LARCHMONT, N.Y. — Robert Bahssin, owner of Post Road Gallery in Larchmont, died May 27 after a swift battle with lung cancer that had spread to his liver.
Robert was born on May 23, 1928. His father was an antiques and curiosities dealer who ran shops in various locations in the Bronx and Yonkers. As a child Robert would accompany his father, carrying packages as they went on buying trips up and down Second Avenue, stopping off at various secondhand stores along the way between the Bronx and the Bowery.
At the outbreak of the Korean War, Robert entered the armed services, serving as a sergeant in the 224 Infantry Regiment. On leaving the service, he again went to work with his father buying and selling antiques. In the early 1950s, antiquing was becoming popular. The most common antiques route for customers leaving New York City was Route 1 north, taking it all the way to Route 7 in Connecticut and going north from there. Robert thought to move the family business to the Post Road in Larchmont, making his store one of the first stops for customers on the trip out of town. Due to his father’s failing health, Robert took over the business and named his shop Post Road Antiques. After 62 years his gallery is still on the same block in Larchmont.
In 1972 Robert was able to move the business to its current location in the adjacent building and renamed it Post Road Gallery. Over the years he dealt in an eclectic mix of quality Eighteenth–early Twentieth Century art and antiques. Post Road Gallery has sold art and objects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, National Museum of American Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), the High Museum and several other museums, institution and collectors.
Robert is survived by his wife Judith, sister Lucy, son David, who runs the business in Larchmont, daughter Jennifer, who sells antiques from Floral City, Fla., two grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. He is sorely missed.
My father Robert Bahssin (May 23, 1928–May 27, 2014) was an antique dealer. His father was an antique dealer. He went into the business with his dad when he got out of the Korean War. My dad loved his work. A family story goes, when I was little I asked my mom why dad worked seven days a week, and she replied, “Because he can’t work eight.” Every weekend was a flea market, antique show or auction. My parents met on a ski trip and we used to go on weekend ski trips to upstate New York or Vermont. On the way we would stop at every antique store we passed. I would almost always go in with him. I knew not to touch anything. Dad would always say we had to “make expenses.” I think that was something his father had said too. It was always fun when we found something good and occasionally he would give me confidence by buying something I had spotted.
When I was in my first years in elementary school, he had a small shop in Larchmont on the Boston Post Road, right next to where he eventually bought and built a bigger shop that would become Post Road Gallery. His first shop was called, Post Road Antiques. I remember going there after school, (it was only three blocks away) and seeing mesmerizing Tiffany Favrile glass vases. He later told me stories how he would buy these vases, line them up in their Manhattan apartment (early 1960s) and Lillian Nassau would come by, “knock” each one (point out a defect), and then buy them all! He said at one point she asked him to be partners. Tiffany was much more affordable then and in later years my dad did not handle so much, but before my time, a lot of great Tiffany did go through his hands, much of it now at the Chrysler Museum.
My dad had so many great friends in this business. People who stick out in my mind are Avis and Rocky Gardiner; Tony and Kenny Sposato; Beverly and Ray Sachs; Jimmy Ricau; Eddie Pawlin and Nick Bulzacchelli. My dad had immense respect for Stuart Feld and Alex Acevedo. His very close buddy Kenny Kramer and he pretty much built Post Road Gallery from the dirt floor up, themselves.
My dad amassed a superb art reference library, and always told me, “You’re only as smart as your books.” That was pre-Internet when we had to rely on art price books combined with old auction catalogs to look things up. He always let me buy whatever books I wanted when I worked at PRG and we used the library on a daily basis. He always knew just where to look things up. He had many obscure dictionaries, and exhibition records, in addition to periodicals, monographs, etcetera. He also had a lot of period books on art that we cross referenced on index cards.
When I moved to Florida, around the millennium, he helped me open an antique shop and started me out with inventory. He was always interested in what I was up to and never too busy to go to the store and look something up on my behalf, no matter how minor. I could always count on him to be thorough and look in the right places. He was always interested in the history of artists and items and placing them within their social and historical context, which kept each day exciting and stimulating. He believed whole-heartedly in restoration and told me that we are “only caretakers” and that restoration is one good thing that we can do as antique dealers for future generations.
His enthusiasm for things in the shop was contagious. He kept a stock of period frames in the basement. Often a big flea market, such as Brimfield, might not yield much, but at least he would find a frame or two for stock. When the time came and he needed the frame, it would make it all worth it. He was a master at matching the right frame to the right picture. He also got pretty lucky now and then and once found a pair of Union Porcelain Century vases at Brimfield. I also recall him finding a great Saint-Gaudens bronze relief sitting casually on the floor behind a table, on the second day of a Pier show in New York City.
Today is Wednesday and I just finished reading the “Bee” [Antiques and The Arts Weekly] I pulled out one ad to follow, but it is hard for me to muster much interest right now. When I worked at Post Road Gallery, this paper was integral to our work. The “Bee” came on Wednesday. My dad read it first. I sat to his left and he would pass the paper my way. I always liked the challenge of trying to catch something he missed, which was hard because he did not miss much! Once I spotted a good-sized, 1864, J.G. Brown, genre painting, “Crossing the Stream” that had been owned by a Vanderbilt (Cornelius I think) and passed down through their family. My brother and I drove up to the country and bought it at a tiny onsite auction. It was in its great original frame and untouched condition. I remember the day we brought it into the shop and the three of us stared at it in the downstairs office and my dad proclaimed it was the “best American genre painting” he had ever owned. I was so proud. He has always been my prime inspiration and motivation in this business, to find something great and make him proud.
In his last days, I had a line on a Christian Herter-designed Aesthetic Movement lantern. I had a budget in mind, but Dad told me to go a grand higher and that made the difference. My dad had guts and was a gambler. He had great instincts and was a good buyer. He took me on a few buying trips to Europe where we pounded the sidewalks from morning till night on a treasure hunt looking for things of American interest. A needle in a haystack. One morning we were to fly home to New York and my Dad was real sick with food poisoning but he was thinking about a small Joseph Henry Sharp Indian painting we had seen and “left” somewhere on our travels in Paris. Sick as he was, we went back to the shop and he bought the painting hours before our flight home. He was such a hard worker and a good father. He loved music, literature, the arts, traveling, family and life. Thank you to all who knew him and made his life richer.
We will miss you Dad.