Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

June 25, 2018

Antique Dealers from the 1920s – Ropley of London

Archive material relating the the history of antique dealing in Britain continues to come to the University of Leeds – this time whilst it may be only a very small amount of photographic material, (some 40 black and white photographs relating to the London based antique dealer ‘Ropley’), it is nonetheless a fascinating set of photographs that provide further insights into the cultural history of the antique trade; they also complement the extensive photographic archive material in the Phillips of Hitchin, M. Turpin and Roger Warner archives already at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at University of Leeds.

At present we don’t know that much about the dealer ‘Ropley’ but in the 1920s they were trading at 35 Duke Street, Manchester Square, and at 19 Mount Street, London (see www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk). Here’s an old advertisement by Ropley, undated, but probably from c.1920?

Ropley, advertisement, c.1920.

‘Antique incised lacquer cabinet’, Ropley Antique Dealers, c.1920.

Just like Phillips of Hitchin, and many other antique dealers during the opening decades of the twentieth century, Ropley sold a wide range of antiques and also supplied fabrics – Phillips of Hitchin, for example, as earlier posts on the antique dealers blog have indicated, produced and supplied reproductions of historic textiles (see blog posts for July and August 2017). The set of Ropley photographs date from the period c.1910-1920, and were taken by the firm of Sydney Newbery, of Brixton; many of the photographs have pencil annotations on the back, with several marked ‘Ropley’ in pen in the top left and right-hand corners.

This photograph of a Chinese lacquer cabinet on stand is annotated on the back ‘Antique incised lacquer cabinet on gilt stand; height with stand 4ft 1in, width 2ft 1in’, and is inscribed ‘Ropley’ in the top left-hand corner of the back of the photograph.

And the pair of eighteenth-century hall chairs, shown in the next photograph, are described on the back of the photograph as ‘Pair of antique Queen Anne mahogany hall chairs with decorated coat of arms in the backs. Over 100 years old. 3ft 1in x 1ft 2in.’ They were available for the price of 13 guineas at the time (one guinea was equal to 1 pound plus 1 shilling; 1 pound contained 20 shillings).

‘Pair of Antique Hall Chairs’, Ropley Antique Dealers, c.1920.

We now know of course that the hall chairs do not date from the period of ‘Queen Anne’ (i.e. the opening decades of the eighteenth century), but perhaps we can excuse Ropley in their error.  Other photographs in the small amount of Ropley material illustrate the range of ‘antiques’ that a dealer such as Ropley sold in the period; including (left), ‘a pair of pole screens with wood panels on dull green ground..£19 the pair.’ together with an ‘Antique Mahogany Workbox on stand…£21 10 Shillings.’  And (right) a selection of eighteenth-century torcheres (there are no annotations are on the back of the photograph of the torcheres, other than what appear to be stock numbers of the objects – it would be fantastic if the Ropley stock books still existed).

‘Pole Screens and Workbox’, Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

Torcheres, Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Chippendale’ furniture was one of the most desirable antique furniture during the 1920s (as it is today of course), and the photographs from Ropley also include examples of the ‘Chinese Chippendale’ furniture, which was extremely popular at the time.

‘Chippendale fret table’, Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

‘Antique Mahogany Chippendale side table..’ Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

The ‘Chippendale fret table’ is annotated on the back of the photograph, ‘A Fine Old Chippendale fret table, 3ft 7 and a half inches long, 19 and a half inches wide, 24 inches high’ and was priced at £50.10 shillings – quite a price at the time.

Verso of the ‘Chippendale fret table’ photograph. Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

Other annotations on the back of the photographs indicate that they were to be used in advertisements by Ropley – the pencil inscriptions suggest the size of the image in the advert (3 and 3 eighths inches wide) and have instructions to the publisher to edit the image ‘Background Away’.

Finally, a few of the photographs also indicate if the objects had been sold; with annotations in red ink on the front of the photographs, and similar annotations on the back of the photographs – the chair (below) had been sold to ‘E.J. Stirling Esq.’

Stock of Antique Furniture from Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

 

And the tables in the photograph below, had been sold to ‘Miss Wood, Ontario, Canada’ – an indication of the significance of the transatlantic antiques trade in the period.

Antique tables, from Ropley Antiques, c.1920.

 

This small archive of dealer photographs offer further fascinating insights into trade practices in the 1920s and will be a very useful resource in the continued study of the history of the antique trade in Britain.

