April 28, 2018

New Oral History Interview – David Fileman of Fileman Antiques

Thanks to Chris Coles, our Project Lead Volunteer, we have a new addition to our growing corpus of Oral History Interviews – we are now at number 38!  Our latest addition is an absolutely fascinating interview with David Fileman, a 3rd generation dealer of the specialist antique glass dealers Fileman Antiques, Steyning in Sussex.  We really appreciate Chris and David taking the time to record this interview and of course we are so grateful to the BADA for their invaluable support in enabling us to continue with the oral history research theme in the Antique Dealer research project.

The business of Fileman was established in Brighton in the late 19th century by Morris Fileman, an electrical engineer and sometime pawnbroker – Morris is perhaps most famous for work to electrify Brighton Pier in the early 20th century.  The business was continued by David’s father John Fileman (d.1962) after he returned from War service in World War I; John developed the business into one of the leading antique glass specialists in the UK, supplying well-known antique glass dealers such as Arthur Churchill, Cecil Davis and W.G.T. (Tommy)Burne.

John Fileman Antiques, Brighton, antique fair stand, c.1960s. Photograph copyright Fileman Antiques.

Our interview with David again illustrates the complex over-lapping practices in the history of the British Antique Trade, illustrated here in a business that started in electrical engineering, developing, through the evolving interests of members of the business, into a leading specialist antique dealer and one who supplied many of the world’s most important antique dealers, including Jeremy Ltd, Mallett, Partridge, and Hotspur, with antique glass, lighting and spectacular antique chandeliers – a tradition that continues today, as their recent stand at the LAPADA Fair (2016) demonstrates.

Fileman – stand at LAPADA Fair 2016. Photograph copyright Fileman Antiques.

We will update the Oral History pages on the Antique Dealer Research project website in the next few days – but thanks again to David and Chris for such a brilliant interview.

Mark

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March 30, 2018

Additions to the Phillips of Hitchin archives

A couple of weeks ago our Phillips of Hitchin archive had some very significant additions. Thanks to the support and generosity of Simon Phillips and Thomas Lange at Ronald Phillips antiques, London, who very kindly sent, via their driver and courier, a very large number of archive boxes full of photographs, glass-plate negatives and associated marketing ephemera that Jerome Phillips, of the antique dealer firm of Phillips of Hitchin, had deposited with them in London.

The new additions to the PoH archive include 15 large archive boxes of glass-plate negatives and 17 smaller archive boxes with similar contents.  Both sets of glass-plate negatives appear to date from the 1920s-1950s and comprise PoH images of stock, plus glass-plate negatives of photographs of some other well-known antique dealer firms, including Hotspur, Ronald Lee, Stuart & Turner, Mallett and Frank Partridge.  There are also some glass-plate negatives related to the antique furniture collector and author R.W. Symonds – perhaps for the publication of Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks (1940), which was republished in 1986 with an Introduction by Jerome Phillips.

Boxes of glass-plate negatives, part of the PoH archive. University of Leeds.

There is also one fascinating box of glass-plate negatives labelled ‘Arundel Paintings, 1912’ – which seems to relate to the famous Arundel Society (founded in 1849, for the dissemination of artworks via their reproductions).  As well as these extensive sets of glass-plate negatives there are also 49 blue plastic albums packed with photographs of the antique furniture stock of PoH (dating c.1920s-1970s) organised by object type – ‘chairs’, ‘desks’, ‘tables’ etc; and a box of loose photographs dating from the very beginnings of PoH c.1900.

 

PoH photograph albums. Phillips of Hitchin archives, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

The photographs in the albums clearly illustrate the exceptionally high quality of antique furniture that passed through the hands of PoH – as the examples of the ‘chairs’ album of photographs, and the ‘commodes’ album demonstrate.

