The collection of Mr Smiles, the King of Curios, comes up for auction in Auckland this week, representing a lifetime of one man’s eye for the unusual and a sense of fun.
Glenn MacDonald opened Mr Smiles, King of Curios at the top of Wellington’s Cuba St in 1975 to be something of a treasure hunt - selling movie posters, sci-fi magazines, tins, dolls, bottles, toys, badges and anything quirky, like nude lady porcelain figures, to capture people’s imagination.
Ever creative, MacDonald fitted the shop with a crazy maze mirror, a 1946 Wurlitzer jukebox he brought back from Canada, an early peep show machine showing “what the butler saw” and a larger-than-life-size plaster statue of Jesus Christ. For collectors and the curious, it was like a needle to a magnet.
MacDonald had a background in movies, with his first job as a dispatch clerk for 20th Century Fox films in Wellington. He worked as a projectionist for the NZ Film Censors Office. During the swinging sixties, he travelled to the United States and Canada, owning and operating a number of companies, including an avant-garde unisex beauty salon and clothes boutique.
He had a passion for collecting decorative advertising, whether it be tin containers or movie posters - and leased props to film production companies, photographers, theatres and advertising agencies.
Cordy’s director Andrew Grigg said when he visited the Wellington hilltop villa where MacDonald, aka Mr Smiles, lived with his partner Chitra Parbhu, there was hardly a glimpse of wallpaper, even the ceilings were theatrically decorated with a collection of something or other.
“It was like being transported into Aladdin’s cave, just so much crammed into the house and exquisitely displayed.
“When I moved to Wellington in 1987 I fondly remember visiting Mr Smiles. Glenn was a mine of knowledge and in a big city of colour he really stood out,” Grigg said.
MacDonald, who people started calling Mr Smiles, which originated from a cast iron money box that inspired the shop’s logo, was in business for 25 years. He passed away three years ago.
Grigg said it is always a privilege to bring to the market an exciting auction of fresh, collectables, antiques, unusual and quirky.
Most items are there to meet the market and being sold with little or no reserve, although there are a number of highly collectables pieces including an early Mickey Mouse money box, a large Clarice Cliff wall mask, a framed copy of The Panther comic issue No 36, a film poster of Tarzan and the Leopard Woman and some of New Zealand’s rarest and most sought after tobacco tins.
“This auction encompasses a life of collecting by one person who had his own eye for the unusual, there’s a sense of fun and humour running through the many collections, viewing these items tells you a lot about the man,” Grigg said.
MacDonald once said: “If I say that collecting should be fun, that’s because I believe it should be fun ... it’s as many different kinds of stimuli for as many different kinds of people.”
The auction will be held online at Cordy’s from March 9 to March 14.
A piece of the magic of Mr Smiles is on show in the window of his old shop at 288 Cuba St this month. The front window of the Kiwi Art House Gallery takes people back to Mr Smiles, King of Curios, and features a colourful poster that reads: “Friends Bring Good Times Each Time They Come to Call”.