Posts tagged ‘Harewood House’

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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