PoH archive, ‘Commodes’ photo album. Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

 

PoH ‘Chairs’ photo album. Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Amongst the photograph albums are two albums dedicated to the PoH stands at the world-famous Grosvenor House Antiques Fair; with photos of the PoH stands from the early 1950s up to the 1970s.  The photographs illustrate the changing methods of display adopted by PoH over the period – it’s interesting to note that PoH had also, from the earliest days of the business, produced reproduction wallpapers and textiles, and the PoH stands at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair always appeared to have been decorated with PoH reproduction wallpapers.

Here is the Phillips of Hitchin stand at Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in 1951.

PoH stand at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, 1951. Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

PoH photo archive ‘ A rare old carved oak Vestry chair with marquetrie panel in back’, ‘circa 1650’. PoH archives, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Perhaps the most fascinating photographs in the archive are those dating from the very earliest days of the PoH business, when the antique shop was then run by the founder of the firm Frederick W. Phillips, the grandfather of Jerome Phillips who so generously donated his family business archive to Leeds University. These early photographs, dating from c.1900-1910 are dominated by examples of oak, walnut and mahogany furniture, which was so fashionable in the early 20th century.

The ‘rare old carved oak Vestry chair..’ shown here, is inscribed on the back of the photograph in a contemporary hand, ‘this we have reproduced’ – a further demonstration of the breath and depth of the business of F.W. Phillips (as it was then) in the period around 1900.  Indeed, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts on the antique dealer firm, F.W. Phillips was not only an ‘antique dealer’, but was also a complete home furnisher and interior decorator – he would also, if you so desired, build you an ‘ancient house’, (using recycled ancient materials) so fashionable in the period around the First World War.

Other interesting photographs in the recent additions to the PoH archive include this ‘carved mahogany settee, c.1760.’

PoH archives, ‘a carved mahogany settee, c.1760, upholstered in crimson damask’. Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

The back of the photograph has the inscription ‘carved mahogany settee…’ and also the price – ‘£95.0.0.’, which was quite a sum in c.1900.

We are so grateful to Simon Phillips of Ronald Phillips Antiques for so generously paying for the transport of this large corpus of PoH archive material – they are a great addition to the PoH archive we already have at the University of Leeds and the addition of the photographs will allow us to match up the stock books that we already have with these fascinating images of the enormous variety of antiques that PoH sold over more than 100 years.

Mark

 

 

March 1, 2018

Moss Harris & Sons – in the 1930s – antique shop images

Images of Antique Shops are something that the Antique Dealer Research Project has been collecting since the research project began in 2013; we now have more than 600 photographs of antique shops, interiors and exteriors, dating from c.1900, and illustrating the changing fashions for shop displays and marketing antiques over the last 100 years.  And thanks to John Hill, of the antique furniture dealers Jeremy Ltd., who very generously shared some early photographs of the antique dealers Moss Harris & Sons with us, we have some more fascinating images of this most important antique dealer firm.

John very kindly sent us these two photographs of the business of M.Harris & Sons.  Both appear to date from c.1935, when M.Harris opened an extra showroom at 61 St. James’s Street, London. Below is a photograph of the New Oxford Street shop of Moss Harris – it is fascinating to see how the shop had been remodelled, changing the old 1920s shop front (see further below) – certainly the shop front has a much subtler facade, and the late 19th century style advertising, a legacy of the firm of D.L. Isaacs, which Moss Harris took over in c.1918, has been much toned down; its also noticeable that the 1930s shop front has two Royal Warrants and a uniformed doorman.

Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1935. Photograph courtesy of John Hill, Jeremy Ltd.

Compare with the facade of M. Harris & Sons New Oxford Street shop in c.1920.

Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1920.

John also sent us a photograph of the Moss Harris & Sons’ delivery van, also dating from c.1935; another very smart thing and indicative of the high class antique dealer business that Moss Harris had become by the 1930s.

Moss Harris & Sons, delivery van, c.1935. Photograph courtesy of John Hill, Jeremy Ltd.

All of our corpus of photographs of antique dealer shops are currently being uploaded to the Antique Dealer Research Project Interactive Map – (see here – Antique Dealer Map).  Thanks again to John Hill for sharing his images of Moss Harris & Sons.

