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

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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

September 24, 2017

New Archive – M. Turpin Antiques

Thanks again to the generosity of our wide community of friends and supporters we have accepted the donation of the partial archive of the well-known antique furniture dealer M. Turpin.  Maurice ‘Dick’ Turpin (1928-2005) established his business in the early 1950s, initially in Old Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London, before gravitating towards the Mayfair area and settling in Bruton Street by the 1990s – a street which at that date was also the location of R.A. Lee & Sons, whose archive is also now part of the collection of Dealer archives at Leeds.  Indeed, the M. Turpin archive is a great addition to the growing number of antique dealer archives now at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds.

We have many people to thank for the M. Turpin archive coming to Leeds University – the archive has been very generously donated through the auspices of Bonhams Auctioneers (and special thanks to the help of the Bonhams team at Leeds Office, Jane Winfrey, Jackie Brown, and Simon Mitchell; and Alison Hayes in their London office). The initial donation to Leeds was facilitated by Sally Stratton and Guy Savill, whilst they were at Bomhams London office (and they are now heading up the new auction business The Pedestal). I understand, from Sally, and from our previous project Research Fellow, Elizabeth Jamieson, that the original donation was through Jackie Mann, Maurice’s partner – so there are quite a few people to thank for ensuring that this important archive is saved for future generations of researchers – thank you all!

The M. Turpin archive itself mainly consists of a large series of fascinating photographs of stock sold by the firm; there are literally 1000s of B/W and colour photographs. Unfortunately there are no stock book or business records, but that said, the material donated to us gives a fascinating insight into a major antique furniture business over the course of 30+ years of trading.  There are, for example, photographs of the stands that M. Turpin took at various antiques fairs in the period. Here’s a B/W photograph of the stand of M. Turpin at the Maastricht antique fair in 1979.

M. Turpin, Maastricht Antique Fair 1979. Photograph courtesy of the Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

And another photograph, this time in colour, of M. Turpin’s stand at the same fair in 1988 – a much larger stand, with many more objects, indicative of the success of the business no doubt.

M. Turpin, stand at Maastricht Antiques Fair, 1988. Photograph courtesy of the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Amongst the many wonderful and historically significant objects that passed through the firm of M. Turpin was this flamboyant Regency period polychrome penwork cabinet – probably well-known to many people.

Regency Penwork Cabinet – M. Turpin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. Original photograph copyright P.J. Gates, London.

The cabinet was purchased by Maurice Turpin in the 1980s, and seemed to have remained with him until it was sold at the auction sale by Christie’s of the M. Turpin Collection in 2006, after his death – (see Christie’s The Legend of Dick Turpin 9th & 14th March 2006), where it sold for £78,000.  This history is, of course, well known in many circles, but what is perhaps less well known, and revealed in some of the discrete sections in the M. Turpin archive, is the history of the restoration of the cabinet.  The Turpin archive contains a large number of restoration records for a wide range of objects that were either part of stock/collection of M. Turpin, as well as, it seems, records of restorations to many other objects belonging to collectors and dealers.  These make fascinating reading.  The penwork cabinet, for example, appears to have suffered minor damage to the cornice at some stage – here’s a photograph of the record in the archive.

Restoration Record – Penwork Cabinet: M. Turpin Archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections. Photograph copyright Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Restoration Record – Penwork Cabinet. M. Turpin Archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. Photograph copyright Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Other restoration records provide valuable insight into the processes of restoration and the changing taste and fashion for the presentation of antique objects – here, for example is the record of the cleaning and minor restoration to an early 18th century walnut stool.

Restoration Record – M. Turpin Archive. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. Photograph copyright Brotherton Library Special Collections.

It is a great pity that the actual business records and stock books for M. Turpin do not survive (unless someone knows where they are?), but this very extensive photographic archive, and the fascinating series of restoration records, will, I’m sure, be invaluable for future research into the history of the antique trade.  The M. Turpin archive will soon be catalogued and made available for research, so keep your eyes on the Brotherton Library Catalogue online.

Mark

 

August 29, 2017

New Oral History Interview – Michael Pick of Stair & Co.

Our Oral History Interviews with key members of the antique trade continues – thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of Chris Coles, our Lead Volunteer Researcher; and thanks again to the BADA, who so generously support these new ‘BADA Voices’ extensions to the Oral History research theme for the Antique Dealers project. 

