Naval officer's duty in Scotland launched a royal collection

November 10, 1991|By Lynn Williams

Many a young military man has begun his career with a tour of duty abroad.

But for Bert Anderson, posted to the British Isles in the '60s, it was also the beginning of his second career.

Mr. Anderson, then a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was sent to Edzell, Scotland, a small, east coast town between Dundee and Aberdeen. When he returned to Maryland three years later, he had, besides a career plan, a burgeoning collection of British royal family memorabilia. The cream of this collection is being shown through Nov. 25 in the first floor showroom of his Frederick antiques shop, Antique Imports.

And all because of Queen Victoria.

"The first weekend I was in Scotland, several of us were at a small antique store," remembers Mr. Anderson. "I happened upon a bust of Queen Victoria, which was buried away in a back room. It looked interesting to me, and I dug it out. It was dated 1897."

Mr. Anderson immediately recognized the stern-faced queen, and was drawn to the fine workmanship of the porcelain bust by Copeland Spode; Victoria's elderly features were sensitively captured, and the intricacy of her lace shawl had been beautifully rendered.

"And the price was right," he adds. "It was two and six [2 shillings and sixpence], which in those days was 35 cents. So I bought it, and took it back to the bachelor officers' quarters with me.

"When I took it back to the base and started cleaning it up, everybody was laughing about me throwing away all this money on a piece of rubbish."

A bit of research revealed that the bust had been made to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, which celebrated the 60th year of her reign. The lieutenant, who had majored in history in college, began to shop in the antique stores and flea markets in his spare time, in search of anything having to do with a royal occasion. "It's a painless way to learn history," he says.

On his Scottish antiquing forays, Mr. Anderson noticed that many prime pieces of furniture in the shops he visited were marked "Sold," and bore the tag of a Funkstown antiques business. That was the trade for him, he decided. As an antique dealer, he would be able to make purchases on a large scale, and visit the United Kingdom frequently on buying trips.

So on his return to the States in 1967 he opened Antique Imports in Ellicott City; the business, which specializes in English, Scottish and Irish furniture and accessories from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, moved to the five-story Frederick building in 1973.

As for the royal commemoratives he picked up in Scotland, they went into storage at Antique Imports. Pieces purchased since then have been stored away, too.

However, the collection has now come out from under wraps. Mr. Anderson picked 107 prize items (the collection totals between 350 and 400 pieces), and his British-born showroom coordinator, Joyce Copeland, cataloged them and mounted a display called "Hail, Britannia."

The exhibition covers 144 years, from the 1837 coronation of the teen-age Queen Victoria to the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. The earliest piece in the show is a pretty blue and white Staffordshire pitcher, with a portrait of the young queen surrounded by such floral symbols of the monarchy as Scottish thistles and Tudor roses.

While the collector would love to get his hands on memorabilia relating to the Georgian reigns, pre-Victorian items are extremely rare.

"England industrialized in the early part of the 19th century," he -- explains. "With industrialization came the ability to mass-produce items. Before that, most things were handmade, one of a kind. There was not the means to mass-produce, and probably not the market."

And, he adds, the Georgian kings were not universally loved by their subjects.

"They were German, and in a couple of cases they didn't even speak English very well," he says. "They were involved in

scandals and

behavior that weren't very acceptable to people, so there wasn't the great reservoir of affection that came to surround Queen Victoria."

Victoria's popularity, and the unprecedented length of her reign, which extended from 1837 to 1901, means that there is an array of collectibles available, depicting her in a variety of roles: virginal young bride, sober middle-aged widow, beloved elderly empress. Mr. Anderson's Victoriana collection, grouped together in one case, is presided over by his first purchase, the porcelain bust.

Some of the Victorian items are unique works of art; a large and beautifully-glazed pitcher, depicting Victoria as "Queen and Empress," is signed by its artist, and is one of the most beautiful and valuable pieces in the collection. Other items were mass-produced, and were once inexpensive fripperies for the souvenir trade. One, a Diamond Jubilee plate with a portrait of the queen, features advertising on its reverse side.

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