December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It’s been another stop-start year for the Antique Dealer Research Project, but we ended 2021 on a high, with the completion and screening of Quinneys, the film (2021). And so, on behalf of everyone involved in the project, we wish everyone who follows the Antique Dealer Research Blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Anon. Portobello Road, London, c.1945. Private Collection.

Our Christmas image is not especially festive this year, but we thought that as most people will be out shopping, or will have been out shopping, an image of shopping for antiques might capture the moment!

Merry Christmas!


December 16, 2021

Quinneys, the film (2021) is OUT NOW

MERRY CHRISTMAS!….Quinneys, the film (2021) has now been released on the Antique Dealer Research Project YouTube; so you can now watch the full film (1hr 47 mins) on your TV (or laptop) via the project YouTube.

The Project YouTube link is here – Antique Dealer Research Project YouTube

In our project YouTube channel you can also view the Trailer we made of the film (1 min 21 secs), plus two short contextual films which explore and explain the Set for the film – Quinneys comprised two sets, one Quinneys’ ‘Sanctuary’, filled with expensive and rare antiques, and the other, Sam Tomlin’s set (Quinneys’ brother-in-law, and also an antique dealer), which is much more prosaic (it was loaned by Lyons Tea Rooms in one of the original productions of the play in c.1915).

We have also uploaded a film of the Q&A we had at the Victoria and Albert Museum following the preview screening of Quinneys on 1st December.

Quinneys Q&A at the Victoria and Albert Museum, with L-R Christopher Wilk (Keeper of Woodwork, Fashion and Performance at the V&A); George Rodosthenous (Director of the film Quinneys); Mark Westgarth (Producer of the film Quinneys); Martin Levy (Director of H. Blairman & Sons, antiques), and Joanna Norman (Director of the V&A Research Institute).

We hope you enjoy watching Quinneys – do let us know what you think by publishing comments on the Project YouTube or emailing us at


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November 22, 2021

Quinneys, the film (2021) – the official trailer and introductory short films

Quinneys, the film (2021) is now just weeks away from general release, so do keep your eye on the project blog for details. In the meantime, we have two, invitation only, screenings, one in York (Weds 24th November) and the other in London (1st December) – we still have just a few FREE tickets left for the York Picture House screening (5.30pm-8.30pm) with wine and canapes if anyone is near York on Weds 24th (do email me direct for tickets In anticipation, we have made an Official Trailer for Quinneys, the film (2021) – see the YouTube below.

And for extra context for the film, we have also made 2 short films which explain a little bit about the significance of the Set for Quinneys, as well as outlining some key ideas that underpin how we have positioned Quinneys within the wider Antique Dealer Research Project at the University of Leeds. Here are links to the 2 short films.

Making the film of Quinneys has been a mammoth task, we’ve had to overcome the impact and restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic, various Lockdowns and constraints, but thanks to everyone associated with the making of Quinneys, the film (2021), we are very near to making the film live again, more than 70 years after Quinneys was last seen as a film.

We do hope everyone will get a chance to see the film, and will enjoy it!


October 30, 2021

Quinneys, the film (2021) coming soon!

Our film of the play Quinneys is very near to being released – the final edits and addition of film credits and music are being completed in the next week or so. As readers of the antiquedealersresearchblog will know, over the past few months we have been busy making a film version of the play Quinneys (1915).

Quinneys, the film (2021), full cast. Photograph, Andrew Mills, 2021.

Indeed, you can trace the genesis and development of our project to recreate the play in our numerous blog posts over the past seven years! (yes, 7 years!). You can trace the journey we have been on with Quinneys, from the initial ideas for the recreated play, the rehearsals for a ‘live’ performance (cut short by the first Lockdown of the pandemic back in March 2020), to the shift to making a film version and the final stages of the making of the film in the posts on the blog – see our posts on 27 July 2014; 6th December 2014; 31st December 2014; 28th November 2015; 23rd December 2015; 26th June 2019; 17th December 2019; 30th January 2020; 9th February 2020; 4th March 2020; 8th March 2020; 27th September 2020; 28th May 2021; 20th July 2021; as you’ll see, it’s been a long journey!

