can be undertaken in Ankara, more specialised tasks like silver polishing can only be carried out in Istanbul.


According to Ulusoy, the best way to buy antiques is to handle them. In the case of porcelain, for example, the eye can be mistaken but the hand is never deceived: “Let your hands wander all over the surface of the vessel. Is there any fault? Any unevenness? Check the designs and the contours. Examine the trade mark or stamp. Discover what skills have been employed.”


The same advice holds true for furniture: it should be felt by hand to see if the surface is even or whether there are any splits in the wood. To check the colour or polish, she adds, the article should be studied in daylight. There is always a trade mark or stamp somewhere inside, and it should not be overlooked.


The right price


On Ulusoy’s shelves can be found more than 300 reference books and original manufacturer’s catalogues dealing with seals, trade marks, signatures, prices, periods, manufacturers, dates of manufacture and similar matters. These she uses to inform her customers about what they are buying. Among them, the 14-volume “Reference & Price Guide” by E. Benezit and Davenpist is a particularly important source.


Prices are determined with reference to the samples in the catalogues. They are affected not only by current conditions but by a wide range of factors including the rarity of the antique and whether or not it has a counterpart in any significant collection or museum. Ulusoy provides a certificate for the objects and furniture which she has sold. It is a kind of warranty for the characteristics and authenticity of the artefact in question.


Taking care


The maintenance of antiques requires great care. Porcelain and glass should be washed with white soap in a bowl lined with a towel, says Ulusoy, while contours can be cleaned with an old toothbrush. She suggests that furniture should initially be dusted with a dry cloth, then polished with the appropriate specialist products. A wet cloth should never be used.


Have today’s minimalist design trends reduced the attraction of antiques? Gamze Ulusoy will not hear of it. On the contrary, she believes that the proliferation of similar designs incites the yearning to be different - and hence to acquire things with a character of their own. The magnificence and romanticism of antique objects cannot be denied. “The idea of antiques is as old as human history. How can it simply disappear?”