Posts tagged ‘H. Blairman & Sons’

July 6, 2019

Year of the Dealer – Antiques Trade Gazette

Thank you to Frances Allitt and the team at the Antiques Trade Gazette (ATG) for the news piece on the launch of the SOLD! The Year of the Dealer project. Frances composed a short promotional piece in the ATG this week – See – ATG Year of the Dealer. We have been busy in planning meetings the last few weeks, at the V&A Museum, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Temple Newsam and at the University of Leeds, settling on final dates for some of the planned events and activities – you can follow updates on the Year of the Dealer project website – Click Here.

In the coming weeks we are planning further project meetings with the rest of the project partners. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the Year of the Dealer is beginning to take shape and the final lists of the 20 objects that will form each of the proposed curated ‘dealer trails’ through the galleries at the 7 major museum partners are coming together.  We can give you an exclusive preview of just one of the 20 key objects identified for the ‘Year of the Dealer’ antique dealer trail for Temple Newsam in Leeds –

Library Table, c.1770, by Thomas Chippendale; formerly at Harewood House, near Leeds, now at Temple Newsam, Leeds. Photograph courtesy of Leeds Museums & Galleries

And here it is –  the famous Library Table made by Thomas Chippendale, c.1770 for Harewood House, near Leeds.  The ‘Year of the Dealer’ trail will obviously mention Chippendale in the story about the Library Table but the main focus of the trails will be the stories about the antique dealers that lie behind the acquisition of the objects by the museums.  For the Harewood Library Table the story we will be foregrounding is how it was acquired by Temple Newsam through the antique dealers’ H. Blairman & Sons in July 1965.   The Library Table was purchased by the antique dealer George Levy, Director of H. Blairman & Sons, at Christie’s auction sale of artworks from Lord Harewood’s estate in London on 1st July 1965 (the table was lot 57).  Blairman’s were established in 1884 and George Levy had joined the business in 1949 – here’s the H. Blairman & Sons stand at the famous Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, London, in June 1950, the year after George Levy joined the business.

H. Blairman & Sons stand at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair 1950. Photograph courtesy of H. Blairman & Sons.

The 1965 auction sale of the Harewood Library Table generated a great deal of interest at the time – one anonymous reporter writing in Tatler 30th June 1965, the day before the auction, wrote, ‘There is little doubt that such an item will cause a lively stir in the saleroom and I shall be surprised if it does not eventually reach five figures.’  Martin Levy (the son of George Levy), and who remains the owner and director of H. Blairman & Sons, recalls that his father persuaded the group of Yorkshire businessmen who had agreed to support the acquisition of the Harewood table for Leeds Museums & Galleries, that he should bid the agreed limit of 40,000 guineas ‘plus one’ at the Christie’s auction – this was to ensure that if Blairman entered the bidding on the ‘wrong foot’ so to speak – i.e. if they entered the bidding at say 20,000 guineas and their maximum bid was 40,000 guineas, they may end up with a bid at 39,000 guineas, with the opposition having the bid of 40,000 guineas…so a bid of ‘plus one’ would potentially secure the object – indeed, George Levy’s suggestion proved prescient, as the final and successful auction bid was 41,000 guineas!

41,000 guineas (a guinea is £1 + 1 shilling) equated to £43,050 in 1965 and was at the time acknowledged as a world record price for a piece of English furniture. This was indeed an enormous sum for a piece of antique furniture; the equivalent value today would be about £2,450,000 (see Measuring Worth.com).  It’s always difficult to work out relative values of course, and the notion of a ‘world record price’ is no less complex – Gerald Reitlinger (The Economics of Taste, volume 3, 1963 and which was obviously published slightly before the auction sale of the Harewood Library Table) cites several ‘world record’ prices for English furniture – (Reitlinger’s data is derived from artworks circulating on the auction market of course…we don’t know about any values from private treaty sales…).  Reitlinger cites 10,000 guineas (£10,605) in at an auction in 1928, paid for a Queen Anne console table with matching mirror and torcheres (what is often called a ‘trio’), and sold from the collections of Earl Howe, as the world record auction price for English furniture in the 1920s; although Reitlinger also notes the sale, in 1921, of one of the famous ‘Raynham Commodes’, (also attributed to Chippendale) which made £3,900 (equating to £1,721,000 today).