George Rodosthenous (the director of the film) and I had a first look at the completed film this week at the cinema on campus at the University of Leeds (George even brought popcorn!). I must say, it’s looking fabulous! Patrick Bannon (cinematography) and George have done an amazing job on editing the footage and have created a real legacy project for the AHRC Year of the Dealer project.

Here are some exclusive photographs of how the film looks in its final version – taken at the first viewing of the ‘proof’ version screening of the film this week on campus.

Jim (Fergus Johnston) and Posy (Annabel Marlow), Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.
Sam Tomlin (Malcom Webb), Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021
Susan Quinney (Hannah Rooney) and Posy Quinney (Annabel Marlow), Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.
Posy Quinney (Annabel Marlow), Cyrus P. Hunsaker (Stephenson Catney), Jim (Fergus Johnston), Quinney (Samuel Parmenter), Dupont Jordan (Sebastian de Pury), Sam Tomlin (Malcom Webb) and Susan Quinney (Hannah Rooney), Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.
Mable Dredge (India Walton), Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.
Dupont Jordan (Sebastian de Pury), with one of the ‘Chippendale’ chairs. Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.
Quinney (Samuel Parmenter) and Susan Quinney (Hannah Rooney). Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2021.

We are planning two exclusive, invitation only, premiere screenings of Quinneys (2021) later in November and early December, before we release the film to the world as a free download on the project websites. I will of course post some updates on the screenings in the coming months, but for the moment I’d like to thank George, Patrick, all the actors, and everyone who helped create Quinneys (2021). It’s a brilliant piece of work!


September 30, 2021

Antique Dealer Catalogues – Rueben Shenker c.1920

Our collections of historic antique dealer catalogues and brochures continues to expand. The latest edition is a rare sales catalogue issued by the antique dealer Reuben Shenker (1872-1952) in c.1920. Shenker was born in Russia and came to England, settling initially in Grimsby, North Lincolnshire with his parents. The family moved to London by 1910, and Reuben, together with his younger brother Isaac (1882-1959) established an antique dealing business, specialising in ‘early oak furniture’.

Rueben Shenker, ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue, c.1920. Image, antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Isaac Shenker seems to have worked for his brother Rueben – he is recorded as ‘assistant antique furniture’ in the 1910 Census, whilst Reuben is listed in the same Census as ‘antique dealer’. Isaac appears to have left his brother’s business in 1913, first trading from Holland Park Avenue, then, by 1928, from 118 Brompton Road, a location with a very high concentration of antique dealers in the period. Isaac became a BADA (British Antique Dealers’ Association) member by 1932, and seems to have been very successful, ending up with a shop in Old Bond Street by the late 1940s.

Rueben established his business in 1911, trading from Red Lion Street, London until 1936. He specialised in ‘early oak’, which was hugely popular for furnishers and collectors in the opening decades of the 20th century. In 1937 Reuben appears to have closed his Red Lion Street shop and became ‘manager’ of an antique dealing business, Coslyn Limited, who were based at St. Mary Abbott’s Terrace, London.

Advertisement, R. Shenker, from Connoisseur, June 1914. Image antique dealer research project University of Leeds.

Rueben’s ‘Illustrated Catalogue of Inexpensive Genuine Antique Furniture’ contains a series of photographs of various examples of 16th, 17th and 18th century furniture, and is dominated by ‘early oak’ specimens.

Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.
Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

In his introductory remarks to the catalogue, Shenker draws attention to the popularity of ‘early oak furniture’. He writes, ‘In recent years Genuine Antique Furniture has come into greater favour with buyers of all tastes and classes than heretofore…..The most important and durable pieces are to be found in the early oak examples, which, while being quaint in design and workmanship, are the most useful for country residences.’

