Posts tagged ‘Frederick Phillips’

July 2, 2017

New Phillips of Hitchin archive material – recording a trip to New York in c.1920 by Amyas Phillips

Thanks to Jerome Phillips, of Phillips of Hitchin Antiques, we have some new additions to the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections.  Jerome found a few more boxes of archive material and files of business records during a recent clear-up at Manor House in Hitchin – it was quite a bit of material actually….as this stack of lever-arch files suggests!..

New PoH archive material, ready to catalogue!

The new material comprises 21 lever-arch files of business records, a folder with new information on the restoration to the historic clock at Durham Cathedral (a project undertaken by Phillips of Hitchin in 1936), and  boxes of photographs and associated ephemera;  we’d like to thank Jerome Phillips again for these very generous donations to the PoH archives held at the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

Whilst making an initial assessment of the material we came across a little notebook, detailing, it seems, a trip to New York in the period around 1920.

Phillips of Hitchin archive, notebook, c.1920; with teaspoon for scale. Photograph, Antique Dealer Project, University of Leeds 2017.

The notebook is a small pocket-size booklet, measuring just 5 inches (125mm) long by 3.5 inches (90mm) wide, and is packed with notes about meetings with individuals, aide memoires, and some beautiful little drawings on things that the person who composed the notebook had seen in New York.  It provides a fascinating insight into the activities of an antique dealer in the opening decades of the 20th century.

Page of drawings of details of antique furniture. PoH notebook, c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.

Page of a drawing of a carved figure?, with annotations on colours. PoH archive notebook, c.1920 uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds, 2017.

 

The notebook appears to date from c.1920 (it is undated) and (so Jerome informs us) would have been composed by Aymas Phillips (Jerome’s father) who joined the business in 1910.  Amyas’s brother, Hugh Phillips took over the business of Phillips of Hitchin following the death of his father Frederick W. Phillips in 1910; F.W. Phillips was the founder the firm in 1884; Hugh Phillips retired in 1935.

Amyas would have been very young man in 1910, and was called back from his studies at Oxford to help run the business following the death of his father. Hugh must have had great confidence in the young Amyas in sending him to New York, given that notebook mentions meetings with some very well connected individuals.

The notebook itself is a commercially produced ‘Sketch Book’, ‘Series 30’, by the art materials suppliers Windsor & Newton, and cost 1/- (one shilling). Each page remaining in the notebook (there were originally 24 pages, with 22 surviving in whole or part) has annotations and/or drawings, with details of ‘Travelling Expenses’, a hand written list of dollar/pound currency exchange rates, and various notes on places to visit, people to see and things purchased etc.

The notebook begins with a note suggesting that Amyas was to begin his travels to New York on the ‘Aquitania’, on ‘4th Dec.’ – ‘sails 1pm, Embark 12 noon’; with another note mentioning that a ‘special train leaves Waterloo 10.10am’ – it seems that Amyas had also reserved a First Class, Smoking, train cabin.

PoH Archives, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017

The opening page gives us a first clue to the earliest date for the notebook; the famous ocean liner Aquitania had a maiden voyage to New York on 30th May 1914, making only 3 further round trips before being requisitioned in Spring 1915, during the early stages of World War I.  Aquitania returned to service as a passenger liner in June 1919, and this, together with several other clues in the notebook point towards a date of c.1920 for the annotations.  One further clue to its date is that Amyas notes a visit to The American Art Association at 6 East 23rd Street;  the AAA was established in 1884 as an art gallery and auction house at the address given in the notebook, moving to the corner of Madison & 56th Street in 1922. Amyas also notes that he would be returning to England on either the Baltic (launched 1904) or the Olympic (maiden voyage 1911) – so he was travelling in some style!

The page illustrated above also indicates that Amyas stayed at the Hotel McAlpin in New York (in a room costing 3 Dollars, ‘without bathroom attached’) – the McAlpin was at the time the largest hotel in the world, having been completed in 1912 and designed by the architect F. Mills Andrews (1867-1948). Other well-known venues are mentioned in the annotations – The Belasco Theatre (opened in 1907 as the Stuyvesant Theatre, and renamed the Belasco in 1910) and the famous bookstore Brentano’s (opened in New York in 1853); and various museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Union Museum (as it was called then…now known at the Cooper Hewitt Museum (renamed in 1968).

Amongst the most fascinating pages is this page detailing a visit to Paul Revere’s House in Boston, (which had opened as a museum in 1908 and remains one of the earliest Historic House Museums in the USA).

PoH Archive, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017.

The annotation reads – ‘Colonial Wallpaper from Paul Revere’s house, Boston. Inset – old London churches by Wren. Repeat about 3ft high.’ The note is perhaps suggesting that the design would be a good model for the reproduction of a wallpaper (or a fabric?), which was something that the firm of Phillips of Hitchin were well-known for in the period; they were, in effect, Interior Decorators, as well as antique dealers, as were many other antique dealer firms in the period (see earlier blog posts on Thornton for example).  The annotation also demonstrates the keen and attentive eye of Amyas; the drawing is, as one might expect, an accurate illustration of the view encountered by the compiler of the notebook at Paul Revere’s House – here’s a colour postcard from c.1909 of the interior of the house captured in the drawing in the notebook.

Postcard, 1909, ‘Paul Revere’s House’. Wikicommons.

Jerome tells us that he remembers when he was young that his father’s house in Bedfordshire had replica wallpaper based on the wallpaper at Paul Revere’s House!

Other pages in the notebook record meetings, or potential meetings, with several antique dealers, including ‘Stair & Andrew’ (the business was established in London in 1911, and opened a branch in New York by 1914); Vernay (established in New York in 1906, and at the address recorded in the notebook (10 East 45th Street) by 1914); and the interior decorators and antique dealers’ Lenygons.

There are also several annotations recording meetings with some very well-connected individuals – Amyas jots down a lunch meeting with ‘Mrs Hazel Goepper’ of 859 7th Avenue, on ‘Thurs 6th at 12.30’, and other pages have names of other New York socialites – ‘Mrs Lionel Stahl’ for example.

One annotation records a note about ‘Mrs A Van R. Barnewall’ of ‘3 East 47th Street’ (see below).

PoH Archive, notebook c.1920; uncatalogued. Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds. 2017.

The note reads – ‘Mrs A  Van R. Barnewall 3 East 47th St. (came to Hitchin with the Days) best flow(?) shop (hasn’t been to Europe 15 years) Specialist French and (?) furniture…’. Mrs Barnewall was a well-known interior decorator in the period; she wrote an essay on ‘A Modern Bathroom’ published by House & Garden ‘Book of Interiors’ in 1920. Given the kind of business operated by Frederick Phillips and his sons Hugh and Amyas in the early decades of the 20th century it’s perhaps not surprising that they are making contact with leading American interior decorators at the time. We have yet to discover who the ‘Days’ were?…(and thank you to Karen Sayers at the BLSC for helping to decipher the annotations!)

The notebook is a rare survival, recording the day to day business of a leading firm of antique dealers and their relationships with some key protagonists in the USA during the key moment of the American ‘Gilded Age’. This tiny notebook, and all the other fascinating Antique Dealer material donated to the Brotherton Library Special Collections, will provide a rich vein of research, and will soon be available for researchers and scholars.

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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