Mark

February 28, 2018

New Oral History Interview – Jackie Mann

We conducted our 36th Oral History Interview a couple of weeks ago – thanks again to the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) for their continued support in allowing us the ability to travel around the country to conduct these ‘BADA Voices’ oral history interviews. 

Our latest interview was with Jackie Mann, who formerly worked with the well-known antique dealer Maurice ‘Dick’ Turpin (1928-2005) – see previous blog post on the M. Turpin photograph archive, which arrived at the University a couple of months ago. We’ve yet to process the images for our interview with Jackie and will be adding the details of the interview to the Antique Dealers Project website next week, so keep you eye on antiquedealers.leeds.ac.uk  Jackie is now in her 80s and has a very considerable experience of the British antiques trade. As well as working with ‘Dick’ Turpin for many years at his premises in London at Queen’s Mews and at his shop in Bruton Street, Jackie began her career in the antiques trade with the antique dealer Harry Kenyon in Chester.  Jackie had some particularly vivid memories of working in the Kenyon family antique dealing business, which was initially begun by Harry’s father in Chester and was continued by his grandson, Gerald Kenyon, with an antique shop in Dublin.

Our interview with Jackie is a lively and fascinating series of reflections on over 50 years in the antique trade; and we’d thank to especially thank Jackie for taking the time to be one of our interviewees; and we’d also like to say thank you to Chris Jussel for introducing us to Jackie!

Mark

January 27, 2018

Antique Dealer Project Interactive Map Website

It’s been a while since we updated everyone on the continuing development of the Antique Dealer Project Interactive Map Website. The website, as we hope you will know, is being constantly updated with new dealerships, by our fantastic group of data input volunteers, and the project team of course – see www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk

There are now more than 4,100 dealers in the website, trading over the period 1900 to 2000 – and as you can see from the screen-shot below, there are a number of interesting clusters of dealerships emerging. The long ‘bar’ at the bottom of the screen-shot is the ‘slider bar’ that you can move backwards and forwards with the computer cursor on the actual website itself to change the parameters of the dates that the map illustrates – the picture below had been set at dates between 1900 and 2000 when the screen-shot was taken.

Antique Dealer Project Interactive Map Website – UK and European based dealers 1900-2000.

For the actual webpage click – www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk

Of course, the Map of Britain is still far from complete, and we need to add many more dealerships before we can start to analyse the data and begin to get a clearer picture of the changing geography of the British Antiques Trade over the course of 100 years…but there are some fascinating developments illustrated in the Map so far.

The Map website also allows you to focus in closer, to see how the antique dealerships are located at lower levels of the map – right down to street level. You can also take a look at the patterns of dealerships in particular locations at particular periods in the 20th century.  The screen-grab below, for example, shows the patterns of dealerships in the South of Britain in the period 1900 to 1940.

Antique Dealers Project Interactive Map Website. South of Britain 1900-1940.

For the actual webpage click – www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk

The map also has quite a lot of specific biographical data associated with various antique dealerships – these are also constantly updated as new data is added by the teams of volunteers.  Below is an example of a street-level section of the Map, focused on London with the date parameters of 1900-1935.  The red dot on the map is the location of the dealer Robert Partridge, in New Bond Street, with the information on the antique dealer R.W. Partridge opened up on the left side of the screen.

Antique Dealer Interactive Map – R.W Partridge data opened up.

For the actual webpage click – www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk and R.W. Partridge

The information in the Interactive Map on the 1,000s of antiques dealers already added, includes their various locations in the UK, and elsewhere if they had branches in other countries (such as the USA for example), and also includes images of the exteriors and interiors of the shops (if we have them) at various points in their history.

Here’s the screen-shot from the entry for Phillips of Hitchin, the well-known dealership that was established in 1884.

Antique Dealers Project Interactive Map. Phillips of Hitchin page.