Our new interview is with Michael Pick, who for many years worked at the well-known English Furniture dealers Stair & Company – Michael also worked at Frank Partridge & Co., so his experience at the top of the antique trade is very considerable indeed.

Michael Pick, in 1995, whilst at Stair & Co. Photograph courtesy of Michael Pick.

Catalogue of Stair & Andrew, c.1920s. Private collection.

Michael started his career in the antique trade in 1978, joining the firm of Stair & Co (established as Stair & Andrew in 1911) under the care and tutelage of Mary Holder, who had formerly worked for the dealership R.L. Harrington, which Stair & Co purchased in 1968. Michael stayed with Stair until 2000, when he joined Frank Partridge & Co., staying until 2006. For more information on Stair & Co., and Partridge & Sons, and many other dealers, please see our research project interactive website antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk

During this highly engaging interview Michael told us how he was introduced to the world of antiques by the well-known writer on collecting, Bevis Hillier (who was at the time at Connoisseur Magazine) before he eventually obtained a position with Stair & Co in 1978. Michael reflected on his time at Stair & Co., recalling the regular buying trips with Mary Holder around the other London dealers, in the Fulham Road and Kensington Church Street in the 1970s and 1980s. As Michael suggested during the interview, the importance of American collectors to many British antique businesses, not least Stair & Co., was a key theme. Stair had opened shops in Palm Beach and Williamsburg in the USA after WWII, expanding their American operations that had been established by Stair & Andrew in New York in 1911.  Michael highlighted how crucial the UK-USA market was to the Stair business, recalling that Alastair Stair came to London 2 or 3 times a year with his wife Phyllis, buying 300 or so pieces on each trip to feed the appetite for American collectors and decorators.

As many of the followers of the Antiques Dealer project will be aware, Stair & Co was bought by the music mogul and antique collector Jules Stein (1896-1981)  (owner of MCA, Music Corporation of America and film star agent), in 1952; the business was sold to the financier David Murdoch in 1981 after the death of Stein. Michael tells us that the Stair business shifted slightly with the acquisition by Murdoch, moving to a much more eclectic look, a mixture of old and new, that is now so fashionable.  Indeed it seems that David Murdoch preferred this look, exemplified, as Michael tells us, in the collections that Murdoch assembled at his home ‘Casa Encantada’ in Bel Air, Los Angeles. This was a property originally built in the 1930s for the Hylda Boldt Webber, before being bought by the hotelier Conrad Hilton (1887-1979) who sold the house to Murdoch in 1979, shortly before Murdoch bought the Stair & Co business.  And here’s a an early photograph of ‘Casa Encantada’ (taken in 1939), when it was then owned by Mrs Boldt Webber.

Casa Encanada, Bel Air, Los Angeles, in 1939, the home of Mrs Boldt Webber. Photograph copyright University of California.

Murdoch apparently purchased the Bel Air mansion fully furnished from Conrad Hilton, before selling the contents and refurnishing the property with, then, very fashionable ‘English Antiques’. These recollections from Michael certainly reinforce the historical significance of the transatlantic trade in antiques, not just in the opening decades of the 20th century (as many people will know), but also how these significant exchanges continued throughout the 20th century.

Our interview with Michael continued with his reflections on his move to Frank Partridge & Sons in 2001; Michael recalled that the most significant change was not so much in the quality of the objects that Stair & Co and Partridge sold, but more in the sheer scale of the operations – Michael tells us that Stair & Co had just 3 members of staff, whilst Partridge had as many as 32 members of staff when he joined the firm.

Partridge & Co., New Bond Street, London, c.2000.

There are many other fascinating observations on the history of the antique trade in our interview with Michael, from the changing taste in antiques, the presentation (and sales ticketing) of objects, to the increasing significance of Antique Fairs.

Like all of our other Oral History interviews with members of the antique trade, our interview with Michael will be available via the project websites, once our team have had a chance to edit the interview.  Our thanks go to Michael and Chris for all their help with the ‘Voices from the Trade’ oral history interviews project.

