I'd had all the usuall insults -- "No sir, this is an antique shop. We don't sell sewing machines -- or televisions"
Then I got half lucky. The owner of one shop actually listened to me and said that a lady had been in just a few days earlier with just such a machine. He described what could only have been a rare Britannia made in the 1870s and in the shape of a ship's anchor.
"Did you buy it", I asked.
"Oh, no," he replied" ... we're an antique shop...."
But he did give me a description of the lady. In her late seventies, wearing carpet slippers and wanting to sell the machine to help pay city taxes as her husband had died a few days before.
I now had a choice. I could continue the tour and get insulted even more of try to find the little old lady. I chose the later.
A quick look in Yellow Pages revealed five funeral homes in the area. Two of them refused to co-operate at all, two were happy to pass on addresses of likely widows who fitted the description and the fifth did the same after folding money changed hands.
I got lucky with the third address I hit. Right age, right area and widowed withing the right time span.
I called, explained my mission and was invited in. The sewing machine was there and looking good.
I bought it, paying far more than she had been asking and was till very pleased with my purchase. I explained that as well as collecting sewing machines, I dealt in all manner of antiques.
Now, every six months when the city takes are due, I get a post card from Martha. She shows me the tax bill , I look around and suggest what I can pay for various items to cover the demand.
The deal works great for both of us. I get to buy goods at a fair price -- and there's enough left in Martha's house to last her another 50 years. The moral here is clear. I could have ripped her off the first time I called. But then there would have been no post cards, no six monthly visits, no tea in front of the coal fire and no stories of Edwardian England when Martha was at her prime.
I know that one day the post cards will stop but it will take a lot longer to forget Martha, her worn carpet slippers, the mangy cat she loved and a unique friendship that stated with a search through the funeral homes of Liverpool.