Archive for August, 2014

August 21, 2014

The Architecture of the Trade – antique, second-hand, and reproduction furniture

A longer than usual Blog entry – but the issues are complex! – I recently visited Tyne & Wear archives (at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle) to have a look at the archive of an antique dealer named Robertson, trading in Newcastle in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the archive! I did have a reference (1556) from the National Archives site (honest!) and it suggested that the archive was in Newcastle, but there’s no record of it at T&W archives – more digging is needed.

Anyway, I didn’t waste the day, I had a look at the archive of George Hobbs Limited, which dates from c.1921 up to 1967. Investigating the Hobbs archive has directed attention again to key issues we are dealing with in the research for the project – we’ve had endless discussions about this! And that is who/what we include in our ‘cultural geography’ of the antique trade. The main point here is that any history of the antique trade needs to address both the mutability of the term ‘antique’ (more on that in a future blog entry), and the hybridity of antique trade itself. Historically the ‘Antique Trade’ has involved a complex overlapping of practices and initiatives. Hobbs is a good case in point.

George Hobbs is not listed under ‘antique dealers’ in the trade directories in the period 1920s-1950s, but is firmly categorised under ‘Furniture Dealers’  or ‘Furniture Brokers’- in the period in question this would normally indicate that Hobbs was a ‘second-hand’ furniture dealer.  You’ll already see a key point here…when does ‘second-hand’ furniture become ‘antique’ – the notion is too complex to deal with here in a short blog entry, but it’s worth holding that thought for now.

What is interesting about the Hobbs archive though is how it illustrates how ‘trade directory’ classifications are themselves a meta-classificatory form, one that smooths out, elides and indeed often obscures the complex nature of antique trade.  The stock books of Hobbs clearly demonstrate this (to me anyway!) –  the early stock books of the firm (dating from 1930s) clearly show that the majority of the furniture that they sold was described as ‘antique’ – here’s a few examples:

‘Old Chippendale armchair’ which was listed as valued at £1.0.0. [this is pre-decimal currency] in January 1939. Again, there’s not space here to deal with the semantic field but it’s worth noting the descriptive term ‘Old’….

‘Antique Mah[ogany] Bow Chest’, which was bought for £7.0.0. [this is pre-decimal currency) in August 1944, and sold for £29.10.0 [they did quite well out of this transaction!] in September 1945.

‘Antique Mahogany DL [drop leaf] table’ which was bought at the auction house of Anderson & Garland in September 1944 for £3.5.0. and following some restoration costing £3.19.0, was sold in January 1945 for £22.0.0.

There are many more examples in the stock books in the 1930s and mid 1940s of the sales of ‘antique furniture’, alongside quite obvious ‘second-hand’ and household furniture – things such as ‘4ft Hair Mattress’ bought for £5.10.0. in May 1945, and sold later that same month for £8.5.0. What is striking is that by the early 1950s the stock books clearly indicate that the selling of ‘antique’ furniture by Hobbs was much less common and second-hand furniture seems to have become much more the main trading activity of the firm. There may, of course, be some very specific reasons for the gradual change in the trading activities, but the point is that all the while that Hobbs was selling ‘antiques’ the firm remained in the trade directories at least, as ‘furniture brokers’.

Searching for ‘Hobbs’ in the trade directories in the archives at the Discovery Museum also illustrates a, by now, familiar pattern of practices that form, morph into, the ‘antique trade’ (if you’ve read my Dictionary of 19th Century Antique & Curiosity Dealers (2009/2011) you’ll read about this formation – (sorry for the plug there…I still have some copies btw if you’re interested!…).

Anyway, the firm of ‘George Hobbs Limited’ was incorporated in 1925 (as ‘Cabinet Makers and House Furnishers’…yet another practice!) – they appear to begin with ‘James Hobbs’ listed as ‘Chair Manufacturer’ at 14 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, in trade directories in 1874; James Hobbs is then listed as ‘Cabinetmaker’ in 1886, before a listing as ‘Furniture Broker’ in 1889, when his son, George Hobbs, was also listed at 88 Pilgrim Street, as ‘Furniture Dealer’.  George Hobbs continues to be listed in the trade directories in the early 1900s to the 1920s as ‘Furniture Broker’.

This ‘problem’ in terms of classification is helpful though, as it directs attention to the complex nature of the history of the antique trade. Indeed, here’s another example to reinforce (and complicate) the point – it’s also an opportunity to show some photographs of another archive that I recently acquired, and that will be a useful resource for the research project of course!

