Thomas Rohan, Dealer and Author – and ‘Quinney’

Some of you may be aware of the novels about an antique dealer called ‘Quinney’, in the writings of Horace Annesley Vachell – Vachell published a number of novels about the adventures of Quinney, starting in 1914, with the original novel, called ‘Quinney’s’.  The novels are interesting period pieces and tell us a lot about the characterisations of the antique dealer in the first half of the 20th century – and part of the research for the current project will be focusing on an investigation of these literary constructions, and their meanings and influence on the characterisation of the antique dealer in the wider public domain.  One interesting result of the popularity of Vachell’s novels is the number of real dealerships called ‘Quinneys’ that emerged, right across the country – we’ve traced at least 5 so far; as far as I know there is only one dealership named ‘Quinnney’s’ left trading…in Warwick.

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The novels themselves are fascinating, and contain lightly veiled characterisations of real dealers – a ‘Mr Pheasant’ is quite obviously an allusion to the well-known London dealer ‘Partridge’ for example – and there are several other fictional dealers that seem to relate to factual ones – ‘Primmer of Bath’ could only be Mallett I suppose, and ‘Gustavus Lark’, who ‘wore a cut-away coat, with an orchid in the lapel of it’….and was ‘smoking an imposing cigar’, in one scene from the original novel ‘Quinneys’…is this the infamous Duveen?….

One fact that is less well known is that Vachell based his character Quinney on the real dealer Thomas Rohan, who was trading in Bournemouth in the first quarter of the 20th century. Rohan was himself a very successful author, publishing many books on collecting and on the antique trade itself – most famously in ‘Confessions of a Dealer’ (1927)

Here’s a photograph of Thomas Rohan, and an image of his first shop: 100_3710100_3709Rohan, as I mentioned, was also a prolific author, publishing many books, mainly on collecting, such as ‘Old Beautiful’ (1926)…as well as writing novels – his novel ‘Billy Ditt, the Romance of a Chippendale Chair’ (1932) traces the fortunes of a chair, made by Thomas Chippendale in the 18th century, as it passed through various hands – I can’t say it’s a literary masterpiece, but it is an intriguing book, and of course, is crucial to our cultural understanding of the history of the antique trade itself.

One exciting development (for me anyway!) is that I recently managed to acquire this short manuscript from a book dealer: 100_3708

The MS is only a short document, entitled ‘People that I have met’; it is undated and unsigned, but seems to date from c.1920, and I am certain that this is part of the original writings of Thomas Rohan.  It contains musings on his life as a dealer, and on the collectors that he sold antique objects.  Quite apart from this being a lucky and serendipitous find, it’s also now a brilliant resource for the antique dealer project and will play a key role in the research into the literary characterisations of the dealer…watch this space!

Mark

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3 Comments to “Thomas Rohan, Dealer and Author – and ‘Quinney’”

  1. Thanks for the article. I have only just come across Rohan. I used to live in a house he designed and lived in in Southbourne (a suburb of Bournemouth), and I would like to do more about the man as a local celebrity. I can share what I have so far (from contemporary newspapers). His ancestry goes back to French nobility, apparently. It is not much and you may already know all this but just case I can help further, I’m making contact.

  2. Could your manuscript perhaps be the notes Rohan wrote for Vachell, as he described on pp. 84-85 in his Confessions of a dealer? Just finished reading is, and I must say, a nice source.
    Are there many more dealers’ or collectors’ memories of this lesser well known sort, that is apart from the books on Christie’s and Sotheby’s and the Duveens? Is there a bibliography somewhere?

    Robert-Jan te Rijdt

    • Hi Robert,
      I think you are right about the MS…it certainly appears to be by Rohan. And yes, there are quite a few more texts by dealers, and I’m composing a bibliography of those for a publication…so watch this space!…

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