Mark

 

 

 

 

August 25, 2017

UGRLS Trip to the British Library

As part of my UGRLS project, I’ve been researching purchases made by Charlotte Shaw, the wife of George Bernard Shaw, which led me to take a research trip to the British Library in London. Through my work with the stock books held in the Brotherton Library Special Collections I came across a number of purchases made by a person named Shaw, thus the research trip was to corroborate these findings by locating these purchases in the diaries and chequebook stubs of Charlotte. I was aided greatly in this endeavour by Alice McEwan from Shaw’s Corner, a National Trust property I’ll be visiting shortly to gain a deeper insight into the Shaw’s.

I had neither been to the British Library before, nor undertaken a research trip before, so I found the two days I spent there greatly beneficial in developing my research skills and introducing me to one of the most valuable resources an historian can access. Perhaps the most striking thing I encountered upon my first visit was the King’s Library, which is impossible to miss and personally, I found it amazing that such a range of material is stored in one place. Especially when one considers the material stored within this, such as some of the earliest examples of the printing press and rare copies of the Bible. I have included some photographs I took on my visit below, which to me help to convey the size and scale of the British Library.

British Library Exterior

Photograph of the exterior of the British Library

King's Library

Photograph of the King’s Library within the British Library

 

Whilst the quantity of references Alice and I found was far less than we had anticipated, I still found the trip to be successful to myself in other ways. For example, through reading Charlotte’s diaries and chequebook stubs I gained a further insight into her tastes for interior decorating. This allowed me to remove the purchase of some pink carpet from my research on purchases made by a Shaw in the Phillips of Hitchin stock books, as it seemed highly unlikely this was bought by Charlotte. Furthermore, we discovered another item for me to research further through discovering a reference to chair covers. Within Shaw’s corner, there is a chair cover and several pieces of fabric in the Nonesuch pattern offered by Phillips (see photograph below), which led us to believe there is the possibility that these items of fabric were purchased from Phillips of Hitchin. This will require further research on my behalf, as I have encountered a reference to the sale of the Nonesuch pattern previously. There is also the possibility that the purchaser of said fabric was not noted down, making the task that Charlotte purchased this from Phillips slightly more difficult.

 

Nonsuch

Photograph of the Nonesuch pattern offered by Phillips of Hitchin.

 

I also found the fact that we failed to find more references in Charlotte’s documents to Phillips to be helpful, as it was the first time I have encountered this issue. Research can often lead to disappointment, when the documents you are looking for may no longer exist or you encounter evidence that mostly contradicts your theory, and so learning how to manage this and create new solutions is a valuable skill to learn. I also found it highly beneficial to learn how to utilise the British Library before I begin more in-depth research as part of my degree, and the insights I gained from Alice regarding post-graduate study were incredibly valuable. To that end, I am greatly looking forward to visiting Shaw’s Corner to learn more about both the items within the house and the Shaw’s themselves, as well as continuing my research in the Phillips of Hitchin archives to locate the sale of several items of furniture and the Nonesuch fabric.

 

Liv

 

 

 

 

July 27, 2017

Stair & Andrew material comes to the archive at Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds

Following the blog post highlighting the recent donation of the H.M. Lee and R.A. Lee archives (see previous blog post), we discovered that mixed in with the material that Georgina Gough so kindly donated to the University of Leeds was some material related to the well-known antique dealers Stair & Andrew.  Its not known how this material ended up in the Lee archive, perhaps one of the directors at Stair gave Ronald Lee the material when the firm of Stair & Co (as the business was then called) closed in the early 2000s?

Stair & Co album. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

The material is relatively small, comprising  just three albums of press cuttings, advertisements and some brochures, dating mainly for the period from the 1940s onwards; it includes a folder devoted to the firm of R.L. Harrington (formerly known as Christy’s of Kent), trading from 120 & 125 Mount Street, London, which Stair & Co acquired in 1968

Stair & Co album. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds,

The firm of Stair & Co were highly significant dealers, having been established in London as Stair & Andrew in 1911, before opening a branch in New York in 1914. The business was founded by Arthur Stair and Valentine Andrew, who met at the furniture makers Waring & Gillow, before working for the decorating department at Crawford Company, New York.

