I recently came across a fascinating little article published in The Sketch on the female antique dealer Clara Millard – The Sketch, in case you were not aware, was a British weekly illustrated newspaper which focused on high society and the aristocracy (it ran from 1893 until 1959). The article, written by a journalist/writer named only as ‘F.E.A.’, was published on March 14th 1894 and focused on an interview with Clara Millard – here is Miss Millard aged about 25, in a photograph published in the article (see below):
Miss Clara Millard, c.1894. Photograph by Jones & Co., Surbiton. Image from ‘The Sketch’, March 14th 1894, p.348.
Clara Millard, as far as we know at present, traded from the 1890s until the 1920s, first at Vicarage Road, Teddington, and later at Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire; she was also an early member of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (certainly a member by 1920) – see also our interactive project website map for information on Clara Millard – www.antiquetrade.leeds.ac.uk
The article was entitled ‘A Curio Collector, a visit to Miss Clara Millard’ and gives us an insight into the social demographic of women curiosity/antique dealers in the period (it is evident, for example, that Clara was from a well-to-do family), and the kinds of objects that circulated in the trade in the late 19th and early 20th century. Millard mentions a few objects that she had sold in her shop in Teddington, including ‘a set of seven spa diamond buttons worn by Garrick at the Stratford Jubilee’ – The Shakespeare Jubilee took place in September 1769, and was organised, and partly financed, by the actor-manager David Garrick (1717-1779).
She also mentioned that she also sold the library table used by Napoleon when in exile at Longwood House, St. Helena. The effects of Longwood House were sold in 1822 and there were several library tables in that sale – for an exemplary description and analysis of Napoleon’s furniture at Longwood House see Martin Levy, Napoleoon in Exile, the houses and furniture supplied by the British Government for the Emperor and his Entourage on St. Helena (Furniture History Society, 1998). Perhaps the library table that passed through Clara Millard’s stock was the famous table that was also subsequently sold at the auction sale of the library and effects of John Copling in 1867, who seems to have acquired a number of Napoleonic relics. The table in question was described in 1867 as ‘A 6ft LIBRARY TABLE of mahogany and yew, banded with ebony…..constantly used by Napoleon himself in his cabinet’ (see Levy, p.66) – this table certainly appears to have been the most famous of the library tables dispersed at Longwood House in 1822. One wonders how Millard obtained the table, and to whom she sold it?
Besides these interesting details on the objects that Millard sold, the interview also provides a fascinating insight into the social networks of Millard, and how she came to become a dealer. The interviewer ‘F.E.A.’ asked her ‘What made you become a dealer in curios?’ – and she gave a comprehensive response, stating;
‘ When I was sixteen I had to decide upon some way of earning my own living….I had always lived with people who liked nice things, and I understood a little about curios, so I started a sale of china and curiosities. I prepared a catalogue, and sent it round to collectors and wealthy people. The catalogue was a happy thought; it attracted notice and the whole transaction was so successful that I went on as I had begun. I must not forget to tell you that I owe a great deal to the kind help and teaching given to me by Lady Charlotte Schreiber, Lady Currie and Baron Rothschild. Thanks to them, I made fewer mistakes that I should otherwise have done. Then, I have had a larger share of good luck than falls to the lot of most people’ (The Sketch, p.348).
Millard’s connections to Lady Charlotte Schreiber (1812-1895), daughter of the 9th Earl of Lindsey, and a major collector of ceramics, as well as to Baron Rothschild (1840-1915) and Lady Currie (1843-1905), is indicative of the intimate relationships between dealing and collecting, and of the significance of social and cultural networks in the history of the antique trade.
It’s also worth mentioning that Clara Millard was also well known, in the 1890s, as an antiquarian book dealer – which also draws further attention to the overlapping practices that constitute the ‘antique trade’ (see earlier blog posts on these notions).