The archive is from the firm of W.W. Hawkins, St. Michaels Tudor Works, Bond Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, and is composed of a number of albums of photographs and working drawings of furniture designs, and dates from c.1917 to to c.1960. Hawkins supplied ‘handmade, hand-carved’ reproduction furniture – the ‘Furniture of Old England’ as the livery on their vans indicated:


W.W. Hawkins delivery van, c.1950.


Reproduction furniture made by W.W. Hawkins c.1950.

And here’s an example of the kind of oak furniture (sometimes described as ‘Jacobethan’) – for those that are interested, the descriptions, left to right, are: ‘Tallboy, £34.19.0; Dressing Table £22.7.0.; Mirror £14.13.0. Stool £4.6.0.; 5ft Wardrobe £72.3.6.; 4ft Wardrobe £37.10.0.’


Design for a chair: W.W. Hawkins – design dated 1953.

Here’s also a design for a late 17th century style armchair. The archive is a fascinating insight into the fashion for reproduction antique furniture in the period.

I can’t categorically say that Hawkins sold ‘antique’ furniture as well as manufacturing reproduction antique furniture, but one of the photograph albums certainly appears to have illustrations of genuine antique furniture – they may have been models for the craftsworkers at Hawkins of course – this example (below) is one of a number of pieces in an album dated c.1917-1927 that appear to be genuine examples.



But even if Hawkins did not actually retail antique furniture there are plenty of examples of ‘antique furniture manufacturer’s’ also selling genuine antique furniture alongside the practice of furniture making, and, as I’ve suggested above, this was a practice through which the ‘antique trade’ as we now understand it, emerged. There are many other hybrid forms of course, ‘Interior Decorators’ is just one that automatically comes to mind, and part of the objectives of the present research project is to ‘unpack’ (as we say in academia!) these complex practices….


August 16, 2014

Frank Partridge & Sons – donation of materials

The antique trade continues to be exceptionally generous to the research project – Anthony Smith, formerly with the well-known dealers Frank Partridge & Sons (Partridge Fine Arts) serving as accountant, company secretary and finance director for almost 28 years, very kindly donated a whole stack of Partridge catalogues (1974-2007) to the project – as well as other ephemera, including a photocopy of Memoirs of the late Frank Partridge (published in 1961) and a copy of the prospectus issued at the time of the company’s flotation on the Stock Market in 1989.



These materials are a fantastic resource for the project, so we owe a big thank you to Anthony!

One of the interesting aspects that have emerged in the initial investigation of the catalogues is the presentation of the Partridge business in the early and late 20th century. This follows on from some of the earlier posts on the Antique Dealer project blog (see entries on images of dealer shops) – here, again, is the photograph of the shop of ‘R.W. Partridge’ in 1914 – R.W. Partridge, was Robert Partridge, the elder brother of Frank Partridge, who established his antique business in the 1890s, prior to Frank opening his own shop in King Street, St James’s, in London in 1900.


Partridge second floor gallery

Robert’s shop, in the early 20th century, one can see, is arranged in much the same way as that of the more recent displays at Frank Partridge – here is an image of the antique business of Frank Partridge & Sons (then called Partridge Fine Arts) in c.2007 – perhaps Robert’s is a little more packed with material, but the general arrangement is similar at least…



And below that image is a further photograph of Partridge’s galleries in the same brochure of c.2007, this time with a showroom arranged as a room setting. This is a subtle marketing technique, and one wonders when this kind of display was adopted by the antique trade?….perhaps it crossed from house furnishers? Perhaps from museum displays? But either way, there’s a distinctive marketing narrative being set up here….a subtle projected imagining.

There’s much more to say about these arrangements of objects….objects on the syntagmatic plain…the arrangement of objects in real space….they tell a story, and the project will be investigating these dynamics over the next few years…


August 13, 2014

Oral History Interviews – Bill Beaton

We completed another of our oral history interviews on Monday 11th August – up at Kinross in Scotland, with William (Bill) Beaton.  Bill is in his 80s and retired from antique dealing about 25 years ago!  He started his antique dealing activities with his father, Walter Beaton, in about 1946 just after WWII, at his father’s shop at 37 Albert Square, Dundee.  Walter had opened his shop in c.1930, following 10 years working for an antique dealer in Dundee named Norries, and Bill continued the business in Dundee until his father retired in 1963, when Bill took over and subsequently moved the shop to Perth in 1970. Both Walter and Bill were members of BADA – Bill acted as Vice President at one stage.