The actor-manager and collector Sir George Alexander and the furniture historian and collector  Percy Macquoid  were directors of the firm in the early days of the business; Arthur Stair bought Percy Macquoid’s ‘Yellow House’ in London in the 1920s, retaining some of Macquoid’s furniture collection. Alastair Stair (1913-1993), the son of Arthur Stair, joined the firm in 1935. They traded as Stair & Co after WWII, and was 50% owned by the collector Jules C. Stein (of Music Corporation of America) from 1952. David Murdock, the Los Angeles financier, bought the firm in 1981.

The Stair & Co material will, eventually, be supplemented by some other Stair & Andrew material already promised to the archive – see an early blog post on the antique dealer blog (post July 2014) – here’s an image of one of the two scrapbook albums promised to the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Stair & Andrew album, c.1915. Private Collection.

This small collection of Stair & Co material will soon be available for research in the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Mark

July 26, 2017

More new archives! H.M. Lee & R.A. Lee archives arrive at University – and an object biography

Our corpus of antique dealer archives continues to expand – this week we accepted delivery of the archive of the world famous antique dealers Henry Morton Lee and Ronald A. Lee, generously donated to the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds by Georgina Gough, the daughter of Ronald Lee. The archive (shown below before deposit in the Special Collections) comprises a selection of stock books, sales ledgers, press cuttings and photographs of stock, together with what appears to be a complete run of stock cards, dating from the 1920s to the 1990s.

H.M. Lee and R.A. Lee archive. Brotherton Library Special Collections.

The Lee family antique dealing business began in Kingston on Thames just after WWI (Henry Morton Lee began as a hairdresser in London, counting King Edward VII as a customer); Ronald Lee joined his father in the business in 1931 before eventually setting up on his own in 1949 – the business closed in the 1990s.

During the 1920s and 1930s Henry Lee sold a vast array of objects to many of the most important dealers of the day, including Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), the son of Joseph Joel Duveen of the world-renowned Duveen dynasty of dealers – here’s just one page of sales to Duveen, in 1927 – Henry sold him, amongst other things, ‘a Double Dome Walnut Bureau Bookcase..£161.0.0’ and a ‘Walnut armchair £55.0.0.’ –  very fashionable, and very expensive, objects in the 1920s and 1930s.

Lee Archive, sales ledger – entry for Duveen, 1927. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Ronald Lee, like his father Henry, was a highly successful dealer, and was also an expert on clocks – especially the clockmaker Joseph Knibb and family (Ronald wrote the biography of the Knibb family of clockmakers in 1965 – still a key work on the subject).  Ronald sold an astonishingly wide range of objects, to collectors and museums all over the world – a key driver for Lee appears to have been the historical significance of objects (as well as their beauty of course);  he was clearly an antiquarian dealer, demonstrated by the historical importance of many of the objects he sold –

The Savernake Horn for example – sold (in partnership with the well-known silver dealer S.J. Phillips) to the British Museum in 1975.

The Savernake Horn, 1100-99 with 14th century mounts. Image copyright The British Museum.

And the so-called ‘Katherine Parr Pott’, (see below) sold to the Museum of London in 1967 – this glass tankard, with silver mounts dated 1546-47, emblazoned with the arms of Sir William Parr, was bought by Ronald Lee from Sudeley Castle – the glass body is now believed to be an 18th or 19th century replacement. The tankard has an illustrious history, having been acquired by the collector Horace Walpole in 1758 (cost £2.19.0) and sold at the dispersal of the Collections at Strawberry Hill (Walople’s house) in 1842 and bought by John Dent for £3.13.6 – the Dent-Brocklehurst family, at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, sold the Parr Pot to Ronald Lee in 1967, before Lee sold the tankard to the Museum of London for £18,214.00 in the same year.  The tankard was subject to an Export Stop because of its historical significance; according to the archive it seems that Lee had initially and successfully negotiated a sale to the Boston Museum of Fine Art in the USA, but funds were raised through the British Government, The Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust and the Goldsmiths Company to save the tankard for the Nation.

The Parr Pot. Image copyright, The Museum of London.

The ‘Parr Pot’ is just one of a wide range of fascinating stories about the acquisitions made by Ronald Lee in the Lee archive…there are far too many to recount in a short blog post, but it is worth retelling the story of the acquisition, and subsequent sale, of one of the most interesting objects that Ronald Lee sold – the story demonstrates the significance of ‘Object Biographies’ in the conceptualization (and reconceptualization) of objects – it is also a story that re-embeds the significance of the narrative of the personal into these now very public objects.

