Archive for August, 2017

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

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.






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.



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.







The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience

An International Conference hosted by The Bowes Museum and The University of Leeds

H. Blairman & Sons Ltd

A research project investigating the history of the antiques trade in Britain in the 20th century

Museum Studies Now?

'Museum Studies Now?' is an event which aims to discuss and debate museum and heritage studies education provision.

The Burlington Magazine Index Blog

art writing * art works * art market

East India Company at Home, 1757-1857

A research project investigating the history of the antiques trade in Britain in the 20th century