For the actual webpage click www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk/Phillips of Hitchin

As you can see, above, the data on each dealership includes locations, trading names of the firm, people associated with the firm, various trade memberships, various ‘classifications’ (these are from the Trade Directories and etc) and also how the dealers described themselves (in their publicity) at various times.  Eventually we also hope to build the sections of the website that will track the objects bought and sold by the various dealers….but at present we are concentrating on filling the map with the locations of antique dealers over the 100 year period that the Map focuses on.

We hope that this brief overview of the on-going status of the Antique Dealer Project Interactive Map will encourage you to take a look at the Map website, and see what you can discover.  And do keep your eye on the developments!

Mark

December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

On behalf of everyone associated with the Antique Dealers Research Project we wish all of our blog readers and followers a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Carol Singers outside the Old Curiosity Shop, 1956. Image copyright Getty Images.

Merry Christmas

Mark

December 22, 2017

James Munro’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, Inverness c.1910

I recently acquired a rare copy of the auction sale catalogue of the collection of antiques of the antique dealer and antiquary James Munro – all part of the growing body of historic antique dealer ephemera we are building at the University of Leeds.  Munro traded from ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ in Castle Street, Inverness during the period c.1870 to the opening decade of the 20th century.  The catalogue dates from 1910 and includes a wide selection of antique objects that would have been of interest to collectors in the period.  Like many Scottish collectors, Munro appears to have had a particular interest in Scottish antiquarian objects and especially anything associated with the Jacobite Rebellion. Munro is listed in the Trade Directory for Inverness in 1899 as ‘Antiquarian’, at 3 North Church Place, Inverness – I’ve yet to find out when Munro died, but the sale is a posthumous auction, so he certainly died a short time before 1910.

Title page, ‘A Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Antiques…belonging to James Munro Esq. 1910. Private Collection.

The catalogue contains some fascinating photographs of the stock of objects that would have been on sale in Munro’s shop.  The collection amounts to 1,398 lots at the auction; although it seems this was not the full extent of the collections of Munro.  Indeed, the ‘Introductory Note’ to the catalogue, penned by the ‘auctioneer’ R. Noble, of ‘The White House’ Inverness (who also appears to have been working as a cabinetmaker – (or at least there is an R. Noble listed as ‘cabinetmaker’ at the White House in the 1909 Trade Directory for Inverness) states that a ‘Mr F. Maciver, of the Highland Bazaar, has pleasure in intimating that he has purchased the entire stock belonging to the estate of the late Mr James Munro and he is now issuing this catalogue of the articles to be sold by auction…..(and he) intends to dispose of the remainder by auction on a future date.’ I wonder if there is another catalogue of the other auction, if it took place?

There are some wonderfully interesting objects in the auction sale – lot 377a, for example – ‘AN OLD DIRK with ivory handle inlaid with gold.’ The catalogue states that this dirk was allegedly the same dirk that was used by Alexander Fraser, the ‘Young Master of Lovat (born 1677)’ to kill the piper at ‘the wedding at Teawig’ – a story that at the time had also been rehearsed in the recently published book, The Clan Fraser in Canada by Alex Fraser (1895). The dirk is a little hard to see in the photograph on the title page of the catalogue, but it’s the small dagger, just to the left of the rifle on the right hand side of the photograph (above).

The auction also included ‘A RARE OLD HIGHLAND TARGE, an excellent example of the XVII, Century…’ (lot 812 – and is the small, circular shield in the centre of the photograph of the title page of the auction catalogue – there is a very similar Targe in the National Museum of Scotland and we are checking to see if this might be related to that Targe?)

Munro’s collection must have been well-known in Scotland – he had earlier loaned a number of ‘Highland Curios’ and ‘Jacobite Relics’ from his collections to the Highland and Jacobite Exhibition, held at the Inverness Free Library and Science and Art Building in 1903 –  these two photographs of the displays at the 1903 exhibition are from the ‘Exhibitions Study Group‘ website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Highland and Jacobite Exhibition took place between 14th July and 20th September 1903 and was one of a number of similar exhibitions that took place throughout the 19th century and into the opening decades of the 20th century throughout Britain.