Anyway, in 1966 Ronald Lee negotiated the sale of what was then considered to be an exceptionally rare 13th century Limoges enamel Ciborium to the (then) Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museum of Scotland).

Ciborium, in the 13th century style – probably 19th century. Photograph copyright National Museum of Scotland.

Lee spotted the bowl of the Ciborium, then lacking it’s foot at an auction sale at Sotheby’s in April 1965.

Ciborium Bowl, lacking foot – photograph copyright Sotheby’s 1965.

He had, a few years earlier, again it seems at a Sotheby’s auction, acquired the stem/foot from a similarly dated object, and which (so Georgina Gough, Ronald Lee’s daughter tells us) Ronald had given to his wife as a little present –

Ciborium Foot; Photograph, Lee Archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Seeing the bowl at Sotheby’s presented the opportunity of reuniting the foot and bowl and Ronald Lee had to do the right thing  – (it must be a common practice in all antique dealer families that objects are inherently unstable….and always subject to potential future sale…). The story was reported in the Press at the time, recounting the breathless moment when the foot and bowl fitted together as one – rather like the story of Cinderella and the glass slipper!

But anyway, Lee offered the Ciborium, now with its foot, to the Royal Scottish Museum in 1966, and the then Keeper of Art, Cyril Aldred, approved the acquisition and the object entered the collections in Edinburgh.  The Ciborium was lauded as a major acquisition, it was one of the most expensive objects ever acquired by sale by the museum at that time – costing £8,500 – an enormous sum in 1965.  It was related to the Master Alpais, the creator of the 13th century Ciborium in the collections of the Louvre Museum in Paris, and to a similiar Ciborium in the collections at the British Museum in London; the world renowned scholar and curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, John F. Hayward considered these comparisons and the significance of the Ciborium in an extensive article ‘A Newly discovered Limoges ciborium’ in Connoisseur (vol CLIX, pp.240-1). So consensus at the time, from leading experts, curators, and one of the leading antique dealers, was that the Ciborium was of the 13th century, and possibly associated with the workshop of the Master Alpais.

But authenticity is also an unstable concept – indeed, if we can borrow, and slightly amend, a phrase from Georg Simmel (1858-1918), the philosopher and critic, and founder of the discipline of anthropology, (he writes that ‘value is not a property of objects, but a judgement by a subject’), then perhaps we can say that authenticity is also not a property of an object, but a judgement by a subject –  Time, and, more importantly, new knowledge structures have repositioned the Ciborium, and it now considered to be a 19th century copy – for a full, and excellent account of the art historical and scientific analysis of the Ciborium at NMS and a comparison with that at the British Museum  see ‘The Heritage of ‘Maitre Alpais’ edited by Susan La Niece, Stefan Rohrs and Bet McLeod, (British Museum Press, 2010).

There is no moral to this story as such – I hesitate to rehearse the notion ‘caveat emptor!’, especially as I am writing about antique dealers, and I’m conscious that to rehearse this story is also to further embed the trope of the dealer as ‘problematic’ in the cultural consciousness – but it remains a fascinating story about an object, and how its meaning, and significance, is reframed as it moves between discrete, but intimately interconnected realms.  As this story recounts, the meaning of the Ciborium shifted as it moved between the realms of objects of commerce and economic value to those of heritage and museums, but, crucially, it retained its commodity status, and its status shifted again as new approaches and methods established, (indeed constituted) the authenticity of the object.

But for me, being an old Romantic, the enduring story about the Ciborium is the very human story of Georgina’s recalling that the foot of the Ciborium was a present (albeit temporary) for Mrs Lee.

All the while these objects acquire significant status in museums, they remain as catalysts for innumerable personally situated memories, of the private, intimate relationships we have with things.

Mark

July 2, 2017

New Phillips of Hitchin archive material – recording a trip to New York in c.1920 by Amyas Phillips

Thanks to Jerome Phillips, of Phillips of Hitchin Antiques, we have some new additions to the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections.  Jerome found a few more boxes of archive material and files of business records during a recent clear-up at Manor House in Hitchin – it was quite a bit of material actually….as this stack of lever-arch files suggests!..

New PoH archive material, ready to catalogue!

