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Prints Charming : The Gideon Gallery Is a Storehouse of Antique Etchings and Engravings

November 17, 1985|BEVIS HILLIER

Pamela Rubinstein trained as a Los Angeles Police Department officer. Today she sells old prints--etchings, engravings, mezzotints and aquatints--on Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood.

The gallery was opened in 1975 by her husband, Jerry Rubinstein, formerly a wholesaler of eyeglass frames and lenses. The couple had been collecting antique prints for years. "We stored them under beds and in closets and in boxes," Pamela Rubinstein recalls, "and then Jerry said, 'It's time to start a gallery.' " The original stock was 15,000 prints; now there are more than 125,000.

The Rubinsteins vacillated over a name for the gallery. "We left it till so late," Pamela says, "that eventually we had to have the name in for corporate papers by midnight on a certain day. I couldn't stop laughing at some of the silly names that came up. Jerry said I was giddy, and that led to the name 'Gideon Gallery.' The unfortunate result is that everybody thinks we sell Bibles."

In 1978, Jerry had back surgery and had to retire from the business, which Pamela now runs with the help of an assistant, Carol Shambra. "Our main clientele is not print collectors," Pamela says, "but rather the interior designers who cluster in the Melrose area." All the same, many of the prints are of museum quality. Originally, the gallery sold wholesale only, but now Rubinstein welcomes the general public too, and sells retail. Prices range from $25 to $2,500, so this is a good place to buy a home brightener or an out-of-the-ordinary Christmas present.

Because designers are her main customers, Rubinstein looks for decorative appeal in the prints. Many end up in restaurants and hospitals as well as in private homes. I asked: "What would designers choose for a hospital?"

"Botanicals," Rubinstein replied. "Something restful to take your mind off it all, not scenes of gory operations from the 18th Century--although we have those too."

Pamela Rubinstein had a varied career before becoming a dealer in antiquarian prints. She first trained as an ice skater. She also modeled furs in New York and for a time was a commercial cartoonist.

In 1971, the Rubinsteins had a son, Justin. He is now a straight-A student in the ninth grade at Van Nuys Junior High School. "He has his black belt in kung fu--in the san soo , the most militant of the martial arts," his mother says proudly. And he runs his own business, called Patch Hound International, dealing in British and American military patches.

It was through Justin, indirectly, that Pamela Rubinstein signed up for the police department. When he was 3, he had a sudden attack of croup. Rubinstein was alone with him in their Mulholland Drive house; Jerry was away on a buying trip. She whisked the child into her car and drove off at breakneck speed, but when she reached the bottom of the hill she found a police officer in his car. He scooped up the boy and raced him off to Encino Hospital. At a City Hall commendation ceremony for the officer, Ed Davis, then police chief, said to Rubinstein: "Rather than sit here and applaud, why don't you get involved in the department?" So she trained for the police department, with a view to serving in the public relations department.

But just before she was due to graduate, Jerry had his surgery and retired, and Pamela took over their business. She buys most of the prints privately. "I don't go to auctions because the pieces are usually overpriced, and then you get someone who wants something so desperately and they raise the price so high that you couldn't possibly sell it and make a profit."

In pricing the prints, "I don't go by the auction records. If I did that, nobody could afford anything in the shop. The only thing I go by is what I pay for things." She aims to make a reasonable profit and a quick turnover. She thinks that many of the prints are good investments. "I have dealers coming from England to buy back from me--at almost twice what I paid for them--things that they sold me years ago." Her customers have included Richard Chamberlain, Ed McMahon, Vikki Carr, Paul Anka, Bob Hope, who bought a collection of World War II posters, and Dolly Parton, who snapped up some costume prints.

Rubinstein has drawers full of prints depicting all the American states. If you come from Arkansas or Idaho or Texas, you are likely to find some familiar scenes with a tinge of nostalgia.

Gideon Gallery, at 8748 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90069, telephone (213) 657-4194, is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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