The auction sale of Munro’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ took place at the ‘Music Hall, Inverness’ on Wednesday 28th, Thursday 29th and Friday 30th September 1910, and as well as the famous collections of ‘Highland Curios and Jacobite Relics’ also included a wide range of objects that were symptomatic of an antique dealers’ stock at the time – here’s a photograph of a selection of ‘Old Furniture’ as it was described at the time, from the auction catalogue –

A Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Antiques…James Munro….1910. Private Collection.

The chairs appear to be a selection of 18th and mid 19th century examples, as well as some evidently of more recent date, supplemented by some antique mirrors and pole firescreens. The small corner chair in bottom left is especially interesting – it was described as ‘an Old Laburnum Corner Chair from Orkney, supposed to have belonged to the Bishop of Orkney’ (Lot 937).

Whether the chair actually had this illustrious provenance is, I guess, not really the point – as with many of these ‘relics’, it was the object’s role as ‘story teller’ that was central to their interest to collectors. As the commentary of Mr Noble suggests in the ‘Introductory Note’ to the catalogue – ‘Anyone visiting his Old Curiosity Shop in Castle Street and looking around could not help feeling as if transported back into the times of clan feuds, and even into Druidical and Pictish ages.’

Mark

November 25, 2017

Antique Dealers – ‘Treasures I Would Not Sell’

The complex social and cultural relationships between ‘dealers’ and ‘collectors’, and indeed the historical dimensions of these evolving identities, is a fascinating topic (and something I’ve been working on for the last few years). And I was recently reminded of this subject when I came across an intriguing little article on the dealer Moss Harris (Harris, as many readers of the blog will know, founded one of the world’s leading antique dealing businesses, M. Harris & Sons in c.1915, taking over the business of D.L. Isaacs); the history of Moss Harris & Sons is also partially sketched out in an earlier blog post (see the blog on the oral history interview with John Morris).

The article, published in The Bazaar, Saturday June 15th, 1929, was titled ‘Treasures I Would Not Sell’.  The article is no great piece of journalism – it seems to have been essentially an excuse to have a sneaky peek into the private collections of some high profile antique dealers.  Anyway, the article indicated that there were in fact 2 objects that Moss Harris ‘would not sell’. One was described as a ‘graceful Hepplewhite side-table’; the other was a ‘magnificent Chippendale armchair’. Harris was obviously so proud of the ‘Chippendale armchair’ that he appeared sitting in the very chair in an image published in the next issue of The Bazaar (22nd June 1929): The photograph of the picture of Harris is very grainy I’m afraid, but the quality of the original is rather poor…anyway, here is Moss Harris, cigar in hand, sitting proudly in his ‘Chippendale chair’:

Moss Harris, in his ‘Chippendale chair’. Image from ‘The Bazaar’ June 22nd 1929.

The article suggested that Harris did eventually sell the Hepplewhite side-table; as Harris stated;

‘I bought this (Hepplewhite side-table)…quite forty years ago from an old established London firm for much less than £100. It was one of those pieces that I was loth to part with.  In fact, I eventually sold it to a collector only on condition that if he ever parted with it he would sell it back to me….he fulfilled my request in a sense. For when he died ten years later he thoughtfully left it to me in his will.’

But the chair, it seems, was a different story; indeed, the article set me off to see if it was possible to identify the ‘Chippendale chair’ that Moss Harris would never sell, and to find out what happened to the chair – and, thanks to the help of my amazing colleagues at the V&A Museum in London (Kate Hay and Leela Meinteras) as well as the help of Lucy Wood and Sarah Medlam, we think we might have answered that particular question.