The new material comprises 21 lever-arch files of business records, a folder with new information on the restoration to the historic clock at Durham Cathedral (a project undertaken by Phillips of Hitchin in 1936), and  boxes of photographs and associated ephemera;  we’d like to thank Jerome Phillips again for these very generous donations to the PoH archives held at the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Whilst making an initial assessment of the material we came across a little notebook, detailing, it seems, a trip to New York in the period around 1920.

Phillips of Hitchin archive, notebook, c.1920; with teaspoon for scale. Photograph, Antique Dealer Project, University of Leeds 2017.

The notebook is a small pocket-size booklet, measuring just 5 inches (125mm) long by 3.5 inches (90mm) wide, and is packed with notes about meetings with individuals, aide memoires, and some beautiful little drawings on things that the person who composed the notebook had seen in New York.  It provides a fascinating insight into the activities of an antique dealer in the opening decades of the 20th century.

Page of drawings of details of antique furniture. PoH notebook, c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Page of a drawing of a carved figure?, with annotations on colours. PoH archive notebook, c.1920 uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds, 2017.

 

The notebook appears to date from c.1920 (it is undated) and (so Jerome informs us) would have been composed by Aymas Phillips (Jerome’s father) who joined the business in 1910.  Amyas’s brother, Hugh Phillips took over the business of Phillips of Hitchin following the death of his father Frederick W. Phillips in 1910; F.W. Phillips was the founder the firm in 1884; Hugh Phillips retired in 1935.

Amyas would have been very young man in 1910, and was called back from his studies at Oxford to help run the business following the death of his father. Hugh must have had great confidence in the young Amyas in sending him to New York, given that notebook mentions meetings with some very well connected individuals.

The notebook itself is a commercially produced ‘Sketch Book’, ‘Series 30’, by the art materials suppliers Windsor & Newton, and cost 1/- (one shilling). Each page remaining in the notebook (there were originally 24 pages, with 22 surviving in whole or part) has annotations and/or drawings, with details of ‘Travelling Expenses’, a hand written list of dollar/pound currency exchange rates, and various notes on places to visit, people to see and things purchased etc.

The notebook begins with a note suggesting that Amyas was to begin his travels to New York on the ‘Aquitania’, on ‘4th Dec.’ – ‘sails 1pm, Embark 12 noon’; with another note mentioning that a ‘special train leaves Waterloo 10.10am’ – it seems that Amyas had also reserved a First Class, Smoking, train cabin.

PoH Archives, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017

The opening page gives us a first clue to the earliest date for the notebook; the famous ocean liner Aquitania had a maiden voyage to New York on 30th May 1914, making only 3 further round trips before being requisitioned in Spring 1915, during the early stages of World War I.  Aquitania returned to service as a passenger liner in June 1919, and this, together with several other clues in the notebook point towards a date of c.1920 for the annotations.  One further clue to its date is that Amyas notes a visit to The American Art Association at 6 East 23rd Street;  the AAA was established in 1884 as an art gallery and auction house at the address given in the notebook, moving to the corner of Madison & 56th Street in 1922. Amyas also notes that he would be returning to England on either the Baltic (launched 1904) or the Olympic (maiden voyage 1911) – so he was travelling in some style!

The page illustrated above also indicates that Amyas stayed at the Hotel McAlpin in New York (in a room costing 3 Dollars, ‘without bathroom attached’) – the McAlpin was at the time the largest hotel in the world, having been completed in 1912 and designed by the architect F. Mills Andrews (1867-1948). Other well-known venues are mentioned in the annotations – The Belasco Theatre (opened in 1907 as the Stuyvesant Theatre, and renamed the Belasco in 1910) and the famous bookstore Brentano’s (opened in New York in 1853); and various museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Union Museum (as it was called then…now known at the Cooper Hewitt Museum (renamed in 1968).

Amongst the most fascinating pages is this page detailing a visit to Paul Revere’s House in Boston, (which had opened as a museum in 1908 and remains one of the earliest Historic House Museums in the USA).

PoH Archive, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017.

