Before ebay, I had long ago been a fan of Buy and Sell Free Ads, that tabloid size magazine full of classified ads, with long listings of services and products for sale, of the wide and wild variety. My toy collection for instance, was expanded by my purchases of vintage Batman figures, Fischer-Price toys, Mattel dolls and tin lunchboxes, all obtained from advertisers on this paper. One man’s junk, is another man’s joy, so they say, and my joy of the moment happens to be antique santos, a quest that has led me to all sorts of places, from Kamuning shops to cyberspace and to the pages of Buy and Sell Free Ads.
While 95 percent of the items are of no consequence to me, I do pay attention to the listings under “Antiques”, “Collection” and “Arts” every now and then. Two and a half weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Buy and Sell from a sidewalk stall and checked out the entries under “Antiques”. Lo and behold, almost lost among the ads selling Rolex and old coins was an ad announcing “4 foot processional santos for sale, P120,000”.
I learned never to be fazed by exorbitant price tags attached to items for sale; there is no such thing as fixed price especially if the item remains unseen and uninspected. A few years ago, a lifesize Agony in the Garden Cristo together with a Salome and a San Isidro Labrador were being sold as a lot for a six figure sum, but I successfully negotiated for the sale of the Cristo alone for a fraction of the desired price. I just wondered if my magic will work again for this pair.
Three days after, I received an e-mail from him with the attached pictures badly taken from a cellphone camera. But even then, the quality of carving was very much evident in the faces, as well as the encarna, moreso on the San Jose image. The only thing that worried me was the size; they did not look at all like 4-footers to me; they looked shorter. I delayed giving him a call for fear that I might sound too enthusiastic, and it was only the next day that I gave him a ring.
When he answered, the first thing I confirmed were sizes of the images—if they were indeed 4 feet tall. He said they were—but with the bases. It turned out that the images were 38 inches tall, with 10 inch bases. My minimum requirement for a processional image is that it should be at least 42 inches tall, without the base. But the Seller maintained that these are processional images, indeed and the holes on the bases prove that. My guess is that that these may have been oratorio or chapel images, meant to be placed on both sides of a major image. The holes may have been use to bolt the image to the niche. But whatever, I still found the images to be small for my taste.; However, I said that I would drop by to do an ocular check on a Sunday weekend, my only free time. I made sure my sigh was audible for him to hear when I hung up the phone.
So one recent Sunday, on my way back to Makati, I swung over to Pasig to meet the Seller. Thank God for my new driver who was familiar with the area; I don’t think I can locate the address on my own. We parked the car at McDonald’s in front of the Cathedral, and in a few minutes, the Seller came a-knocking at my car.
He looked pleasant enough, not the serial killer that I imagined him to be. He took me on a labyrinthine route that led to his place--a small, overcrowded apartment full of house parts, furniture and other indescribable stuff. In the garage was the half of a big arched carved door, an antique piano, a couple of rundown cabinets and stacks of newspapers and magazines. Inside the living room, I found the other half of the arched door leaning on one wall, a broken altar table before it. A platera with old bottles was next to the window partially covered with a stained glass divider. As it turned out, he related that the lot on which their ancestral house stood was brought by a fast-food chain, so now the contents of their home were crammed into this shoebox apartment.
When I turned to one corner, there were the santos, finally, atop another table overflowing with house décor and houseware. It was bedlam in here, but thank God, I did not have trouble focusing on inspecting the images before me. The images were dirty and in a state of disrepair, the bodies had peeling paints and the bases were missing some border trims. Sta. Maria’s hands had multiple broken fingers, but all the digits were intact. What was most important was that the heads were preserved, and what beautiful heads were they! They were genuine antiques, carved from light wood, with smooth pegs and flaking encarna indicating their age.
I felt that San Jose was the better image, as the carver had to carve more details like facial hair and beard. It bears its original dark encarna. The Sta. Maria had plumper cheeks, and in fact, looked bigger and heftier than San Jose. It looked like it had been painted over once, which would explain its fuller look. It still had details like pierced ears, which had on a pair of old rhinestone earrings.
I had actually devised a visual test for ascertaining the beauty of santos, and this is to view the heads at a quarter-turn. You not only see the profile, but you also get a better look at their expression, rather than when the santo faces you up front with a blank, pointed stare.
When I did that to the Sta. Maria head, she looked so sweet and amiable while the San Jose had the most perfect nose and chin! I was sold on this pair, but the challenge was how not to show my gung-ho enthusiasm. “I don’t know, “ I told the Seller, “they’re good pieces, but honestly, your price tag is too steep for such small pieces..”.
“What you’re saying is, you like them”, he surprised me by saying, “ except the price? Maybe if you could give me an offer, one that would make me and you happy. I really need the money to rehabilitate our Baguio property...” . I put in my offer, and at that point the Seller became jumpy. When a Seller behaves this way, believe me, it means that you are close to the price that is already acceptable to him. He said, “Oh, but if you could add a little more..”. And so I did.
We sealed the deal with a shake of hands. I paid him and I lugged the two dismantled santos to my car, together with their tattered wigs and replacement brass halos—my purchase of the year! The bodies went home to Pampanga, while I brought the heads with me to my Makati place for me to further ponder on. I can’t wait to have them restored; when repaired, repainted and dressed, they will look perfect in the altar of our Pampanga home. True, the best things in life may not be free, but some are on the FREE Ads of Buy and Sell.