Anyway, the Chair – the 1929 article recounted Harris’ memory of the acquisition of the chair, as he states:

‘It was, in a way, a ‘holiday find’….I was touring the country some 300 miles from London before the War. (this would be World War I)  A fellow guest at my hotel recognised me, and knowing my interests, told me of some beautiful Chippendale chairs that he heard were for sale at a little place about 100 miles further on.  The next day accordingly saw me many miles away, and sure enough I found five exceptionally fine ‘Chippendales’.  Four of them I sold to a private museum, and the fifth – well you see it here.’

Tracking down the chair should be relatively easy.  The model is a very famous one – but it seems there are actually 6 of them (not 5 as Moss Harris stated in the 1929 article).  One was sold by Moss Harris to Lord Lever in 1915 and remains at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool – it was illustrated on the cover of Lucy Wood’s monumental study of ‘Upholstered Furniture’ published in 2008. 

A set of four of the chairs eventually made their way to Frank Partridge & Sons, the leading London antique dealers, trading in New Bond Street, and were exhibited together at their Summer Exhibition in 1949 – the current whereabouts of these four chairs is not known?

But it seems that Moss Harris did keep his word and never actually sold the final chair of the 6, the one that Moss Harris is actually sitting on in 1929.  The chair, so Moss Harris’ mentioned in the 1929 Bazaar article, was exhibited at the ‘Exhibition of Art Treasures (1928) organised by The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) at Grafton Galleries; probably item no.134 ‘A Chippendale stuffed-back easy chair, with carved mahogany scroll arms, carved frame and scroll legs, circa 1760’.  It was also still in his possession in 1937, when it was illustrated in the book, published by M. Harris & Sons, called ‘The English Chair’ (1937, republished 1947) – here is the chair; and the cover to book and the image of the chair.

 

The chair was eventually sold posthumously (Moss Harris died in 1941) at a Christie’s auction sale on November 9th 1944 (lot 114, where Harris is recorded as the owner in the Christie’s archives – and thanks again to Kate, Leela, Lucy and Sarah for this information) – the buyer was recorded as Sir S. Bairn(?). But it seems that the chair was acquired by that other famous antique dealer firm, Mallett & Sons sometime after 1944, and was sold by them to the collector Brigadier Clark, who gifted the chair to the V&A in 1956. And here is Moss Harris’ chair:

W.16-1956. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum, and copyright V&A Museum.

 

There’s still some ambiguity in the history of this set of ‘Chippendale chairs’ – it’s certain that Moss Harris retained the chair – it was, as I say, sold posthumously at Christie’s in 1944.  But there’s also some contradictions in the story that Moss Harris recalled about his acquisition of the chairs sometime ‘before the War’. Lucy Wood also tells us that the chair in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, the one sold to Lord Lever by Moss Harris in 1915 (when Harris was at that stage, working with the established dealer D.L. Isaacs), was, according to the records at Lady Lever Art Gallery, originally purchased by Harris at a Christie’s auction in London on 10th June 1915 – so not the ‘300+ miles away from London’ that Moss Harris recalled in the 1929 article.

But perhaps Moss Harris’ memory was unclear, or perhaps he spun a story for the reporter? Either way I’m pretty sure that the chair that now resides at the V&A Museum is indeed the ‘Treasure’ that Moss Harris ‘Would Not Sell’.  And in that sense it’s an amazing discovery.

Mark

 

October 29, 2017

The Social & Cultural Identity of the Antique Dealer

As many of the readers of the Antique Dealer research blog will know, one of the themes I have been investigating as part of the Antique Dealers Research Project has been the ways in which ‘antique dealers’ have been represented in historical visual and literary culture. As part of the research activities dominated by this theme I’ve been assembling books and ephemera associated with the construction of the identity of the antique dealer over recent years; and there are literally scores of books by/on antique dealers, and a wide range of fascinating ephemera – of which more in a later blog post perhaps?

