More ‘Action Week ‘ work on the Phillips of Hitchin archives

We are making steady progress this week on the enormous task of cleaning and cataloguing the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds. The Brotherton Library drafted in their Special Collections team, and extra volunteers, for the rest of the ‘Action Week’ project on the archive – special thanks to the hard work of Francis (conservator at the Brotherton Library), together with Sharon, (head conservator) and our team of volunteers, Sue, Pauline, Heather, Matt, Helen and Riza – we are getting through the masses of material now. Here’s the team in the Special Collections archive room at the Library, busy cleaning, all masked-up – it’s dangerous work!

action week volunteers new

Cleaning the Phillips of Hitchin Archives. L-to-R, Helen, Pauline, Heather and Matt (left-hand table) and Riza, Sue and Francis (right-hand table).

Considering that the archive had been stored in a garage in Hitchin for most of it’s life, (it dates from c.1880s-to present) the archive arrived at the Brotherton in generally good condition, although parts of the archive had been subject to damp and mould and pest – hence the need for masks and gloves for the cleaning.  The process of cleaning and cataloguing is a huge task though, and at present we are only able to undertake brief cataloguing – we’re hoping for some funding to extend and complete the task!

As one would expect, given the significance of the history of the business of Phillips of Hitchin, the archive is absolutely packed with fascinating information on high profile transactions – all yet to be discovered!…but we thought we’d give you a flavour of the kinds of material that is buried in the archive –

The client lists of Phillips of Hitchin is a veritable ‘who’s-who’ of major collectors of antiques, and hundreds of sales of museums world-wide – here’s just one of many sales of antique furniture to the American collector Henry Ford II – for the sale of an 18th century English commode in the French taste, c.1770 – sold in 1957 for the sum of £2,750 –

H Ford II 1957

Copy Invoice, to Henry Ford II (21/10/1957) Phillips of Hitchin archive MS1999. Courtesy of The Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Other, perhaps more surprising discoveries, include sales of antique furniture to the British Modern Sculptor, Henry Moore (1898-1986).  Moore was buying a wide range of 18th century antique furniture from Phillips of Hitchin in the late 1970s for his home/studio at Perry Green in Hertfordshire.  All of the furniture in the selection of sales invoices we’ve seen so far in the archive is for what one would consider to be ‘country furniture’ (18th century ‘fruitwood’ chairs; an early 18th century walnut side chair; an 18th century oak hanging cupboard; an 18th century ‘Yew wood’ settle, etc).

henry moore 1978 1

Copy Invoice, Phillips of Hitchin, to the sculptor Henry Moore, 1978. Phillips of Hitchin archive, MS1999. Courtesy of The Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

This is not out of keeping with Moore’s interest in ‘crafts’ of course – and no doubt the tactile nature of country-made antique furniture resonated with Moore – but it’s fascinating to see evidence of these sales of antiques to the great ‘Modernist’ sculptor.

The archive of Phillips of Hitchin covers over 120 years of antique dealing, and we are so grateful to Jerome Phillips, the last surviving member of this famous antique-dealing dynasty, for generously donating the archive to the Brotherton Library Special Collections, and the Centre for the Study of the Art & Antiques Market at the University of Leeds. It will, once we’ve finished cleaning and cataloguing it, be an astonishingly valuable resource for future researchers and scholars.

Mark

 

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