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An eccentric Helensville collector lets go of a lifetime of curios

John Perry with a picture from his collection of wedding photographs (its origins are unknown).

John Perry has spent a lifetime acquiring curios. Now he’s ready to lighten the load.

There hasn’t been a film shown at the Regent Cinema in Helensville for more than 20 years, but the deep blue, art deco building still stands proud at 14 Garfield St. It’s home to eccentric collector John Perry.

An art-and-antiques dealer, former high-school teacher, past director of Rotorua Museum, coffee maker and keen Gingernut dunker, Perry sells curios from a ramshackle shop called Global Village Antiques at the front of the building most weekends and public holidays from around 10am.

Chances are you’ll never have seen a collection quite like Perry’s. The foyer will only “give you a bit of a clue” as to how much he’s accumulated since he began collecting in childhood. Inside the cinema auditorium, narrow paths have been carefully forged to guide privileged visitors on a tour through “map land, movie land, gumdigger land, ethnographical land” and so on.

Perry’s impressive array of antiques, objects and art – much of it relating to social and human history, or folk art – cover many, many makeshift shelves and tables. It is literally packed to the rafters. “People ask, ‘How long have you been collecting?’ and my retort is ‘A couple of lifetimes’, because this all equals quite a lot of collecting, but very concentrated,” he says.

Now, at 75, Perry is keen to downsize and raise the money he needs to spend the rest of his days travelling. That’s where Bethanne Stent comes in. A visual merchandiser, she moved her young family to Helensville after being priced out of the housing market in central Auckland. She met Perry for the first time about a year ago in his shop.

Perry and Bethanne Stent, who’s helping Perry sort through and downsize his collection. The piece they’re holding is a gope board from Papua New Guinea.

It’s an unlikely friendship: a savvy 30-something and a slightly gruff septuagenarian. But once a week, over biscuits and cup-and-saucer coffee, they select and price items from Perry’s collection to sell on an Instagram page they’ve named The Regent Vault.

It’s working, too – the page now has more than 1000 followers and counting. Perry recently held a 200-lot auction through Art+Object, mostly of artworks. The sporadically open shop helps, too. “You might have seen up by my computer. ‘Less is a lesson’ – and that’s the mantra,” he says. “I need to get lighter. I want to shed all of this. Travelling recently has been, not an albatross, but something that has given me wings. My wish at the present time is to turn a lot of this back into money, because I’m 75 and I’ve only been overseas for seven-and-a-half months in my whole lifetime.” Perry suddenly turns romantic: “But then, in my mind I’ve been to Carolina… So I’ve travelled on a whole lot of other levels.”

Foraged treasures, including a tribal crucifix from Papua New Guinea.

While Perry and Stent have barely scratched the surface in terms of clearing the cinema, what the pair have found in one another is more than the transactional deal their relationship started as. The Regent Vault is a “passion project” for Stent, who gets to help Perry while also styling “real deal” items. For Perry, it’s gifted him a friend to share his life lessons with, and his passion for collecting. Always over Gingernuts, of course.

This article was first published in the January issue of North & South.

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