Bernice Frances Margolet, who dealt in French and Asian antiques for nearly six decades, most of the time in her family-owned Howard Street business, died Saturday of heart disease at her Guilford home. She was 86.
Known variously as Bernice, Bern, Frances or Margo, she often wore a French-style beret that became her fashion signature.
"She had wonderful taste and a great, great eye," said P. Raab Christ hilf, director of fine art at Alex Cooper Auctioneers. "I bought from her; my grandmother bought from her."
Born in Philadelphia and raised in York, Pa., she moved to Baltimore in 1939 and began working shortly thereafter with her mother, Minerva Margolet, an antiques enthusiast who had a shop in the 800 block of N. Howard St.
"Antiques were not just a commercial commodity for Bernice," said Dr. Ben Swanson, a Baltimore dentist and a friend. "She collected them for herself and was always honing her own collection to higher and higher peaks of quality."
Miss Margolet made a specialty of French antiques and Chinese porcelain.
"She bought privately from the wealthy, well-established citizens of Baltimore," said her sister, Betty Louise Margolet. "She won the trust of these people, and they referred her to their friends."
After her mother's death in 1968, she inherited the business, later relocating it a few doors away. When she retired five years ago, she was selling at the Antique Center at Savage Mill.
"Bernice dealt honestly, honorably and kindly with everyone," said Dr. Swanson. "She was esteemed and respected."
Among her customers were Pauline Gore, the mother of former Vice President Al Gore, and William Henry and Frances Wilke Haussner, founders of Haussner's, a Highlandtown restaurant known for its display of art."Mother and Daddy bought tons and tons and tons of objects from her," said their daughter, Frances Haussner George. "She was such a sweet woman and was a class act."
Friends said she dressed formally. She never wore slacks - not even around the house - because she considered them to be mannish.
"She bought and wore what she thought was beautiful," her sister said. "She liked women to look like women, with feminine lines in clothing and hair style."
Her sister said she sought the finest footwear, including Manolo Blahnik, Valentino and Ferragamo shoes, which she bargain-shopped for, often at trips to C-Mart and other establishments.
She made a request to be buried in one of her favorite outfits, the work of designer Jacques Fath, who died in 1954.
Miss Margolet was a vegetarian. She carried a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in her purse and when eating at the Harbor Court, Linwood's, Oregon Grille or the Milton Inn, would order a plain baked potato, green salad and herb tea. She never ate desserts.
No services are planned. A visitation is planned from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
Other than her sister, Miss Margolet leaves no immediate survivors.