Bill Beaton (right) with Henry Fotheringham, c.1965. Copyright Perthshire Advertiser.

Bill Beaton (right) with Henry Fothringham, c.1965. Copyright Perthshire Advertiser. Courtesy of Bill Beaton.

Here is Bill (on the right), in c.1965, with his friend and colleague Henry Fothringham (a member of the Angus family, who also traded as an antique dealer, under the trading name of Grantully Castle Antiques), at the ‘Scottish Antiques Fair’.  Incidentally Bill was one of the founders of the Scottish Antiques fair, which was held in Edinburgh between 1964 and the mid 1970s. Here’s Bill’s stand at the fair, in c.1965.

Courtesy of Bill Beaton.

Courtesy of Bill Beaton.

Bill and I talked for a few hours and he recalled his first country house auction sale, (Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster, in the 1950s – where his father had put him under the watchful guidance of the well-known dealer Walter Waddingham of Harrogate) and memories of fellow dealers, and objects that passed through his hands – including a rare painting by the 17th century artist Melchoir de Hondecoeter (bought from a furniture dealer in Harrogate in the 1960s) and a ‘Chippendale’ double partners desk from a well-known (Royal) Scottish country house!

Amongst the many interesting things that Bill’s father sold was an 18th century  French clock by Jacques Droiz Leschot, which was also noticed by the writer of the Antique Yearbook for 1950 – who writes;

‘We found in the main Albert Square [in Dundee], number 37, the shop of Mr. W.S. Beaton [Bill’s father], where the 18th century mahogany furniture, the fine silver, the glass and Chinese porcelain were polished and in splendid condition, where a collection of snuff boxes was up to Bond Street standard, and where a gold and enamelled singing-bird clock by Jacques Droiz Leschot was one of the most precious works of art we had seen for many a month. You must visit Dundee and Beaton.’ (Antiques Yearbook, 1950, p.557).

Bill still remembered the clock after all those years, and actually found a B&W photograph of it!

Photograph courtesy of Bill Beaton.

Photograph courtesy of Bill Beaton.

You will be able to listen to the interview with Bill in a few weeks, once we’ve edited it and uploaded it to the project website.


August 3, 2014

Antique Markets and Centres

The research for the antique dealer project is progressing, and we’re now very near to launching the interactive project website – keep your eyes open!

One interesting ‘theme’ for further investigation that has emerged during these early phases of the research is the development of ‘antique centres’ and ‘antique markets’. They are now such a familiar sight of course, with places such as Helmswell, in Lincolnshire (the largest ‘antique centre’ in Europe) but our research is starting to uncover the significance of a particular moment in the development of antique centres in Britain.  It seems that the mid to late 1960s saw an increasing number of antique centres appearing all over the country. The Soho Antique Arcade, for example, which opened in in St. Anne’s Court, off Wardour Street in London in 1966 – see below.

Soho Arcade

There were earlier arcades of course, (the architectural form and commercial innovations developed from the early 19th century – particularly in London with developments such as The Burlington Arcade (1819) – and earlier Antique Centres – the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane is perhaps the earliest antique centre, dating back to 1885.

In terms of Antique Centres, the Red Lion Antique Market in Portobello Road was opened as early as 1951, but it seems that the 1960s was a particular period for an expansion in the antique markets and centres.  Camden Passage, London (1960), Bermondsey, London (early 1960s), Chelsea, London (1965), as well as antique markets and centres in the regions – Birmingham (1966); Bath, Guinea Lane (1968); Halifax, Yorkshire (1969); Woburn Abbey (1967) – sadly closed last year. We’ve traced more than 50 of them so far in the period 1950-1980.

The doyen of the London Antique Centres is no doubt Bennie Gray, who established his first antique centre in Bartlett Street, London in 1964.  Gray did not invent the form, but refined it prodigiously, opening The Antique Hypermarket, Kensington, (1968), Antiquarius, Chelsea (1970) Alfies, North London (1976) – (see left), Alfies Antique Market 1970s









and finally the eponymous Grays, Davies Street (1977) – (below). Grays The phenomena of antique centres and markets, their naming (they seem to borrow heavily from American culture in the 60s?), and what they tell us about the changing cultural geography of the antique trade are key questions for the project – we’ll keep you posted on further developments.


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

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

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'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