Posts tagged ‘M. Harris & Sons’

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

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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

 

October 22, 2017

New Oral History Interview – John G. Morris

Our ‘Voices from the Trade’ oral history interviews continue to make progress, thanks again to the BADA for their generous support towards the Oral History project. 

Our most recent interview was with John G. Morris (and his wife Lorraine).  John established his own business, John G. Morris Limited, in Petworth, West Sussex, in March 1963, and will be very well known to many readers of the antique dealers blog. John was a specialist in antique English Furniture and his shop in Petworth was a regular feature in the country antique trade for more than 35 years, until his eventual retirement in 1996.

John G. Morris, photographed for the Voices from the Trade research theme, as part of the Antique Dealers Research project. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers Project, University of Leeds, 2017.

John is now 87 years of age, and as well as some fascinating reflections on his own antiques business, he also had some astonishingly vivid memories of the time he began his career in the antiques trade, starting with the world-famous antique dealers M. Harris & Sons on 4th November 1946. During this enthralling interview, peppered with delicious anecdotes of his time at Moss Harris, John recalled with amazing clarity the characters he encountered during an astonishing 70 years experience of the antique trade!

John started with Moss Harris & Sons, aged just 16 years of age – working in workshops at M. Harris, at 27 Little Russell Street, near the British Museum. The main showrooms for M. Harris were in New Oxford Street (shown below, in c.1921); John recalled a different shop front when he joined the firm in 1946 – and thinks that the shop front was changed sometime in the late 1930s, just before World War II.

M. Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, in 1921.

M. Harris were perhaps the leading antique furniture dealers in the world and when John joined the firm in 1946 they had been trading for 80 years.  The business had roots back to 1868, with the firm of D.L. Isaacs. Moss Harris, who made his first fortune as a dealer in horsehair, recycling this material back into the furniture trades for upholstery work, acquired the D.L. Isaacs business around the time of World War I and established M. Harris & Sons. They published a celebratory publication in their centenary year 1968. When John worked at the firm, he recalled that they still had more than 100 rooms filled with antique furniture.

John initially worked under the then office manager, Harold Dawson, and was tasked with booking in goods that constantly arrived in the yard behind the New Oxford Street shop – he remembered that in those days there was often so much stock that they had trouble getting it into the store rooms in time before closing the yard. John was paid £2.0.0 per week when he started, but obtained a pay rise of 5 shillings a week within a few months.

John’s memories of the business in the 1940s and 1950s will, I’m sure, be a rich resource for future scholars; he remembers, for example, one of the old retainers from the D.L. Isaacs business deal (there was an agreement, apparently, that a member of the Isaacs family was to be attached to the business until the last member of the family died out) – and John remembers ‘Old Ick’, resplendent in top hat, walking the floor of the M. Harris galleries. John also remembered the sad day when George Harris (one of two sons of Moss Harris) died suddenly of a heart attack; George was found dead in his Bugatti in Mecklenberg Square at 4am.  John recalls having to steer George’s Bugatti back into the yard at M. Harris as the police removed the car back to the shop. One of the lighter memories John recalled, was the time in 1947 when Sidney Harris (the other son of Moss Harris), was entertaining some important clients at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, but had inadvertently left the shop without his wallet.  John was immediately dispatched to the Grosvenor House Hotel with £100 in crisp £5 notes, and was allowed by Sidney to wander the stands at the Grosvenor House Fair during the afternoon – the first time that John had seen Grosvenor House, which was then the premier event in the antiques calendar.

M. Harris & Sons; one of the showrooms in 1948.

John also recalled that in 1946, when John joined the firm, business was booming, but after John did his National Service in 1948, and returned to M. Harris in the Spring of 1950, he remembered that the business had changed; George had died in 1947, and Sidney, his brother, also died in the late 1940s, leaving the firm with significant Death Duties to pay.