But anyway, the representation of art dealers and agents for art, as well as dealers in antiques and curiosities, is something that I have been working on, off and on, for over 10 years.  And it’s clear, from my research, that a distinctive trope has emerged in relation to art and antique dealers. A key example from the 18th century would be the character of the art dealer called ‘Puff’ in the satirical play Taste (1752) by the writer Samuel Foote. This trope of the dealer as ‘problem’ takes on particular formation in 19th century culture. For example, the stylistic character of the dealers Remonencq and Magus in Honore de Balzac’s novel Cousin Pons (1847), or the personal qualities of the character of ‘Grandfather’ of Little Nell, in Charles Dicken’s Old Curiosity Shop (1840). There’s a lot more to say on these developments of course – but I thought readers of the blog might be interested to see a more recent, late 20th century example, of the continuing legacy of these highly significant identities.

One of my recent purchases (in a local charity shop no less) is this board game, produced by the Leeds based manufacturer Waddingtons in 1976, called ‘SWINDLE’.

 

‘Swindle’ board game, 1976, Waddingtons, Leeds.

The game is a fascinating example of the continuing trope of the antique dealer as ‘problem’.  As the tag line for the ‘Swindle’ game itself suggests ‘The great game of dubious antique dealing for 3 to 6 ‘swindlers’ 9 years and upwards’.

The publicity for the board game continues to rehearse this, now, very common trope. The players in the board game take on the role of a ‘dubious’ ‘antique dealer’ – and even the player pieces themselves reinforce the idea of the dealer as implicitly untrustworthy – the pieces are shaped as the moulded head of a, quite obviously, dubious character – (the chap looks like a ‘cad’!)

Player piece – the ‘Swindle’ board game, 1976.

The publicity information on how to play the game continues these implied, and explicit, suggestions about the role of antique dealers in contemporary culture.  Players are tasked with some quite revealing rhetorical questions  – ‘How convincingly can you pass off a Plaster of Paris bust as a genuine marble antique?’, it states; and ‘How good are you at picking the difference between a real Regency chest and a cheap chipboard swindle?’

‘Swindle’ board game, 1976.

‘A super-cool bluff are essentials for players in this action-packed game of dubious antique dealing’ -states the publicity on the cover of the board game.

These stereotypes and tropes are, as I suggest, something that emerges as a distinctive form in the 18th century, but becomes more embedded in the cultural consciousness in the 19th century – indeed, it is perhaps no coincidence that these notions settle into familiar patterns at the same moment that the conjunction of ‘art’ and ‘money’ develops as a discrete anxiety. But these speculations and observations are perhaps better left to a longer, deeper analysis, rather than attempting to deal with them here – it is interesting though, that a piece of ephemera, a now probably long forgotten board game from the 1970s, has such a fascinating genealogy, and that a popular board game can open up the prospect of deeper critical analysis of perhaps one of the most fascinating tropes in art and culture?

Mark

October 22, 2017

New Oral History Interview – John G. Morris

Our ‘Voices from the Trade’ oral history interviews continue to make progress, thanks again to the BADA for their generous support towards the Oral History project. 

Our most recent interview was with John G. Morris (and his wife Lorraine).  John established his own business, John G. Morris Limited, in Petworth, West Sussex, in March 1963, and will be very well known to many readers of the antique dealers blog. John was a specialist in antique English Furniture and his shop in Petworth was a regular feature in the country antique trade for more than 35 years, until his eventual retirement in 1996.

John G. Morris, photographed for the Voices from the Trade research theme, as part of the Antique Dealers Research project. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers Project, University of Leeds, 2017.

John is now 87 years of age, and as well as some fascinating reflections on his own antiques business, he also had some astonishingly vivid memories of the time he began his career in the antiques trade, starting with the world-famous antique dealers M. Harris & Sons on 4th November 1946. During this enthralling interview, peppered with delicious anecdotes of his time at Moss Harris, John recalled with amazing clarity the characters he encountered during an astonishing 70 years experience of the antique trade!