Mark

 

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June 14, 2018

Antique Dealer Exhibitions & new material in the Phillips of Hitchin archives

As followers of the Antique Dealer blog will be aware, one aspect of the continued development of the Antique Dealer research project has been an investigation into the emergence and role of themed exhibitions staged by antique dealers over the course of the 20th century.  Indeed, as a platform for dissemination of information on antiques and as a mechanism for the marketing of antiques, these exhibitions very usefully draw attention to the deep synergies between structures of knowledge and the art market.  Dealers have regularly organised selling exhibitions of course – the famous ‘Summer Exhibitions’ held by the leading New Bond Street dealership Frank Partridge & Sons from the 1950s to the 1980s, were opportunities to showcase new stock and for the swish private preview parties for the exhibitions, which were significant events in the social calendar.  Such exhibitions were attended by the most influential collectors, museum curators, interior decorators and antique dealers.   But what is of particular interest to the research project are the more scholarly, thematic exhibitions that antique dealers have staged over the years. These exhibitions, which remain a regular part of the current practices of antique dealing at the top of the antique trade, demonstrate the discrete, focused and scholarly contributions that many antique dealers have made to the knowledge of antiques – such exhibitions have often been accompanied by museum-type catalogues composed by antique dealers who are acknowledged as leading specialists in their field.

We are very fortunate that in the recent additions to the Phillips of Hitchin archive (again very generously sent up to us in Leeds by Jerome Phillips, who found the extra material whilst tidying up some stores – thank you again Jerome!) we now have a range of material that illustrates the detailed planning and execution of a range of ground-breaking exhibitions held by Phillips of Hitchin during the 1970s and 1980s.  Jerome organised these immensely influential selling exhibitions on specific furniture types – a model, unsurprisingly, that was also being adopted in public museums such as Temple Newsam in Leeds at the time (see, for example the exhibitions on ‘School Furniture’ organised by the furniture history scholar Christopher Gilbert at Temple Newsam in 1978 and a similar exhibition at Temple Newsam on ‘Common Furniture’ in 1982).

The Phillips of Hitchin exhibitions in June 1981 and June 1984 (certainly staged to coincide with the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair held each June in London) are key examples of these types of antique dealer exhibitions.  In 1981 the exhibition on ‘Dining Room Furniture 1730-1830’ was a scholarly project, with antique furniture placed in rooms to mirror the social use of the objects at the time they were made – rather like a ‘period room’ setting that was also so popular in museums at the time.

Phillips of Hitchin exhibition ‘Dining Room Furniture 1730-1830’ June 1981. Photograph Phillips of Hitchin archives, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Here’s another room at The Manor House, Phillips of Hitchin’s shop, with the assembly of some furniture suggestive of a more rustic dining space. The exhibition had a fully illustrated catalogue – Jerome remains a leading scholar on antique furniture and wrote many essays on the subject that appeared in publications such as Antique Collector; it’s also worth mentioning that in 1978 Jerome composed the new Introduction to the reprint of R.W. Symonds Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks (first published in 1940).

Phillips of Hitchin exhibition ‘Dining Room Furniture 1730-1830’ June 1981. Photograph, Phillips of Hitchin archives, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Phillips of Hitchin’s exhibitions on dining furniture might be considered as relatively conventional, and of course they were more than just museum-type scholarly projects and also offered the opportunity for potential buyers to imagine new schemes for their dining rooms.   Jerome’s next exhibition, in June 1984, was of a type that was more ground-breaking, for the antique trade at least (as I mentioned, museums such as Temple Newsam were already organising exhibitions focused on specialist furniture types in the 1970s).  The ‘Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850’ exhibition in 1984 involved considerable primary research and was again accompanied by a catalogue with a discursive essay on the historical development of travelling and campaigning furniture.

Phillips of Hitchin catalogue for Exhibition of Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850.

 

The Travelling and Campaigning Furniture exhibition was obviously more specialist in nature, as I imagine was the audience for the exhibition – specialist collectors of ‘metamorphic’ furniture and museum curators perhaps? But the exhibition itself was a considerable success, according to the detail in the Phillips of Hitchin archives on the exhibition.  Indeed, reading the archive one cannot but admire the research and the time and effort that went into the planning and delivery of these exhibitions.

Phillips of Hitchin exhibition ‘Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850’ June 1984. Photograph, Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

The new parts of the Phillips of Hitchin archive contains numerous photographs of the actual exhibitions, together with correspondence and supplementary detail on the planning of the exhibitions themselves – it’s a wealth of material that helps us to understand the objectives and complex nature of these scholarly and selling events.

Phillips of Hitchin exhibition ‘Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850’ June 1984. Photograph, Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

One further thing, and something that also demonstrates the richness of the archives that Jerome so generously donated to Leeds University, is that Jerome also saved the object labels from the exhibition! …..and here’s just one of a number of those labels from an object from the ‘Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850’ exhibition.

Phillips of Hitchin exhibition ‘Travelling and Campaigning Furniture 1790-1850’ June 1984, object label. Phillips of Hitchin archive, Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

There’s more to say about the significance of these scholarly selling exhibitions organised by dealers such as Phillips of Hitchin and we are fortunate to have such archive material to help us to continue to explore and analyse the cultural history of the British antique trade.

Mark

 

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

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

 

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