There are many other more amusing, and illuminating anecdotes of John’s time at Moss Harris – memories of visits by Queen Mary and the Princess Elizabeth in the early 1950s (Moss Harris were granted Appointment to Queen Mary as  ‘Dealers in Antique Furniture & Works of Art’), as well as many other well known personalities and V.I.P.s.

John’s memories of his own business, which he started, with his wife Lorraine, in 1963, were equally fascinating. He recalled the antiques scene in Petworth – which when he opened his shop in 1963, had just 4 antique businesses; 2 of which were cabinetmakers and antique dealers (Ron Denman and Mr Collingham)….

Lorraine Morris, wife of John Morris. Photograph 2017. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers project, University of Leeds.

…. and 2 antique dealers proper (Bill Boss, and Miss Streeter, of Streeter & Daughter). As the antique business boomed during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Petworth became home to at least 15 dealers, eventually becoming a key location for the trade.  During the interview John also recalled his memories of some of the ‘old characters’ of the antique trade, now long gone – people such as Sam Wolsey, Claude Partridge, J. Rochelle Thomas, and ‘Jippy’ Botibol (J. M. Botibol), as well as more recently departed dealers such as the legendary Dick’ Turpin.

Our interview with John makes an absolutely fascinating addition to our corpus of interviews with members of the antique trade, and like all of our interviews, will, once edited, be available on the project website in due course.

Mark

September 25, 2016

BADA Voices Interviews

Our project to capture the reflections and memories of antique dealers and people involved in the British Antique trade is one of the central research themes in the Antique Dealer project.  And thanks to the British Antique Dealers’ Association, who have very kindly given the project financial support, we are able to continue the oral history interviews – do check out the Oral History pages in the project website for more information of the support from the BADA and the new interviews that we have undertaken as part of the ‘BADA Voices’ initiative, see – Antique Dealer Project Oral History

PrintOf the two most recent interviews we have completed, one focused on the history of the BADA itself, in our interview with Mark Dodgson, Secretary General of the BADA.  The other interview, with the former antique dealer, agent, Forensic Appraiser and Expert Witness, Nicholas Somers, allowed us to capture some of Nicholas’ memories of the history of that most famous of antique furniture dealers, M. Harris & Sons, amongst many other things.

 

mark-dodgson-14a

Mark Dodgson, Sec Gen of the BADA. Photo courtesy of the BADA.

Mark Dodgson started at the BADA in 1989, as an assistant to the then Secretary General, Elaine Dean, before succeeding Elaine as Secretary General in 2008.

In this engaging interview Mark tells us about the history of the BADA – which was founded in 1918, and has the exciting prospect of their centenary celebrations coming up in 2018. Mark outlined the wide range of activities and projects that the BADA have been involved with over the years – as many of you will know, the BADA was initially founded by members of the antique trade in 1918 to lobby Government as a response to the proposed introduction of the so-called ‘luxury tax’, and the organisation has continued that tradition.  The BADA has been a central player in many of the most high-profile issues affecting the antique trade, from the introduction of Valued Added Tax and ‘margin scheme’ in the 1970s, the (still contentious) issue of the introduction of auction sales buyers premium in the 1970s, to the lively debates surrounding the restrictions on the sales of elephant ivory – currently animating (excuse the pun!) the art world at present.

Mark also talked about his role as Secretary of the Art Trade Liaisons Committee (The British Art Market Federation), and the history of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair (founded in 1934 as an initiative by some key BADA members), as well as the more recent BADA Fair (established in 1991) and the BADA relationship with, and support for, the conservation courses at West Dean College. With the centenary of the BADA coming up in 2018, I’m sure the interview will be a valuable resource in those celebrations.

Our other interview in the BADA Voices series was with the retired antique dealer, agent, auctioneer, and Expert Witness, Nicholas Somers.

n-somers-2016

Nicholas Somers, at his home in London. Photo Antique Dealer project, University of Leeds, 2016.

richard-grose-8-exhibition-rd-london-sw7-ayb1950

Richard Grose, 8 Exhibition Road, London, c.1950.

