Finders Keepers: Tom Hurst, a young collector and self-proclaimed ‘dealer in ethnographic art, antiquities and interesting country house objects’, shares with Ros Byam Shaw the stories of two extraordinary finds.




In the world of dealing, collecting and decorating, Tom Hurst has already made a name for himself. Now 23, he started buying militaria at the age of six and graduated to tribal art in his teens when he commandeered his mother’s potting shed as a makeshift shop and ‘stole’ people who came for dinner with his parents (his father is the antique dealer, Edward Hurst). His fascinating stock can be seen online, in the flesh in Macintosh Antiques in Sherborne, or at The Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair where he will dazzle you with his knowledge and enthusiasm.


My Greatest Find: Early 19th-century Fijian priest’s oil dish


Tom's Greatest Find: Fijian priest’s oil dish, 19th century


“Not that long ago, a dealer who had an appointment to visit, and would certainly have bought things from me, had to cancel at the last minute because he had Covid, so I was at a bit of a loose end. But my dad was on a buying trip and said he could pass through Sherborne and take me along - and because I was slightly downcast, he said we could stop and look in every single antique shop.

"We were on our way out of a town in Devon when we spotted a bookshop that also had a sign for antiques outside. True to his word, Dad stopped. It was a bit gloomy inside but I could see something hanging on the wall that looked interesting. It was only £40 so I thought it couldn’t be real - but I also thought that even if it wasn’t real, it was cheap and quite nice, and I bought it.

"When we got back to the car I took it out of the bin bag it was wrapped in, and I could hardly believe it. It was an early 19th century Fijian priest’s oil dish - in original condition with a lovely dry colour. Just a really nice, authentic piece. They were used for coconut oil, which the priest would slather - or should I say anoint - himself with before ceremonies. So good to find one that hadn’t been polished and over-restored. I sold it to the dealer who missed coming to see me because he had Covid, and I would never have found it if he had been able to come.”

The Piece I'll Keep Forever: Maori nephrite kurus


Tom's 'keeper': Rare, Maori nephrite kurus, 18th-early 19th century


“The only things I collect to keep for myself are Maori nephrite kurus. They date from the 18th to early 19th century, and are hand-carved from this beautiful, translucent green stone which is a type of jade. The best have holes at the top created by hand with a bow-drill, making conical dents on either side which meet when the stone is fully pierced. High-status individuals wore them as earrings or sometimes pendants.

"I was given my first one five years ago as an apology, by a dealer who had messed me around by saying that a box was fresh to the market when in fact it had already been offered at auction. I found my next two in job lots of jewellery, and they were the only things in the lots that I wanted.

"They very rarely turn up, but I have now managed to gather six. They are wonderfully slim and tactile, and I like the fact that they are so portable - you can carry them round in your pocket. I know it’s an awful thing to say, but if I’m really honest, if someone turned up and offered me £1000 apiece, I have to admit I would probably downright flog them. But then I’m a dealer - I would sell pretty much anything for the right price. On the other hand, I would rather like to keep these...”

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