The annotation reads – ‘Colonial Wallpaper from Paul Revere’s house, Boston. Inset – old London churches by Wren. Repeat about 3ft high.’ The note is perhaps suggesting that the design would be a good model for the reproduction of a wallpaper (or a fabric?), which was something that the firm of Phillips of Hitchin were well-known for in the period; they were, in effect, Interior Decorators, as well as antique dealers, as were many other antique dealer firms in the period (see earlier blog posts on Thornton for example).  The annotation also demonstrates the keen and attentive eye of Amyas; the drawing is, as one might expect, an accurate illustration of the view encountered by the compiler of the notebook at Paul Revere’s House – here’s a colour postcard from c.1909 of the interior of the house captured in the drawing in the notebook.

Postcard, 1909, ‘Paul Revere’s House’. Wikicommons.

Jerome tells us that he remembers when he was young that his father’s house in Bedfordshire had replica wallpaper based on the wallpaper at Paul Revere’s House!

Other pages in the notebook record meetings, or potential meetings, with several antique dealers, including ‘Stair & Andrew’ (the business was established in London in 1911, and opened a branch in New York by 1914); Vernay (established in New York in 1906, and at the address recorded in the notebook (10 East 45th Street) by 1914); and the interior decorators and antique dealers’ Lenygons.

There are also several annotations recording meetings with some very well-connected individuals – Amyas jots down a lunch meeting with ‘Mrs Hazel Goepper’ of 859 7th Avenue, on ‘Thurs 6th at 12.30’, and other pages have names of other New York socialites – ‘Mrs Lionel Stahl’ for example.

One annotation records a note about ‘Mrs A Van R. Barnewall’ of ‘3 East 47th Street’ (see below).

PoH Archive, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017.

The note reads – ‘Mrs A  Van R. Barnewall 3 East 47th St. (came to Hitchin with the Days) best flow(?) shop (hasn’t been to Europe 15 years) Specialist French and (?) furniture…’. Mrs Barnewall was a well-known interior decorator in the period; she wrote an essay on ‘A Modern Bathroom’ published by House & Garden ‘Book of Interiors’ in 1920. Given the kind of business operated by Frederick Phillips and his sons Hugh and Amyas in the early decades of the 20th century it’s perhaps not surprising that they are making contact with leading American interior decorators at the time. We have yet to discover who the ‘Days’ were?…(and thank you to Karen Sayers at the BLSC for helping to decipher the annotations!)

The notebook is a rare survival, recording the day to day business of a leading firm of antique dealers and their relationships with some key protagonists in the USA during the key moment of the American ‘Gilded Age’. This tiny notebook, and all the other fascinating Antique Dealer material donated to the Brotherton Library Special Collections, will provide a rich vein of research, and will soon be available for researchers and scholars.

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 26, 2017

Antique Dealers Archives Grant Success!

We are very pleased indeed to announce that the Phillips of Hitchin archives, held at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds, have been awarded a prestigious National Manuscript Conservation Trust Grant. The NMCT awarded us £8,000 to conserve parts of the archive, which was one of only 10 major grants awarded by the NMCT this year.  The award was supported by a generous donation from the John S. Cohen Grant fund, and is a testament to the historical and cultural significance of the Phillips of Hitchin archives, the research potential and significance of Antique Dealer archives more generally (and the fabulous holdings at the Brotherton Library), and the expertise of the archive team at the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Phillips of Hitchin Archive, ‘Daybook’ 1890-1892. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

As part of the application for the Grant we composed a ‘Statement of Significance’ for the PoH archives – and here it is, in full –

‘The Phillips of Hitchin archive (PoH) (dating 1882-2005) is an exceptionally rare survival of a senior-level antique dealer archive. It is extremely unusual for such archives to survive, as they have often been deliberately destroyed due to the highly sensitive nature of the information that they contain (prices/values of artworks and antiques, restoration and provenance information). This makes the PoH archive a unique resource for future researchers. PoH were one of the most important and influential antique dealers in the UK and sold many thousands of objects to many major national museums, both in the UK and internationally. The client lists of PoH include virtually every well-known collector and personality of the day, from members of the British Royal family to influential American collectors such as Judge Irwin Untermeyer.  The richness of the PoH archive is without parallel in its comprehensiveness and contains not only stock books, sales ledgers and copy invoices but also includes extensive client correspondence material relating to the acquisition and sale of artworks.  This completeness allows for much more fine-grained research and makes the archive an essential resource for both provenance research and the expanding field of art market study.’