According to Reitlinger the ‘world record’ of £10,605 of 1928 stood until 1961 when he recorded that one of the famous ‘Rainham Commodes’  was sold in New York for £25,000 – I’m not so sure about this?…According to the newspaper reports at the time (30th June 1961) the piece that sold for £25,000 in New York was, and I quote, ‘an Adam-Chippendale satinwood and mahogany marquetry serpentine-front commode in the French taste.  A masterpiece of design probably executed by Chippendale himself.’  The ‘Rainham Commode’ is, as many of you will know, a mahogany commode (sans marquetry) – here’s a couple of illustrations of ‘Rainham/Raynham’ model commodes – left is an 18th century mahogany commode, described as ‘possibly supplied to…Raynham Hall, Norfolk’ and which was sold at Christie’s New York in 1998 (for c. $1,500,000).  And on the right is an acknowledged ‘Raynham Hall’ commode – this one is now at the Philadelphia Art Museum in the USA, and was acquired in 1941 having been in the collections of both H.H. Mulliner (1861-1924) and William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951).

18th century commode, sold at Christie’s New York 1998. Photograph copyright Christie’s New York.
18th century commode, from Raynham Hall, Norfolk. Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA. Purchased with the John D. McIllhenny Fund, 1941. Photograph copyright Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The history of the ‘Rainham’ and ‘Raynham’ commodes is also complicated by the fact that the well-known collector of English furniture, H. H. Mulliner, purchased Rainham Hall, which is in Essex, in 1920 as a suitable home for his extraordinary collection of antique English furniture; Mulliner’s collection is said to have included a commode from Raynham Hall, Norfolk  – so maybe there is more unravelling to do on these ‘Raynham’ and ‘Rainham’ commodes?

The Norfolk Raynham Commode was actually made much more famous in the popular television series’ Tales of the Unexpected (1979), in a version of Roald Dahl’s short story ‘Parson’s Pleasure‘ (1959). In the TV version, in which John Gielgud plays the crooked antique dealer ‘Cyril Boggis’, Mr Boggis stumbles across a piece of Chippendale furniture in an old farmhouse – and the model for the piece of Chippendale furniture is the ‘Raynham Commode’ – you can just see the commode, painted white, in this film still from the episode of Tales of the Unexpected.

Still from ‘Parson’s Pleasure’ in Tales of the Unexpected (1979).

Roald Dahl was a very keen collector of antique furniture himself, and specifically mentions the Raynham commode in his short story – as Dahl writes; ‘He knew, as does every other dealer in Europe and America, that among the most celebrated and coveted examples of eighteenth-century English furniture in existence are the three famous pieces known as ‘The Chippendale Commodes’….coming out of Raynham Hall, Norfolk.’ (Parson’s Pleasure, in Kiss, Kiss, p.78).

But anyway, besides this fascinating interweaving of fact and fiction in the history of the Raynham Commodes, what we hope that the Year of the Dealer trails will draw attention to is the complex relationships between cultural value and economic value.  Indeed, if we take the Measuring Worth.com calculations for these auction sale values of English furniture we can see that the notion of a ‘World Record price’ is a notoriously difficult thing to nail down.  For example, the economic value of the Queen Anne ‘trio’ sold in 1928 of 10,000 guineas (£10,605) was the equivalent of c.£5,000,000; and the ‘Rainham Commode’ sold in 1961 for £25,000 (if indeed it was the ‘Rainham Commode) was the equivalent of just £1,881,000.  So technically the Queen Anne ‘trio’ sold in 1928 still holds the ‘world record’ for a piece of English furniture sold at auction, even surpassing the auction sale of the Harewood Library Table in 1965 (equivalent of £2,450,000).

