For the first interview in our Let’s talk… series, MeninMalta meets Gigi Zammit, affable owner of Gigi’s antiques and sporter of a most enviable beard. We chat about how he got started in his unique trade and about his first auction which will be held at Villa Madama on the 12th of June. This first-rate contemporary and fine arts auction boasts a selection of stunning pieces from an impressive set of artists, including Arturo di Modica, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon [check out gigisauctions.com to ogle at the pieces – we can’t get enough of them!]. We also talk tips for newbie collectors and he shares his beard-growing advice for novice beardsmen.
Dealing in antiques is, most definitely, not a conventional career choice. What inspired you to follow this path?
At the tender age of 12 I started watching TV shows related to antiques and collectables. I always liked to know the history of the items and their value. When I was 13 I started to attend auctions; I used to sit down and write the starting bid on the items, and what they sold for. Sometimes I used to buy lots of up to Lm20 from my pocket money. The next move was when, at 14 years old, I started helping an auctioneer organise his auctions – this was a big learning curve for me, and I would like to thank Mr Kenneth Vassallo at Vassallo Auctioneers for this opportunity. I enjoy this career as every day is something totally different and you never stop learning. Sourcing pieces that clients are seeking to add to their collection is a challenge which I love.
How did you get your own project started?
I spent 9 years helping out at the auction house. Then, after returning from four and a half months of travelling around India, I found a job which wasn’t for me. After a month in this job, my mother came home and informed me that there was a local collector’s shop for sale. At this point, I decided to take it on with the help of my parents. This was not an easy year because I kept the job I had, and was working part time at the shop. But it paid off.
What was the hardest part of it all?
The hardest part of my job is buying items at the right price while not offending the person who I am buying it from as, usually, the items would be sentimental to the family.
And the most rewarding?
Seeing people come into my shop and getting a lot of memories of when they were young; in fact, some people consider the shop as a memory lane.
What has your most exciting find been?
There have been many finds which I cannot disclose because they now belong to personal collections. But my personal best find was a watercolour by Richard England which forms part of my personal collection.
And the worst?
There have been plenty of buys on which I could barely break even, but that is part of the business.
What was the weirdest thing anybody has brought to you?
I would not call them weird, because different people have different taste. But I have sold used 1930s corsets, 1940s porn cinema posters and Maltese obituary cards.
Your quirky shop is a treasure trove that has not only sparked the interest of people who are interested in antiques, but has also been used as the backdrop for a number of shoots. How long has it taken you to get it all set up?
I have been running my current shop for a year and a half now. I like to use the shop as advertising rather than putting adverts in newspapers. I am a believer that, in Malta, the greatest form of advertising is word of mouth.
How would you describe Maltese people’s knowledge of and attitudes towards antiques?
Collectors have a great knowledge on their collections and are always willing to share information. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that sharing of information between clients is the way forward in Malta.
Is there a particular item/era which Maltese buyers are especially interested in?
At my shop, clients are mainly interested in advertising merchandise prior to the 1980s, including, adverts relating to local soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. I constantly try to get something which is a bit different to the norm – all other antiques shops tend to verge towards Victorian and Edwardian furniture. I, on the other hand, like to focus on Art Nouveau, Art Deco and retro pieces.
Are there any items that you would like to receive more of?
Adverts such as signs and posters, and mirrors are always a great find. Coming across more local artwork to add to my collection is always a bonus.
You have an auction coming up on the 12th June at Villa Madama. What are your favourite items on offer?
Just to give you an insight into this auction, this is a contemporary and fine arts auction with pieces coming from an Italian international art collector, as well as, a few local pieces. Here are some of the most interesting pieces. (For more information and to see all the lots, check out gigisauctions.com.)
What tips do you have for a novice collector?
My tip is to start out by buying small items while increasing your knowledge about collectables/antiques. Guide books on this topic are a very good source of information. Over time, you will buy better and bigger items, and your collection will grow.
Finally we have to ask you about your legendary beard. When did you decide to start growing your beard and what motivated you to start?
I started growing my beard in 2011 while traveling in India. I had always wanted to grow my beard but jobs in Malta tend to be strict with regard to beards – but it seems that employers are accepting beards now.
How long has it taken you to grow it out?
It normally takes about 3 months from clean shaven. I like to go clean shaven once in a while.
Any tips for the novice beard-grower?
Get a beard soap bar and beard oil. Also don’t listen to your friends when they tell you to shave!!