‘Old oak’ was indeed amongst the most popular tastes in the opening decades of the 20th century, with many specialist dealers emerging in the market. There was also a thriving trade in the sale of ‘old oak rooms’, recycling 16th and 17th century panelling and fittings into new old-style properties as collectors and furnishers wanted the ‘period room’ look. Dealers such as Lenygon & Morant, Frederick Litchfield, and perhaps most famously, Charles Roberson, did a brisk trade in the sale of period panelling and period rooms. Below is a photograph of a ‘Gothic Oak Room from Boughton Malherbe Manor House, Kent’, from Roberson’s sales catalogue, volume II of three volumes, also, like Shenker’s catalogue, dating from the early 1920s.

‘Gothic Oak Room from Boughton Malherbe Manor House, Kent’, from Roberson, ‘Antique Panelled Rooms, vol II’, c.1921. Image, antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.
Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Reuben continued in his introductory remarks in his catalogue, highlighting the increasing importance of authentic specimens, which was a special concern for collectors of ‘old oak’ in the period, and of his own his expertise as a dealer. Reuben writes, ‘Having specialised in early oak furniture for many years, I offer intending purchasers the benefit of my experience to guard them against unfair dealing…I may mention that I have a large clientele all over the world, which has been obtained by giving satisfaction and by honest dealing.’

Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Shenker’s catalogue is a rare survival of an antique dealer’s sales catalogue from the 1920s and will be joining the growing collection of antique dealer catalogues and ephemera and antique dealer archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds in due course.


August 17, 2021

The Generosity of Supporters

I’ve constantly amazed by the generosity of the many, many supporters to the antique dealer research project. Over the years we have had donations of archives, ephemera, books as well as funds, and crucially people’s time, all of which have not only helped the various strands of the research project but have also helped to build a community of interested, and interesting, people.

But I was truly touched when the postie called last week to deliver a parcel from our lead volunteer, Chris Coles. Chris, as many of you will know, has been helping with the project for many years, helping out with many aspects of the projects, from undertaking and transcribing several of our Oral History interviews, sending us data and information on the history of antique dealers, and generally being first in line to help out with project events. When he started as a volunteer on the research project Chris was working in the Prints and Drawings Department at the British Museum, but he has now moved on to be a consultant researcher for the antique furniture trade.

Chris was exceptionally generous to send us this beautiful watercolour design for a needlework top for a period card table, produced for the antique dealers’ Camerons of Mount Street, London in 1940.

Wilfred Stanley Haines (1905-1944) Design for a Needlework Top for a Period Card Table, November 1940 for Camerons (Antiques), London. Photograph, Abbott & Holder.

The design was created by Wilfred Stanley Haines (1905-1944), who worked for his family firm A. Haines & Son, tapestry restorers at 216 Merton Road, Wimbledon. W.S. Haines trained at William Morris & Co and was working at Morris & Co in 1936 but by the time the Second World War broke out Haines was working for his family firm. Chris tells us that there are several watercolour designs by W.S. Haines in the collections at the V&A Museum in London. Sadly Haines was killed in a bombing raid during the Second World War in 1944 whilst working as a fireman.

Camerons (Antiques) was established in c.1910 by Beatrice Cameron, initially at 16 Mount Street, before relocating to 67 Duke Street, St. James’s immediately after the Second World War. Cameron’s seem to have specialised in antique tapestries and panelled rooms in the 1930s and 1940s, hence I guess, the commissioning of the design for a needlework top for an antique card table. W.S. Haines produced several designs for needlework tops and covers for antique furniture in the early 1940s, including a design for a needlework cover for a ‘Chippendale chair, circa 1760’ for the antique dealer William Lee of 39 Stonegate, York – (thanks to Chris for sending us all this information!). Below is a photograph of William Lee’s antique shop interior at Stonegate, of c.1949.