Nicholas, currently the Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners (he has also been collecting treen for decades!) and has over 50 years experience of the antique trade.  Nicholas started his career in the world of antiques with the dealer Paul Smith (a BADA member) in 1965, before moving to work for Richard Grose at Exhibition Road in London.

In 1967 Nicholas left Richard Grose and became one of the sales team at the world-famous antique furniture dealers M. Harris & Sons, staying with Harris until 1971, when he set up his own antiques business in Worcester  – ‘Somers at the Sign of the Chair’.

Nicolas had some fascinating memories of working at Moss Harris – with some wonderfully evocative descriptions of the showrooms – the business was already contracting somewhat when Nicholas joined Robert Harris in 1967, and, as Nicholas tells us, the showrooms had been reduced by half, but it still had 80 rooms packed with museum-quality English furniture and objects when he joined the firm. Here is the gallery of Moss Harris, in New Oxford Street, London, in the early 1920s, soon after Moss Harris had taken over the firm of D.L. Isaacs, who established the business in 1868.

M Harris 40 54 New Oxford Street Feb 1921 Conn

M. Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1924.

Nicholas has an exceptionally wide ranging experience of the antique and art world, having been part of the management buy-out at the auctioneers Bearnes in Torquay, from the then parent company Sotheby’s, in 1981, and as a ‘forensic appraiser’  and Expert Witness in legal disputes in the art world.

Both interviews make rich contributions to the growing archive of antique trade interviews that we are assembling as part of the Antique dealer project.

Mark

 

 

 

December 23, 2015

And even more on Quinneys

I’ve been undertaking some further research on the play ‘Quinneys’  – as readers of the project blog now know, I hope – it’s the fictional story of the life of an antique dealer, Joe Quinney, written by Horace Annesley Vachell in 1914, and made into a play in 1915 – see previous blog posts on ‘Quinney’ and on Thomas Rohan. In a recent post I posted about the playbill for Quinneys, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, which was staged in 1915 (see blog entry for December 2015), and drew attention to the fact that the London antique trade had supplied much of the antique furniture and etc for the stage-set.

I recently found another playbill for Quinneys, this time from 1925, for a staging of the play at the New Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane, London.

Quinneys New Theatre 1925

Playbill, ‘Quinneys’, New Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane, London, 1925. Image, copyright Antique Dealers project 2015.

henry ainley

Henry Ainley as ‘Quinney’, c.1915.

As in the 1915 play, the lead (Joe Quinney) is still played by the Shakespearian actor Henry Ainley (looking much older, as one would expect, to his youthful self in the 1915 photograph – see above, and in our earlier blog post).

There are a few other photographs of Ainley as the character ‘Quinney’ in the 1925 playbill – here’s one with the aged Ainley suitably posed as the ‘connoisseur’ inspecting an antique cup –

Henry Ainley as Quinney 1925

Henry Ainley as ‘Quinney’, 1925; ‘Camera Portrait by Dorothy Wilding’. Image copyright Antique Dealer project 2015.

The 1925 playbill is a much more extensive document than the 1915 one (which was effectively just a single, folded, page), and amounts to 12 pages, mostly of advertisements. The adverts, as one might expect, included many of the leading antique dealers of the day; including the antique glass specialist Arthur Churchill (then in Dover Street); Joe Sale, of Kensington Church Street; John Sparks; Dreyfous of Mount Street; Frank Partridge; Charles J. Pratt; M. Harris & Sons; Hotspur Ltd; Stoner & Evans, the ceramics specialists, as well as lesser know dealers such as C. Rose, Edith Lee, C. Griffiths, Mrs. Mellor, and H. Fisher.

And, just as the 1915 play had antique furniture and objects loaned by dealers, (in 1915 it was Keeble, Parkenthorpe and Spillmans), in 1925 the antique furniture for the stage-set was supplied by leading antique furniture dealers Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street.

If anyone knows anything else about the staging of the play ‘Quinneys’ we would be very interested to hear!

Mark..

Oh and Merry Christmas to all our readers of the project blog!

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