Excited at the prospect of finding novel
and unusual fixtures and furnishings for our new home extension, I headed off
to Gino Mattrassi’s mercatino dell’usato
(secondhand market), in Terontola. It’s a treasure trove of sorts and Gino is a
fountain of inspiration, with a mental archive of where everything is, within
his enormous, stuffed-to-the-brim warehouse.
Gino was born in 1957 in the original
Cortona hospital (long before it moved to la Fratta). He abounds with stories
of times past such as his parents’ honeymoon which entailed a 10 kilometre ox
and cart ride from Farneta to Borgonuovo.
In his late teens, he worked as a
veterinary assistant, with a renowned Cortona vet. He prepared exactly 4,756
dogs, of all breeds, for their tattoo registration before the days of ear
chips. He only got bitten once and that, by a tiny (and indignant) mutt.
His story of applying for a US visa, in
1976 - necessitating that he confirmed his political orientation - might raise
eyebrows today. Once it was issued, he flew from Fiumicino airport - in the
days when it was surrounded by sheep and goats - into Newark where there were
36 runaways, kilometres of corridors and endless sliding doors to connect to
onward flights. If not for the help of an Italian stewardess, Gino says his
friend and he would never have made their connecting flight, nor met up with
the charming American girls they had previously met in Cortona. They had a
great time, learnt an enormous amount, but the differences in their worlds, as
he says, couldn’t have been more apparent.
Gino began learning his trade at the early
age of 15 by making the legs of elegant epoca (period) tables. He
avoided military service due to his ‘occhio
stanco’ (lazy eye) instead, continuing to work and learn. He carved the little
flowers, in Fiorentino style, on furniture that were then painted by others. He
restored for artists such as Procetti, Giulio Stanganini, Fernando Salvatori
and Castellani, who displayed the furniture at Cortona’s first Fiera Antiquaria, in 1975.
The latter, Castellani, once gave him a
bedside table to restore. Cognizant that they usually have some hidden drawers,
Gino scrutinized it carefully and identified two that contained nothing of
interest. He called Castellani to collect the piece, who on looking further,
noticed that while most joints were fixed with nails, one had a screw. The
third hiding place contained four gold coins and a gold chain. Castellani was
exhilarated at his find. The only other discovery Gino ever made turned out to
be a pair of scissors that an upholsterer had left in a sofa.
It was Fernando Salvatori, who took Gino
under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade. He laughs at how most
people are reluctant to share their knowledge and cites a very Italian example,
of a father who won’t share, even with his own son, the place where he finds
his porcini mushrooms, preferring to take the secret to his grave. (One useful
piece of advice that Gino shared with me was how to age iron by leaving it in a
septic tank for a month).
Besides his warehouse in Terontola, Gino
also does the rounds of the local markets – such as Pissignano – and is closely
integrated into the antique/secondhand market network. He will empty houses on
request, negotiating a fee that depends on the re-sell value of its contents.
He enjoys working with foreigners because
they seem more familiar with the idea of a circular economy than most Italians.
Currently, he says, the nature of the items he trades in - due to the cost of
living crisis and the war in Ukraine - is changing.
These days, articles that find a market
tend to be primarily useful or ‘special’, beautiful or collectors’ items. Gone
are the days (thankfully) of gathering endless knick-knack
If you’re in need of something - anything
almost – from doors, kitchenware, pictures, mirrors, frames, furniture, old
bicycles, ladders, old gramophones, a Vespa, knick-knacks, to quite literally,
even the kitchen sink …. it’s well worth a visit to Gino’s and if you’re lucky
enough to find him (and can speak Italian), to have a chat.
How it works:
If you have something that needs a new home, Gino will firstly ascertain if it
has a market, and secondly, agree an asking price. The amount is shared 50/50
and should the object not sell immediately, the price will be reduced as the
months pass, to ensure constant turnover.
I strongly suggest you pay a visit!!!