Life’s Work: Joy Danker, antique silver dealer, Dublin
‘The soprano Maria Callas walked into the shop one day . . . and started to sing’
Joy Danker in her shop at the Royal Hibernian Way in Dublin: “My personal interest is in Irish Celtic revival silver”
‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh: ‘There is a peaceful essence flowing from this painting,’ says Joy Danker. Photograph: AP/Museum of Modern Art
Joy Danker owns Danker Antiques in the Royal Hibernian Way on Dawson Street in Dublin city centre. It is a leading specialist in antique Irish silver and sells a wide range of antique Irish and English silverware, including cutlery, potato rings, candlesticks and tableware. The shop also sells antique jewellery including art deco and art nouveau pendants, rings, earrings, brooches and bracelets, and is especially known for Irish Celtic revival jewellery and silver.
What’s your background?
I’m a Dubliner and have been in the business all my working life. I went to school in the Avoca & Kingstown in Blackrock, which has since closed, and started working in the shop straight after I left school. There is no such thing as down time. If you are in this business, you are always on the lookout and always researching. I love to travel, but even when I am away, in whatever country, I am always going to museums and looking in antiques shops.
I am a keen gardener and enjoy spending many hours in my garden. I also love walking and include that in my daily life. I enjoy spare time with my husband and, when possible, our grown-up children.
How and when did the business start?
My late uncle Hymie Danker opened the original shop on South Anne Street more than 80 years ago. From the beginning, the focus was on rare and unique silver and jewellery, and the shop quickly became a destination for collectors, investors and those seeking something special, which has endured to the present day.
Five years ago, the shop on South Anne Street closed, and we moved into new premises in the Royal Hibernian Way. We are often now visited by grandchildren of some of the original customers, which shows reputation and confidence have been passed down the generations. But we also are attracting a whole range of newer and younger customers, and the shop is also very popular with visitors from overseas, especially Americans, Canadians and Australians.
How did you get into the business?
I am “second generation” and have worked in the business for more than 35 years. As a child I was always fascinated by the treasure trove that surrounded me and can remember days after school when I would spend hours in the shop opening drawers and cabinets, asking questions, and in a short time I started to study the Irish silversmiths and their craftsmanship. While many of my friends played with toys, I was enthralled by all the unusual and different pieces of jewellery and particularly their diamonds and coloured stones, as well as the diverse hallmarks from great silversmiths.
Maria Callas, the renowned Greek-American soprano, walked into the shop one day and was looking at silver, which ceased to be of interest to us very quickly when she was asked to sing. All of a sudden she started to sing and the sound was incredible. People just stopped outside on the street to listen to her. What an experience that was. Other memorable clients have included Hollywood actors Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman when they were filming in Dublin. But of all the people that I’ve met through the business, nobody came close to Séamus Heaney.
What advice would you give collectors/investors?
You must buy what you like and follow your own personal taste. A knowledgeable antiques dealer and expert can be a great resource as you start to build a collection. An antiques collection from Danker Antiques can begin with an item as small as an antique silver teaspoon for less than €100. The market is changing all the time and our business has to adapt. Younger customers, who may not be keen on Georgian and Victorian silver and jewellery, like Celtic revival and art deco and also want objects such as cutlery and candlesticks that they can use, rather than just display on a sideboard. Items by Celtic revival Irish silversmiths of the late 19th and early 20th century including Edmond Johnson, Hopkins & Hopkins and West & Son are good buys.
What do you personally collect and why?
My personal interest is in Irish Celtic revival silver. This is an area of collecting that has not been extensively written about, and there’s still a lot of mystique about it.
What would you buy if money were no object?
I would love to be able to stock Paul de Lamerie, a wonderful 18th century London silversmith, and to offer customers a selection of his work. He was, arguably, the most important Huguenot silversmith and the finest worker in silver and gold that England has ever known. But his pieces, which are of museum quality, cost many, many thousands.
What’s your favourite work of art?
The Starry Night, an oil-on-canvas painting by the Dutch post-impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1899, it depicts the view from the window of his room at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There is a peaceful essence flowing from this painting. Perhaps the cool, dark colours and the fiery windows spark memories of our own warm childhood years filled with imagination of what exists in the night and dark starry skies.