John started with Moss Harris & Sons, aged just 16 years of age – working in workshops at M. Harris, at 27 Little Russell Street, near the British Museum. The main showrooms for M. Harris were in New Oxford Street (shown below, in c.1921); John recalled a different shop front when he joined the firm in 1946 – and thinks that the shop front was changed sometime in the late 1930s, just before World War II.

M. Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, in 1921.

M. Harris were perhaps the leading antique furniture dealers in the world and when John joined the firm in 1946 they had been trading for 80 years.  The business had roots back to 1868, with the firm of D.L. Isaacs. Moss Harris, who made his first fortune as a dealer in horsehair, recycling this material back into the furniture trades for upholstery work, acquired the D.L. Isaacs business around the time of World War I and established M. Harris & Sons. They published a celebratory publication in their centenary year 1968. When John worked at the firm, he recalled that they still had more than 100 rooms filled with antique furniture.

John initially worked under the then office manager, Harold Dawson, and was tasked with booking in goods that constantly arrived in the yard behind the New Oxford Street shop – he remembered that in those days there was often so much stock that they had trouble getting it into the store rooms in time before closing the yard. John was paid £2.0.0 per week when he started, but obtained a pay rise of 5 shillings a week within a few months.

John’s memories of the business in the 1940s and 1950s will, I’m sure, be a rich resource for future scholars; he remembers, for example, one of the old retainers from the D.L. Isaacs business deal (there was an agreement, apparently, that a member of the Isaacs family was to be attached to the business until the last member of the family died out) – and John remembers ‘Old Ick’, resplendent in top hat, walking the floor of the M. Harris galleries. John also remembered the sad day when George Harris (one of two sons of Moss Harris) died suddenly of a heart attack; George was found dead in his Bugatti in Mecklenberg Square at 4am.  John recalls having to steer George’s Bugatti back into the yard at M. Harris as the police removed the car back to the shop. One of the lighter memories John recalled, was the time in 1947 when Sidney Harris (the other son of Moss Harris), was entertaining some important clients at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, but had inadvertently left the shop without his wallet.  John was immediately dispatched to the Grosvenor House Hotel with £100 in crisp £5 notes, and was allowed by Sidney to wander the stands at the Grosvenor House Fair during the afternoon – the first time that John had seen Grosvenor House, which was then the premier event in the antiques calendar.

M. Harris & Sons; one of the showrooms in 1948.

John also recalled that in 1946, when John joined the firm, business was booming, but after John did his National Service in 1948, and returned to M. Harris in the Spring of 1950, he remembered that the business had changed; George had died in 1947, and Sidney, his brother, also died in the late 1940s, leaving the firm with significant Death Duties to pay.

There are many other more amusing, and illuminating anecdotes of John’s time at Moss Harris – memories of visits by Queen Mary and the Princess Elizabeth in the early 1950s (Moss Harris were granted Appointment to Queen Mary as  ‘Dealers in Antique Furniture & Works of Art’), as well as many other well known personalities and V.I.P.s.

John’s memories of his own business, which he started, with his wife Lorraine, in 1963, were equally fascinating. He recalled the antiques scene in Petworth – which when he opened his shop in 1963, had just 4 antique businesses; 2 of which were cabinetmakers and antique dealers (Ron Denman and Mr Collingham)….

Lorraine Morris, wife of John Morris. Photograph 2017. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers project, University of Leeds.

…. and 2 antique dealers proper (Bill Boss, and Miss Streeter, of Streeter & Daughter). As the antique business boomed during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Petworth became home to at least 15 dealers, eventually becoming a key location for the trade.  During the interview John also recalled his memories of some of the ‘old characters’ of the antique trade, now long gone – people such as Sam Wolsey, Claude Partridge, J. Rochelle Thomas, and ‘Jippy’ Botibol (J. M. Botibol), as well as more recently departed dealers such as the legendary Dick’ Turpin.

Our interview with John makes an absolutely fascinating addition to our corpus of interviews with members of the antique trade, and like all of our interviews, will, once edited, be available on the project website in due course.

Mark

The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience

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East India Company at Home, 1757-1857

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