William Lee, 39 Stonegate, York, interior, c.1949. Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

Chris very generously gifted the watercolour to the antique dealer project, in honour, he tells us, of John Hill (of Jeremy Antiques, formerly of the King’s Road) and (he says) of me (I am truly flattered and honoured). Chris also tells us that Tom Edwards at Abbott & Holder (where Chris purchased the watercolour) was also exceptionally generous with a discount in acknowledgment of the gift of the watercolour to the antique dealer research project.

Thank you to Chris and to Tom for such generous gestures, it is so encouraging, and touching, that you regard the research project so highly.


July 23, 2021

New Oral History Interview – David Love

The various UK Government Lockdowns and Social Distancing requirements over the past 16 months or so have severely restricted our ability to continue with our Oral History of the Antique Trade project. But as we have started to move out of various restrictions we have ‘fired up’ the Oral History project again. And we’re pleased to announce that David Love, of David Love Antiques Limited in Harrogate, generously agreed to be our latest and 43rd interviewee – we interviewed David in late June.

David Love, at his shop in Harrogate, 2021. Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

David is perhaps one of the most experienced antique dealers in Britain, having been in the antiques trade for more than 50 years. He started in 1969 with his first shop, which he opened at Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire, but David had initially begun in the trade by helping out at the shop of his mother, Araxie Love, who had established her own antique dealing business in c.1960 in Richmond, North Yorkshire, acquiring the antique shop run by the dealer Kathleen Agar.

In this very engaging oral history interview David tells us about how he relocated his antique business to Swan Road in Harrogate in the early 1970s, before occupying the premises of the well-known dealer Walter Waddingham in Royal Parade in 1975, and remaining there for 45 years. David has fond memories of Walter, and many other well-known dealers in Harrogate and York and the Yorkshire area – dealers such as Frank and Basil Shaftoe and Reg Smith of ‘Smith’s the Rink’ in Harrogate and Charles Morrison in York – and in the interview he gives a real insight into the Northern antiques trade in the period from the 1970s until the decline of the trade across the UK in the late 1990s.

David was primarily an inter-dealer trader in the 1970s and 1980s, often supplying dealers in the South and in London with antique furniture and a wide range of objects. He recalls the numerous local auction sales that kept the supply chains running, and the extensive buying trips that he would make, starting in Newcastle, Sunderland and the North East of England, and extending to Coldstream, Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee and Glasgow in Scotland, before returning to Harrogate via Carlisle, Kendal and Barnard Castle – calling in at many well-known dealers such as the Sydneys (in Newcastle), Owen Humble (in Jesmond) and Bill Beaton (in Perth and Dundee). These were ‘fun days’ as David describes them, when one would not know what would be found in the various antique shops one visited.

David also tells us of some spectacular finds that he has made over the years, including spotting a previously ‘lost’ ormolu tea urn by the great 18th century manufacturer, businessman and designer Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), which he acquired whilst in the USA. He realised it was something special and this was confirmed when he got home and looked up Nicholas Goodison’s magnificent volume on the work of Matthew Boulton (1974) to find that it was listed in the book as ‘lost’.

In this fascinating interview David also reflects on the changes to the antique trade over the past 50 years and the reasons for those changes, as well as reflecting on the what the future might hold for the antiques trade. The interview will join the rest of the Oral History interviews as part of the archive of the history of the antique trade in Britain and will be made available to the public in due course. In the meantime, we have a few more oral history interviews planned, so do keep your eye on the antique dealers research blog and the project research pages.


July 20, 2021

Quinneys (2021)- the film!

As you may know, we have been making a film of the play ‘Quinneys’ (1915) at The Stage on campus at the University of Leeds as part of the Arts & Humanities Research Council funded ‘SOLD! The Year of the Dealer’ project. The filming was completed on 2nd July and we are now in the process of editing all the sections of film and creating the final version of Quinneys (2021). We are aiming to premiere the film later in the year, probably in November or December, at a cinema in Leeds, and, hopefully also in London – do keep you eye on the antique dealer blog and the project website for updates.

