Archive for April, 2014

April 30, 2014

Bull in a furniture shop?

In certain circles there has always been a certain degree of bad feeling towards the antiques trade-in rather the same way as lawyers and second-hand car salesmen. Needless to say this is almost always undeserved and seems to stem largely from jealousy, particularly due to the level of mark-up applied by a successful dealer selling a piece that they may have bought very cheaply for example. In this post I would like to focus on one notorious dealer who has gained a lot of adverse press coverage over the years. In this case, however, there is no doubt that the bad press is wholly proportionate.

Wilfred Bull was an Essex-based furniture dealer who made his name in the days of the antiques boom in the 70s and 80s, becoming well-known as a good trade source for the top dealers and becoming extremely rich in the process. Things changed dramatically in 1985 when he murdered his wife in his showroom and attempted to pass it off as the work of a crazed burglar. Needless to say Mr Bull ended up in prison but this wasn’t the end of his brush with infamy.  Whilst in prison he attempted to sell part of his collection of rhino horn, valued at £2 million and acquired before his imprisonment, on the black market as a way of financing his life after his expected release. Despite having his sentence extended as a result of this second indiscretion, he won a landmark Court of Appeal ruling in 1998 and was thus able to sell off part of his haul.

As with any trade there will always be a few bad apples and sadly Mr Bull’s name is now known for all of the wrong reasons.

Chris Coles,

Project volunteer research assistant.

The winding-up sale for Wilfred Bull's firm conducted by Sotheby's

The winding-up sale for Wilfred Bull’s firm conducted by Sotheby’s

April 22, 2014

Dealer’s Shops – images of developing locations and use of historic premises

Our database of images of Antique Dealer shops continues to grow. In the previous post I directed attention to the significances of the changing interior display of dealerships, and in the present post I thought it would be interesting to focus on exterior views and the range of buildings used by the trade; and to direct attention to the significance of the changing locations adopted by the trade over the course of the 20th century…..and some interesting aspects are evident – one is the growth of the ‘Country Antique Shop’.

In my earlier research into the history of the antique and curiosity trade (see publications in my research profile if you’re interested!) I made an observation that in the 19th century the emergence of the antique shop appears to have been almost exclusively an urban phenomenon, and that the ‘country antique shop’ was a later (20th century) development in the history of the trade.  This is also borne out when one investigates the store of images we have as part of this new project.  The Country Antique Shop we are so familiar with appears to have been a first half 20th century development, and here’s a selection of images we have just to give the briefest insight into this history.

Here’s an image, from 1921, of one of the most famous antique furniture dealers, Moss Harris & Sons (est 1868)…at 40-54 New Oxford Strett, London.


There have been many hundreds of dealers in London of course; here’s just one more, Walter Bird’s shop, Kensington Church Street, London, an image taken in c.1945:


Beyond antique shops in London and other urban areas such as Manchester and Birmingham, as well as in historic towns such as Bath and Warwick, the ‘country antique shop’ appears to have begun to proliferate from the second quarter of the 20th century – with an increased expansion during the 1940s and 1950s, which seems to have been a particularly important period. Locations such as ‘The Cotswolds’ and tourist towns in Sussex, Devon etc., appear to have been the preferred locations for many dealers during this period.

Here’s Forge House, Broadway, Worcestershire, in 1953; and one can also note that the historical nature of the building itself is a key driver for the appropriate adoption of such premises by the trade:


Here’s Shirley Brown’s ‘shop’, at Tredington, Warwickshire, also in 1953:


And, to close, a couple of ‘shops’ in Devon, that illustrate the wide range of buildings, and trading practices, adopted by the trade; here’s A K Halsey, Boffins Boft, Kingsbridge, Devon, also taken in 1953.


And finally, R. E. Martin, trading from home, as it appears…at ‘Tucketts’, Trusham, near Chudleigh, Devon, in 1961.


The project will be investigating the history of these locations, changing trading premises, and other developments as part of this broader ‘cultural history’ of the Antique Trade in the 20th century….so watch this space!


April 6, 2014

Images of Dealer shops

Recently been gathering more and more images of antique dealer shops, interior photographs as well as exterior photographs, so I thought I’d share a few images – we will be creating a database of images for the interactive website, and once that goes ‘live’ everyone will be able to see all the images we have to date – we’ve only just started to scratch the surface here, so there will be many, many more images to come, but at present I reckon we have a few hundred images….

Anyway, here’s some to whet the appetite – they are actually quite revealing about display practices in the antique trade at various points in the 20th century. Here’s ‘C. Charles’ shop – (this is J. Duveen’s brother, Charles Duveen, who was paid by his brother not to use the surname Duveen..); the date of the image is c.1903, when C. Charles traded at 27-29 New Bond Street, London.


The stock seems typical for a ‘high-end’ dealer, selling mainly to ‘Gilded Age’ American clients.  The display seems to be sightly more dispersed than many of the packed-out displays in antique and curiosity shops of the 19th century, but there’s still a fairly random jumble of various objects; there’s certainly no attempt here to replicate a ‘historic room’ display, or to theme the objects in any recognizable sense.

Contrast Charles Duveen’s gallery with a display of c.1903 of the house furnishers, furniture makers, and antique dealers, ‘Gillows’, 406 Oxford Street, London; Waring and Gillow was established in 1897, following the merger of Gillows (Lancaster), (est c.1730) and Waring of Liverpool. As ‘house furnishers’ Gillows have chosen to create a ‘room set’ effect; there’s also an obvious mixture of ‘antiques’ with reproductions made by the firm itself.


To set these metropolitan dealer shops in a contrast, here’s a provincial dealership, Perry and Phillips, trading in Bridgnorth, Shropshire –


The photograph is of their shop interior in c.1922 – quite a packed-out display, which must have been typical of many antique shops in the period – they have resonance to the displays of antique shops in the 19th century, and we still encounter such modes of display today of course.

Some, specialist dealerships, required different, discrete modes of display – this astonishing (to me anyway) image of the interior of the famous dealer in Chinese Works of Art, John Sparks, of c.1937, when Sparks was trading at 128 Mount Street, London (still a very smart address), is indicative of specialist methods of display, illustrative of the potential modes of engagement with the objects themselves.


The display obviously keys into the evolving aesthetic of British Modernism at the time, but also nods towards the specific modes of engagement, and the significance of the optic and the haptic in the appreciation of such works of art; it’s also worth pointing out that the display also keys into the stripped back, minimalist aesthetics of Chinese and Japanese art works themselves.  John Sparks had created a very carefully planned, very thoughtful response to the objects that they sold, and produced a display that does look astonishingly modern.


Home Subjects

a working group dedicated to the display of art in the private interior, c. 1715-1914

The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience

An International Conference hosted by The Bowes Museum and The University of Leeds

H. Blairman & Sons Ltd

A research project investigating the history of the antiques trade in Britain in the 19th & 20th centuries

Museum Studies Now?

'Museum Studies Now?' is an event which aims to discuss and debate museum and heritage studies education provision.

The Burlington Magazine Index Blog

art writing * art works * art market

East India Company at Home, 1757-1857

A research project investigating the history of the antiques trade in Britain in the 19th & 20th centuries