But then again, there’s more to ‘World Records’ that merely economic calculations; they are complex cultural and social signifiers that both transcend and complexify the blunt instrument of economic value.

Mark

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June 26, 2019

Year of the Dealer starts!

We are very excited to announce that the ‘Year of the Dealer’ project has officially started – the new project website is being constructed (thanks to Peter Edwards in University of Leeds, Arts, Humanities & Cultures Faculty IT team) – you can see the new website here – Year of the Dealer website 

The ‘Year of the Dealer’ project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds, the University of Southampton, 7 major national and regional museums (The Victoria & Albert Museum, The National Museum, Scotland, The Ashmolean Museum, The Lady Lever Art Gallery, The Bowes Museum, Temple Newsam, Preston Park Museum and the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery), together with a regional community theatre (The Witham, Barnard Castle) and one of the UK’s leading antique dealing businesses (H. Blairman & Sons). The project runs from 1st June 2019 until 31st May 2020 and is an ‘Impact and Engagement’ project funded (£100,000) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Over the next 12 months  the Year of the Dealer will be organizing a series of events, activities and museum object trails, using the research arising from the AHRC funded (£231,592) research project ‘Antique Dealers: the British Antique Trade in the 20th century’ AH/K0029371/1 (2013-2016).

C. Charles, New Bond Street shop interior, c.1903. Photograph, Connoisseur 1903.

Through these events and activities the project aims to draw attention to the relationships between the art market and public museums and to share expertise, experience and perspectives among stakeholders and to increase public engagement with the significance of the history of the antique trade in British cultural life.

The Year of the Dealer will reveal new and previously marginalised stories of world-renowned and familiar museum objects through the co-production of a series of 7 museum ‘hidden history’ trails; each trail will have a curated selection of up to 20 museum objects foregrounding the history of antique dealers in the biography of the museum object.  So, for example, at The Bowes Museum, we will be drawing renewed attention to some of the museum objects by telling the story about the antique dealers who sold the object to the museum – this rare pair of gilded bronze lamps, made by William Collins in 1823………..

One of a pair of gilded bronze lamps at The Bowes Museum. Photograph, antique dealers project 2018.

…………………..will be reinterpreted through the Year of the Dealer trail in the museum as a pair of lamps sold to the Bowes Museum in 1960 by Stanley J. Pratt, a leading antique dealer then trading in ultra-fashionable Mount Street, London.  How Pratt acquired the lamps and how they ended up at The Bowes Museum will be key elements in the ‘story’ about the objects. Stanley Pratt came from a well-known family of antique dealers dating back into the 19th century; indeed the Pratt family of dealers were established, according to their own publicity, in 1860, and so sold the lamps to The Bowes Museum in their centenary year!

Advertisement by Stanley J. Pratt illustrating the pair of gilded bronze lamps. Connoisseur, June 1960.

Besides the 7 museum trails, the project will also stage 4 art market themed knowledge exchange workshops and 3 public engagement ‘In Conversation’ events, hosted by the partner museums. The workshops will consider the relationships between the art market and public museums, drawing in historical and contemporary perspectives and will also consider the challenges and future opportunities for the relationships between museums and the art market.  The ‘In Conversation’ events invite key art market professionals, museum professionals, academics and commentators to discuss and debate the subject of the art market and public museums – all the events will be free, thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding.

Other activities as part of the Year of the Dealer project include museum front of house staff and volunteer training workshops at each of the 7 partner museums to ensure that the project research and objectives are disseminated and cascaded to the front-line interface with the public.

We will also be re-staging the play ‘Quinney’s (1914) at the Witham Theatre, Barnard Castle, and are organizing an associated workshop, ‘Dealing with Authenticity’ at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle.

Poster for Quinney’s production at Birmingham Theatre, 1920.

‘Quinney’s’ is the story of the fictional antique dealer Joseph Quinney. The play and the workshop aim to critically engage the general public with the central role that ‘authenticity’ has played in the art market, and to explore and critique the trope of the antique dealer as a problematic character, often associated with fakes and forgeries and the ‘love of money’. The workshop will be interdisciplinary in scope, drawing on theatre and performance studies and material culture studies as well as the history of antique dealers.