Thanks to our amazing director of the film, Dr. George Rodosthenous, all the student actors, Samuel Parmenter (as Joseph Quinney); Hannah Rooney (as Mrs Susan Quinney); Annabel Marlow (as Posy Quinney); Fergus Johnston (as James Miggott); India Walton (as Mable Dredge); Malcolm Webb (as Sam Tomlin); Stephenson Catney (as Cyrus P. Hunsaker); and Sebastian de Pury (as Dupont Jordan) – as well as Samantha Willetts (as Theatre Company Manager and lighting design); Andy Mills (as technician) – and our cameraman Patrick Bannon, we managed to get the film ‘in the can’ over an exhausting 5 days (9am-9pm!) – helped by delicious pizza! Here’s the full cast after filming, on the Quinneys (2021) ‘Sanctuary’ set, with George –

Cast of Quinneys in rehearsal with George Rodosthenous at The Stage, University of Leeds. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

Rehearsals were a real challenge, with all the Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing etc. We had to wear masks when not actually on set and about to film – here’s the actors all masked up early on in the rehearsals:

Cast of Quinneys in rehearsal with George Rodosthenous at The Stage, University of Leeds. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

Annabel Marlow, who plays Posy Quinney (Quinney’s daughter) in the film, was still self-isolating on the first day of filming, so we had to do the rehearsals with Annabel on Zoom via a laptop – a very surreal, J.G. Ballard-esque experience! Here’s Samantha Willetts (Company Manager) holding the laptop with Annabel (‘Posy’) on screen.

Samantha Willetts holding ‘Posy’ (Annabel Marlow) – rehearsals for Quinneys. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

Filming Quinneys was a very complex operation, with some very sophisticated technical kit, and it required very detailed planning and execution – here’s a long shot of the setup for filming, with Patrick Bannon (far right) and the team manning the cameras.

Filming Quinneys. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

And another photograph of Patrick checking the camera ready for filming another scene of Quinneys (2021) –

Filming Quinneys. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

As well as the actors ‘starring’ in Quinneys the antiques on Set were also key characters in the film, as they were in the original staging of the play in 1915. All the objects on Set were genuine antiques, and, like the original versions of the play in 1915, were loaned by leading antique dealers. In 1915 dealers such as Walter & Ernest Thornton-Smith and M. Harris & Sons loaned antiques. And below is a photograph of the Set for Quinneys’ ‘Sanctuary’ in 2021.

The Set for Quinneys’ ‘Sanctuary’. Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

The antiques for Quinneys (2021) were very generously loaned by David Love Antiques, Harrogate, Simon Myers of R.N. Myers & Sons, Gargrave, and Tony Lumb of Charles Lumb & Sons, formerly of Harrogate. We were very lucky to have such wonderful antiques for the Set, and would like to say thank you again to David, Simon and Tony for all their help and support.

Here is a final photograph of all the cast of Quinneys (2021) on Set in Quinneys’ ‘Sanctuary’. We very much look forward to welcoming everyone to the premiere of Quinneys later in the year. Keep you eye on the project website for more details.


Cast of Quinneys (2021). Photograph, Year of the Dealer project, 2021.

May 28, 2021

Quinneys – re-booted – we’re making a film!

We are delighted to announce that the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project, ‘Sold! The Year of the Dealer’ has emerged from hibernation and we have started rehearsals again for the restaging of the play ‘Quinneys’ (1915). Thanks to a further extension to the Year of the Dealer project from the AHRC we can now continue the project, which now ends on 31st December 2021. We will update you on the remaining proposed events and the museum trails later in the summer, but for now, we are all really excited to announce that Quinneys is alive and well.

