Prague’s Kubelíková St. is home to Nanoantik, a small antique shop packed with everything from Brussels ’58 design objects to funky lamps to African sculptures. It’s owned by Slovak-born Rado Turko, who does freelance graphic design in the back whenever the store is empty. When I stopped by recently, our conversation took in numerous aspects of the antiques business today. But I first asked Turko what items his customers were particularly interested in.
Do tastes in antiques change?
“Oh yes, it changes year by year. Some things that people hated let’s say 20 years ago – they were throwing them out and there were bins full of this stuff in Žižkov – are now rare, because most of them were broken or thrown out.”
I see for example these [funky, 70s-style] lights – my friend had two of those in his flat and he threw them away, probably 10 years ago. Now I think he wouldn’t just throw them in the street.
One thing I’m always curious about when I go to an antique shop is, where do you get all of these things?
“People come to sell, mostly old stuff or stuff left by their grandparents or parents when they die – they don’t know what to do all the stuff, a full flat of old things.
“So they sell in that way. Then I go to flea markets all around Europe and pick pieces just for me and my collection, or for the store.”
Do you visit the homes of people who have died to check what could be valuable?
“Not much. After the death, their relatives just come to sell me the stuff.”
You used to have books here I know – why did you stop selling books?
“I had a big collection of books related to visual art, but it was probably unsellable – a lot of photos of Prague, a lot of visual art related books.
“Some publishers, who come here as customers, told me that it’s the worst period for books ever these days.”
Do you get people trying to sell you all kinds of crazy things like, I don’t know, disgusting teddy bears?
“Yes, whatever. They sometimes come with disgusting porcelain stuff that has no value these days. Or they want to sell just what they’ve stolen in the next store.”
How do you know that somebody coming here to sell something actually owns it?
Do you get that a lot? Do you get, I don’t know, drug addicts coming in here trying to sell stolen things?
“Yes, at the start. Three years ago there were let’s say 10 junkies coming every day. But these days it’s much, much better.”
Do some people confuse your shop with a pawn shop, or zastavárna?
“Yes, sometimes that really happens. Especially if they are from a village and have never been in this kind of store, which is very usual in Prague.”
I remember in the 1990s a lot of antiques were being exported from the Czech Republic to the West and they’re seemed to not be any laws governing the export of valuable Czech antiques. Is that still happening today, do you know?
“But now Czech valuable art is cheaper in Germany than here in the Czech Republic. It’s really happening that Czech antiquities sellers are buying Czech stuff from outside – it is more valuable and has a higher price than outside the country.”
Maybe two years ago I read that some Czech church official was saying that in the last 20-something years, since the fall of communism, something like one million items have been stolen from Czech churches. Do you get people trying to sell you things that were previously in churches?
“Yeah. One time, let’s say one year ago, I suspected that something was from a nearby church and I sent them back to the church to bring it back. I told them that all the religious stuff is unsellable because antiquities sellers shouldn’t buy it.”
What was it that they tried to sell you?
Of all the hundreds of things that you have on sale here, what is the most valuable, do you know?
“All of them are on the same level of value, but some people will say that the most expensive are the most valuable and probably the most expensive thing here is African art which is very rare here in Europe.
“This [points to large wooden snake statue] is from the Baga tribe and is for a special kind of collector, the chosen ones.”
This is a kind of totem, is that what it is?
“This one, the snake, is a maturity fetish. Young boys have to produce one for themselves when they are… I don’t know when they become mature in African tribes.”
Roughly what would this cost if I was to try to buy it from you?
“This one costs 90,000 crowns.” Something else I’m interested in is the internet – how has it impacted the antiques business?
“When I came to the antiques business, which is three years ago, it had already changed a lot, because almost everybody has an internet connection at home.
“Most people don’t recognise that you need to have some kind of business with the objects they want to sell. They ask for the highest price possible and they keep asking for it, going from store to store.
“This has changed the business a lot and these days in Prague there is probably half the number of stores there was five years ago.”
Have you seen a fall-off in business because of the internet?
“I don’t think it’s just because of the internet. There are a lot of factors at play, including probably the economic crisis that started here in the Czech Republic. Tourism is not at the best level these days. Also not many flats are being bought these days.”
How important is location in the antiques business? You’re right beside Palác Akropolis here in Žižkov.
“I’m not in the best position for the antique business, but I’m in a good place for culture. I’m next door to Palác Akropolis. Good bands play there and sometimes celebrities, singers and artists, come in here.”
So bands are playing next door and they come in here on their break, after the sound check or whatever?
“Yes, that happens sometimes. They invite me to their concerts and sometimes I find new music that I didn’t know before.”
Can you give us any names?
“I don’t know. Probably my favourite band when I was young was The Young Gods from Switzerland and they were here one year ago, just to check out what’s in my store and we talked about music and records.”
Your shop has an unusually good website. Why is that?
You work here – as well as working in the shop…?
“Yes, actually the shop works as my office, because you couldn’t live from antiquities.”
So you have customers here but you’re sitting in the back working on your graphic designs on your computer?
“Yes. That’s my usual work. I have some graphic work here and there, sometimes medical visualisations, that’s what I do here. When customers are here, I look after them. But otherwise I have my computer and I’m working.”