As you can see, there are plans for a very rich series of events, activities and collaborations over the course of the Year of the Dealer project – but we have a great team to help deliver the project – my colleague from University of Southampton, Dr Eleanor Quince, and Vanessa Jones, our project administrator, and my colleagues at the University of Leeds, Professor Jonathan Pitches and Dr George Rodosthenous, and of course all of the curators and staff at the all 10 collaborating partners and a small team of PhD research students to help keep the project on track!……it’s no doubt going to be exhausting, but we hope it will also be a really engaging project…and one that will have real Impact!

We hope to see you at some of the events – we already have some events fixed in the project calendar…so do keep an eye on the project website and the antique dealers research blog.

Mark

December 2, 2018

SOLD! A Major Exhibition at The Bowes Museum

As some of the readers of the Antique Dealers Blog already know, for the last 18 months I’ve been very busy working as ‘guest curator’ on an exhibition called ‘SOLD!’ at The Bowes Museum based on over 10 years of research on the history of Antique Dealing in Britain – and we can now announce the forthcoming opening (on 26th January 2019) of the exhibition!  Here is the poster, with the stunning bronze by Antico of c.1490-1500, acquired by the V&A Museum through the dealer Horace Baxter in 1960, as the ‘poster boy’.

SOLD! Poster

SOLD!, which opens on 26th January 2019, brings together more than 40 world-class objects, from various museums, including the V&A, the British Museum, The Royal Armouries, Royal Collection, The Lady Lever Art Gallery and Temple Newsam, as well as objects from the collections at The Bowes Museum itself, and loans from private collections never seen in public before, to tell the ‘hidden histories’ of the objects with a focus on the history of antique dealing.  One of my PhD students (Simon Spier) is working as the project research assistant helping with the assembly of the recreation of an ‘old curiosity shop’ which will be part of the display and interpretation for SOLD! – you can follow Simon’s activities in the special Twitter feed we have developed – see  https://twitter.com/Bowes_GBAS

Besides ‘Antico’ from the V&A Museum…(which I have been calling a ‘Horace Baxter’ – indeed, I have been calling all the objects in the exhibition by the name of the dealer who sold them which has been very confusing for many museum curators! – so the ‘Antico’ is a ‘Horace Baxter’; we also have a ‘Henry Farrer’ (a very rare 16th century Venetian glass goblet – sold by Farrer to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum) in 1854 for £30.0.0) – you can just see the edge of the green glass goblet to the right of the ‘Baxter’ in the poster above; and a ‘David Tremayne’ – the wonderful 18th century bronze mask, sold to The Bowes Museum by David Tremayne in 1966 – you can just the bronze mask to the left of the ‘Baxter’ (sorry, the ‘Antico’) in the poster.

We have a wonderful range of objects in SOLD!, including this amazing demilance suit of armour of c.1620 from the Royal Armouries, (Tower Armouries Collection in London), which was acquired via the well-known specialist dealer in ‘ancient armour’ Samuel & Henry Pratt from their ‘The Gothic Hall’ just off New Bond Street in 1840.

S. & H. Pratt – (1840) – Demilance suit of armour, c.1620. Photograph courtesy of The Royal Armouries.

As part of SOLD! we have objects that passed through the hands of major 19th century dealers such as E.H. Baldock, John Webb and George Durlacher; and in the 20th century, major dealers such as Frank Partridge, M. Harris & Sons, H. Blairman & Sons, Mallett & Son, Wartski, Hotspur, S.J. Phillips, and Bluett & Son…plus many more besides.

One of the major dealers we have focused on is Phillips of Hitchin; mainly because we have the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds. And here’s a very rare photograph of the Phillips of Hitchin shop in c.1905, with Frederick W. Phillips (centre) the chap that established the firm in 1882, and Hugh Phillips (his brother) to the right (we don’t know who the third person is) – the photograph was taken just a few years before Frederick Phillips bought the ‘Gothic Cupboard’ and sold it to Robert Mond (see below).