Rehearsals are currently taking place online via TEAMS – which makes it an interesting if somewhat challenging experience, but our actors and George Rodosthenous, our Director, are doing brilliant work in this virtual space. Here’s a screen shot of the most recent rehearsal, with George (top left) directing the actors, and with Samantha Willetts (top middle) our new Theatre Company Manager and Lighting Designer. The actors are – Stephenson Catney (top right) who will be playing the part of the American millionaire collector Cyrus P. Hunsaker; Sebastian du Pury (bottom left) one of our new actors, playing the part of the American millionaire collector Dupont Jordan; India Walton (centre middle) playing the part of Mabel Dredge, Quinneys’ typist and a love interest of James Miggott in the play; Malcolm Webb (right middle) another of our new actors, playing the part of the antique dealer Sam Tomlin; Samuel Parmeter (left) and Fergus Johnston (right) (centre bottom), playing the parts of the antique dealer Joseph Quinney and James Miggott, Quinney’s workshop foreman, respectively; and Hannah Rooney (left bottom), playing the part of Mrs Susan Quinney. We are missing Annabel Marlow is this photograph (who plays Posy Quinney, the daughter of Susan and Joseph Quinney, and the other live interest of James Miggott) – and there’s a tiny image of me (Mark) in the bottom right corner, taking the photograph!

Quinneys rehearsal on TEAMS at the University of Leeds.

The pandemic has of course meant that we have had to rethink our plans to restage a performance of the play in a theatre – but the exciting news on the Quinneys project is that we are making a film of the play instead. We will be filming Quinneys at the University of Leeds in early July and following that we are planning to have a ‘premiere’ of the film at a cinema later in the year – so do look out for updates on the antique dealer project website and on this Blog of course.

In the meantime, here’s another photograph of the Quinneys rehearsals on TEAMS, with all the actors – and this time including Annabel Marlow (left centre), who pays Posy Quinney in the play/film.

Quinneys rehearsals on TEAMS at the University of Leeds.

We very much look forward to welcoming everyone to the World Premiere of our film of Quinneys later this year.


May 8, 2021

‘She is now of the family of Champcommunal and other money makers’: women, antiques and interiors in mid twentieth-century London

[our friend and colleague, Dr Clare Taylor, from Open University, is our guest blogger again for this blogpost – thank you again Clare for taking the time to share your research – you can also read Clare’s other blogpost from 19th Feb 2021, HERE].


Here’s Clare Taylor’s blogpost:

‘Many of the names behind leading antique dealers were men, but women’s role in the business equally deserves to be uncovered and celebrated, as Mark’s 2015 posts on the early B.A.D.A. member Clara Millard revealed [HERE & HERE]. Women, too, have a long association with the trade [Mark – indeed they do, the dealer Jane Clarke (c.1794-1859), who specialised in ‘antique lace’, was a major dealer in the middle decades of the 19th century – see also my dictionary of 19th century antique dealers – White Rose Depository ] and at least one female dealer looked back to the eighteenth-century to advertise her shop. Anne Austen adapted the c.1754 trade card of James Wheeley, a paper hanging warehouseman on Aldersgate Street, for her own business on New Bond Street, which was visited by Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1912 [Mark – see Anne Austin in the Antique Dealer Project Map website too – HERE ]. Austen kept Wheeley’s cartouche and shop scene but changed the name and address. She also adapted the wording, removing the wallpaper manufacturing element from Wheeley’s card and substituting ‘common papers’ with the presumable more valuable ‘Chinee papers’ or Chinese wallpapers, adding ‘New Chairs & Horse Glass designs by the ingenious Mr. Chippendale’ to the list of items she sold.

Trade Card for Anne Austin’s gallery, c.1913. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum. Courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Austen’s card suggests she was fitting up interiors, and decorating was frequently thought of as the preserve of amateurs who gave ‘advice’, but became nevertheless an important area for women seeking work (and an income) in the early years of the twentieth century and often went hand in hand with the trade in antiques. Sybil Colefax (1875-1951) was in just such a position in the 1920s. These women trod a difficult path, as Virginia Woolf’s description of Sybil in a letter of 1930 to Vanessa Bell conveys, since in Woolf’s view Sybil ‘is now of the family of Champcommunal and other money makers’, ‘a hardened shopkeeper’, whose society life of leisure has been replaced by a working life such as that of Elspeth Champcommunal (1888-1976), the then Editor of Vogue magazine.

