Influential San Francisco Antiques Dealer, Jay Lewis Hoppe, dies at 78

Influential San Francisco antiques dealer, Jay Lewis Hoppe, died in early January at age 78 in Walnut Creek, Calif., of kidney failure.

A major conduit of the Bay Area’s European antiques supply during the late 20th century, Hoppe was known as a cantankerous, mischievous character, and a forceful negotiator.

Hoppe rented his first warehouse on Brannan Street in 1974. With one salesperson, two furniture handlers, and his wife, Mary, huddled in the unheated office to take care of the books. He was known for moving large containers of goods from Europe – both the valuable and the second-hand – quickly, and with artistry, then selling them with equal speed. For better or worse, discussion of provenance was not merely discouraged, it was grounds for being expelled from the building.

Hoppe did also exhibit a well-known softer side, one that earned him a following of dealers from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and beyond. He was willing to extend credit with no interest to those just starting out in the business, to itinerant auctioneers, and to interior designers. He was, though, ever a bear when it came to getting paid on time. His famous temper assured that not many clients crossed the line of his kindness.

Born 1929 in Far Rockaway, Queens, to an antiques dealer mother and engraver father, surrounded by an extended family of kosher butchers, he was by his own account a decisive and uncompromising youth, having left school soon after the ninth grade, because of differences with a teacher.

These qualities were to become the bedrock of his success as a businessperson. In 1951, at age 21, Hoppe boarded an ocean liner for Paris and met a group of Jewish antiques dealers there. Though Hoppe spoke no French, he had learned Yiddish at his knee of his grandmother. It was in this ancestral tongue that he negotiated and sold his first lot of goods for auction.
He is survived by his wife Mary, their daughter, Anne, and two granddaughters, Ariana and Amanda. A younger daughter, Sarah, died in 2003.