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) shop, Hitchin, c.1905. Digital copy of glass-plate negative courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Jerome Phillips, the grandson of Frederick Phillips, kindly identified the people in the photograph – and Kate Hay at the V&A Museum and her volunteers generously made a digital copy from the original glass-plate negative (part of the Phillips of Hitchin material that is, at present, at the V&A stores).

There are also couple of objects from the V&A Museum in the exhibition that were sold by Phillips of Hitchin – this Gothic cupboard (known as ‘Prince Arthur’s Cupboard’ in the early 20th century when it was acquired by the V&A Museum) was sold by F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) to the well-known collector Robert Mond in 1912 for £220.0.0. – Mond donated it to the V&A in the same year.

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) ‘Gothic Cupboard’ c.1500-1600. Sold by F.W. Phillips in 1912. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The other Phillips of Hitchin object in the exhibition is the famous ‘Medal Cabinet’ by the 18th century cabinetmaker William Vile (c.1700-1767), of c.1760, which was sold by PoH to the V&A in 1963 for £10,000.

Phillips of Hitchin (1963). George III mahogany medal cabinet, c.1760. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The exhibition will also have a wide range of exceptionally rare antique dealer archives, and a range of dealer ephemera, to bring to life the history of the antique trade.  But there are also some spectacularly rare objects in SOLD! – indeed, one of the key premises of the exhibition is to show some very familiar, world-class museum objects, but to ‘reframe’ them through the narrative of the art market; and to bring the previously marginalized story of antique dealing more directly, and more explicitly, into the spaces of the public museum – and to provoke us all (museum curators, academics, and the public) to reflect on why the art market has often been suppressed and dislocated from the narratives of the history of art that the museum presents us with.

We hope that the ‘SOLD!’ exhibition will be a catalyst for increased public engagement with these previously marginalized stories.

I’ll be updating the blog with regular progress reports on SOLD! as we move towards the opening of the exhibition on 26th January 2019 – I do hope that we will see as many people who can make it to SOLD! at Bowes Museum and I hope to say ‘hello’ if I am about at the exhibition.

Mark

 

October 10, 2015

Yet More Oral History Interviews! – Martin Levy, of H. Blairman & Sons

Our oral history research is really gathering pace now – yet another one ‘in the bag’ – this time with Martin Levy, of the old established antique dealers H. Blairman & Sons (established 1884) – very well known to those interested in the history of the antique trade.

M Levy

Martin Levy, 2015. Image copyright H. Blairman & Sons.

During a fabulously interesting interview Martin outlined the early history of H. Blairman & Sons, from their beginnings in a shop in Llandudno, where, as Martin recently discovered, the business also sold contemporary ceramics alongside antiques – this 19th century cup and saucer, with a back-stamp indicating that it was retailed by H. Blairman is a testament to those trading practices (see our earlier blog entry on these practices too – blog entry for MAY 2014 – and Blairman & Sons website H.Blairman & Sons Limited.

Photograph copyright, Blairman & Sons, London.

Photograph copyright, Blairman & Sons, London.

 

Photograph copyright Blairman & Sons, London

Photograph copyright Blairman & Sons, London

The Blairman family were originally emigres from Poland in the late 19th century, and initially Harris Blairman (Martin Levy’s great-grandfather) entered into a partnership with a dealer in Birmingham, before establishing the business in Llandudno. For some further detail on the history of H. Blairman & Sons do look at the history of Blairman, composed by Martin, on the Blairman website.

Martin also told us of his interest in 19th century and early 20th century designed objects – in which he has also been something of a pioneer in more recent times – and his memories of working with his father, George Levy (who joined the firm in 1949), as well as Martin’s memories of his own early days after joining the business in the mid 1970s.  Martin also has some wonderfully engaging reflections on the changing taste in antiques, on people that influenced his development as a dealer, and on his passion for objects and their history.

The interview will be soon be made available via the project websites – once we get it edited and etc.

Mark

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