By BRIAN KRAPF
This month’s column is dedicated to the memory of Ronald Smith, one of the pioneering conservators of Churchilliana. Many readers may recall Ron as having a stall in the Portobello Road for many years. Sadly, Ron passed away in October 2017.
Ron was a pioneer collector of Churchilliana and began his collection during the war while a primary school student. He was inspired by an enthusiastic English Master, who analyzed Churchill’s speeches with his students and used them in class as oratorical exercises. For Ron, this curriculum was not a chore or burden but rather an inspiration for study that continued into adulthood. During a twenty-seven-year career with Midlands Bank, Ron continued to pursue his interest in Churchill and to collect items associated with the Great Man’s public service.
After retiring from the bank, Ron opened a stall in Camden Passage, where he sold Churchilliana and other bits of British history. In 2003, he published Churchill, Images of Greatness, which was one of the first books to document Churchilliana through the historical perspective of Churchill’s life and full career. Along with Douglas Hall’s pioneering work in this field of study, Ron’s book serves as an invaluable resource and should be in the library of any serious collector. When my wife Stacy and I honeymooned in London in 2003, Ron gifted us an inscribed copy, which I will always cherish.
After Camden Passage was consumed and gentrified by estate developers, Ron moved to a stall at the Admiral Vernon on Portobello Road. For me, it was always a thrill to visit Ron’s stall early on a Saturday morning to view the historical bits and bobs he had found between my trips to London. Over the years, I bought some wonderful items from Ron. Between London visits, Ron and I exchanged emails; he was always a go-to source for confirmation of an item’s historical significance or to verify authenticity if I had doubt. Having witnessed firsthand the wartime marketing of Churchilliana, he was always happy to share his knowledge and opinions.
I know that Ron’s passing puts him in a better place, but I still feel the loss of a good friend. I will miss the impulsive rush to visit his stall at Portobello. I will miss him saying, “I have something special for you” as he ruffled around under the counter looking for something tucked away and wrapped in newspaper. I will miss his gentility and kindness, two hallmarks of his generation that the current one may need to revisit. Sleep well, dear friend, in peace and comfort; know that you will be missed, but never forgotten.
Brian Krapf formerly served as President of the American Political Items Collectors.