Trade Card for Sybil Colefax Limited, n.d. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Sybil’s name is now synonymous with the decorators Colefax & Fowler, and although her role in that firm might have been short lived (1938-46) and her contribution since eclipsed by those of John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, Sybil’s knowledge of antiques was built up over a much longer timeframe. She had started out before the Second World War working for Stair & Andrew, establishing their decorating department on the first floor at Bruton Street, so her early knowledge may well have been gleaned from working with their stock, although according to her biographer later ‘forays into Bond Street…brought her into contact with many London dealers’. Her trade card certainly highlighted that she supplied ‘Antique furniture, glass, china with a special feature of Regency pieces’ and it was a lighter version of Edward Knoblock’s Regency taste which she promoted with painted and gilded chairs, console tables and textiles in plain satin or printed with Regency-style motifs such as bay leaf circlets and lyres.

Drawing Room at Sybil Colefax’s home on Lord North Street, London, photographed after 1941. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Her own manuscript, ‘On Houses’, also signified the importance of the setting in which antiques were placed, warning that ‘ You lose half the effect of a fine Queen Anne writing table or bookcase or walnut chairs…when they’re set among some dull creton [sic] or linen covers of poor design and washy colour’. It also seems that clients recognised her expertise in antiques as well as interiors. During the War she kept her business going whilst helping out at the Red Cross depot and in May 1940, a desperate Marquess of Anglesey, for whose wife, Marjorie Manners, Sybil had decorated a bedroom at Plas Newyyd, wrote that he had no money and no jewels (‘except as will belong to the children, as they want them’) to send to the Red Cross sale. He sought Sybil’s advice to authenticate a piece of furniture, asking, ‘What about the Empire piece. Do you think it has a History? Or can you say with authority that it comes from Malmaison? Can you advise me whether it could be written over as famous and historical and sent to the Lord Mayor?’

A key element of the Regency Revival taste for which Sybil Colefax was admired was decorated and painted furniture, a taste which is still with us today. From the early 1920s such pieces were sold by the decorator Syrie Maugham (1879-1955) from her shop on Baker Street, who had a reputation for ‘pickling’, bleaching and painting in white pieces from eighteenth-century commodes to mirror frames.

Sketch of Syrie Maugham at work from Cecil Beaton’s The Glass of Fashion 1954. Image courtesy of Clare Taylor.

Liberty’s, Heal’s and Peter Jones on Sloane Square also sold painted pieces, supplied in the case of Peter Jones not only by Maugham but by the artists Ambrose Thomas (‘The Marquis d’Oisy’) and Margaret Kunzer. By 1930 Kunzer had been recruited to head a Department of Decorative Furniture for the shop, and during the early 1930s a painting studio was established in nearby Ixworth Place to feed in stock, run by a young John Fowler. Stock sold out at the first exhibition held in the Department and demand continued to grow. One determinant was clearly price. Kunzer went on buying trips and had a regular supplier in Suffolk who repaired pieces ready for painting (a Mr Head in Sudbury) but she also bought pieces closer to home once paying £10 in the Caledonian market (also a source of pieces for Syrie Maugham) for ‘a small pine tallboy, a writing table, several chairs and a tray’ which all needed only minor repairs before being painted. However, Kunzer also had a keen eye for what would sell, recalling in 1982 that at an exhibition held early in 1935 it was Regency pieces that were most in demand as they were suited to customers who were increasingly living in smaller scale flats and houses.

These examples, of Anne Austen, Sybil Colefax, Syrie Maugham and Margaret Kunzer, illustrate some of the different ways in which women contributed to the trade in antiques in the interwar years and after, and offer tantalising glimpses of the networks within which these women operated and their role in promoting new tastes.

Clare Taylor.

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