This grant, together with our recent success in the University of Leeds Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship scheme (the Laidlaw scholarship) and which allowed Liv Powell, our Laidlaw Scholar, to work with us on the Phillips of Hitchin archives, means that we can press on with the conservation and research on the PoH archives.  We hope that the rich potential of the archives will soon be made available scholars and researchers. There’s still a lot of work to do…as you can see!……

Packets of archive papers, Phillips of Hitchin archive, in situ at Hitchin prior to removal to Leeds. Photo copyright Antique Dealer project, University of Leeds 2015.

….but we are delighted that the National Manuscript Conservation Trust  have recognised the importance of Phillips of Hitchin Archives.

Mark

Phillips of Hitchin Archive, advertisement, c.1920. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

 

May 17, 2017

Generous donation to the Antique Dealer and Art Market Archives

Interest in the antiques dealer and art market archives continues to grow.  The archives, as readers of the blog will probably know, are part of the Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market (CSAAM) here at the University of Leeds, and are deposited in the Brotherton Library Special Collections  You can read about the archives deposited, and promised, to the CSAAM in the archives pages on the CSAAM website – click CSAAM.

The  latest addition, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Executors of the estate of late Anthony J. Evans (1954-2008) the well-known scholar and collector of Chinese Ceramics, and Michael Evans the brother of A. J. Evans, is a selection of provenance material, biographical information and related material associated with the collections of Chinese ceramics assembled by Anthony J. Evans. The material has already been catalogued by the team at the Brotherton Library Special Collections (thank you to Karen Sayers, archivist at the BLSC) and is available for consultation – the catalogue record is MS2071 – 1/2/3 – it’s certainly worth a look!

The archive material donated to the university is mainly devoted to the dispersal auction sales of the A.J. Evans collection at Bonhams auctioneers in London in November 2011.  These collections were primarily of Chinese ceramics, something for which Anthony had a special interest and was a world-leading scholar and author. The market for Chinese ceramics is, as many will be aware, very strong in particular areas, but perhaps it’s surprising  (to some…including me!) how valuable some early 20th century Chinese ceramics can be? A.J. Evans certainly had a very good eye!…For example, this Republic Period (1912-1949) plaque achieved £240,000 at the Bonhams sale in 2013 –

Republic Period Chinese polychrome plaque, from the A.J. Evans Collection. Photograph, Bonhams Auctioneers, 2011.

And this rare pair of fan-shaped plaques c.1900-1920, decorated and signed by Pan Taoyu (c.1887-1926) made an even more spectacular £360,000 at the Bonhams auction sale of the A.J. Evans collection.

Rare pair of fan-shaped plaques c.1900-1920 by Pan Taoyu (c.1887-1926) from the A.J. Evans Collection. Photograph, Bonhams Auctioneers, 2011.

I hope this whets your appetite to take a look at the archive information on the A.J. Evans collection; it has been meticulously assembled by Michael Evans and includes all the dealer invoices for the objects that Anthony collected, as well as biographical information and copies of the auction sale catalogues and provenance notes composed by Anthony J. Evans himself – it is an extraordinary resource for future scholars and researchers on the history of the art market, and the history of the taste for collecting Chinese ceramics in particular. Our warm thanks go to the Executors of the Estate of Anthony J. Evans and Michael Evans for donating this fascinating material to the CSAAM and the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

 

NOTE: (and thank you to Michael Evans and Dominic Jellinek for pointing out the initial error on the first posting of this blog – the A.J. Evans (below) is in fact a different individual from Anthony J. Evans (above) – but it is quite an interesting coincidence that there are 2 collectors of Chinese works of art, both called A.J. Evans, and both collecting in the same period, and both with auctions of their collections around the same time!…)

Anyway – this other A.J. Evans was a also celebrated collector of Chinese works of art, a taste he seems to have inherited from his father Frederick Evans, who worked for an Anglo-Chinese mining company in China during the 1920s. Anthony Evans inherited a range of early Chinese ceramics from his father, including this early 18th century polychrome decorated bowl (below), which was sold at one of the auction sales of A.J Evans collection at Canterbury in Kent in 2013, where it realised £235,000.

Early 18th Century Chinese Bowl from the A.J. Evans Collection. Photograph, Canterbury Auctions, Kent, 2013.

Thanks again to Michael and Dominic for pointing out the initial error!

Mark

 

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