Archive for November, 2014

November 30, 2014

Project Presentation at Furniture History AGM

The project team (Mark, Eleanor and Lizzy) attended the Furniture History Society AGM at Nostell Priory, Wakefield, on Saturday 22nd November. Thank you to the FHS for inviting us! We presented a project overview, and an update on the progress to date; the response from the FHS members was fantastic – loads of enthusiastic congratulations, loads of interest, and lots of new leads for further research activities – thank you to all that offered help and further avenues of exploration.


FHS President, Sir Nicholas Goodison, addressing the AGM




Lizzy at FHS AGM

Eleanor, Lizzy and I only had 30 minutes to outline our HUGE project, so we decided to divide the presentation into 3 sections, 10 mins on the oral history interviews (Eleanor), 10 mins on project archives (Lizzy), and 10 mins on project overview (me).


MW at the FHS AGM

We also had a really fabulous lunch….with wine! (not too much though), courtesy of the FHS, and members, and us, had an amazing private ‘open house’ tour of Nostell Priory under the guidance of the National Trust team at Nostell and the very rich range of expertise in the FHS membership itself – it was a fantastic opportunity to ‘get up close’ to some of the Chippendale furniture in the house.

Thank you to Christopher Rowell (FHS Chair) and the rest of the FHS Board for such a brilliant opportunity to spread the word about the Antique Dealer project





November 12, 2014

The Generosity of Dealers!

We had another very generous donation of archive material to the antique dealer project! Thank you so much to John Smith, formerly of Regency House Antiques, Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey, for donating a cache of several hundred B&W photographs of antique furniture – just some of the previous stock of Regency House Antiques.  The photographs (taken by Raymond Forte) date from the 1960s-1980s, and John tells us that they were used for advertisements in publications such as Country Life.


Photographs of the stock of antique furniture from Regency House Antiques (1960s-1980s)

In our own (growing) database of images of antique shop (exteriors and interiors) we discovered we had an image of the shopfront of Regency Antiques, dating from c.1960 – here:

Regency House Antiques Walton on the Thames AYB 1961

Regency House Antiques, Walton on the Thames, c.1960.


John also tells us that Regency House Antiques was founded by a stockbroker called Sketchley in the mid 1960s, in a purpose-built building, which had its own restoration workshop, employing 3 people – the business was acquired by John Smith in 1975, but was closed in the early 1980s.  John also owned the antique business named ‘A. Henning’ (and, curiously, I already had a copy of an invoice from A. Henning!) – see below…

dealer invoices

dealer invoices

Henning was established in 1922 by John Smith’s step-grandfather, and John inherited the business in 1974. The invoice (above, middle) is dated October 1934, when Henning was located at 61 George Street, London, and traded in ‘Old Furniture’, and ‘China and Glass, Old and Modern’ – the invoice was for a ‘Mahogany tray, 6 glasses + Decanter’, for £3.5.0.

Thank you John for so generously donating the photographs to the research project.



November 6, 2014

The Architecture of the Trade – The Export Trade

Further to the blog posts on the architecture of the antique trade we’ve been doing some work on the development (and decline) of the trade in importing and exporting antique furniture (often called ‘shipping goods’).  The ‘wholesale’ import and export trade in antiques has a long history – one could, if one adopted certain classificatory frameworks, suggest that such activities began to emerge in the opening decades of the 19th century – there were certainly dealers shipping ‘containers’ of antiques and curiosities between the Continent and Britain just after the Napoleonic Wars, and those import-export activities continued into the early 20th century as part of the transatlantic (UK-USA) trade – the now relatively well-known photograph of Duveen’s ‘storeroom’  is a testament to those practices.


Duveen’s storeroom, c.1920

But at far as the present project is concerned this particular segment of the trade appears to have taken on a particular form in the decade after World War II.  By the 1960s a specific form of ‘import-export dealer’ emerged – often known as ‘a shipper’- and a certain kind of classification of antique objects, called ‘shipping goods’, also developed as a specific category of antiques.  These ‘trade only’ import and export dealerships often seem to have chosen specific locations and occupied specific building types – they were/are often located on the edge of cities or towns, near major driving routes, sometimes on ‘industrial’ estates; or often could be seen to be occupying redundant barns on farmsteads. They are still a familiar sight today of course.

Alongside the emergence of the ‘shipping dealer’ there developed a whole range of shipping firms, such as Fenton & Co., Gander and White, and Michael Davis – which in the 1970s had offices in London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Melbourne and Johannesburg – indicative of the main trading locations for shipping antiques at the time – now I think China may be top of the list!

Evidence from sources in the 1950s-1970s highlights that the import-export trade can provide fascinating evidence for a number of conceptual notions central to the ‘antique trade’ – one is the shifting definition of ‘antiques’ themselves. In the 1970s for example, in terms of import duties that have been payable on such kinds of objects, certain countries defined antiques as being over 100 years old; such objects would be exempt from any import duty. Some countries had different classifications – in the USA in the 1970s, for example, an ‘antique’ was, according to tax law at least, an object made ‘prior to 1830’ (the notional date of the development of the ‘machine age’). At the same time in the UK, the Board of Trade definition of an ‘antique’ was an object that was over 75 years old.  The age of an ‘antique’ has been constantly in flux of course, but it’s interesting that even if one takes something as ‘solid’ as tax law, one will still see variations in the classifying principles!…

Further evidence from some short articles on ‘Exporting Antiques’ in the Antiques Yearbook (1950) and a summary of export figures published in Antique Finder magazine (1976) there seems to have been an expansion of the export trade between the 1960s and the 1970s.  In 1962 the UK export figures were c.£5 million, rising to £68.5 million in 1975; Import figures from the UK illustrate a similar pattern (in 1962 the UK imported £4 million of antiques, and in 1975 the figures was £33.8 million).  The countries the UK exported antiques to also provide a fascinating picture of the global markets in the 1960s and 1970s. Here’s some figures for 1976:

USA £13.4 million

(West) Germany £7.1 million

Japan £2.2 million

Canada £1.3 million

Netherlands £4.4 million

Australia £3.1 million

Belgium £4.0 million

France £4.3 million

Kuwait/Dubai/Abu Dhabi £0.01 million

I imagine the figures today would be relatively familiar in terms of countries….with more activity in the Middle East; and the absence of China (so important today) in the 1976 figures is very significant of course.

What is also of interest in the market conditions for antiques in the 1970s was the economic crisis of the early-to-mid 1970s (the oil crisis) – the commentary from the Antique Finder suggested that the top of the market (the top 5%) had ‘felt the pinch in 1975’ but that the rest of the trade (95%) had ‘continued to move forward’ – the 1974/75 depression in world industrial prosperity had impacted most on higher wealth purchasing power. In today’s economy, the economic depression of 2007-08, seems to have had limited effect on the top 5% of wealthy collectors.



November 2, 2014

Some surprising sources for antiques

One of the more interesting side effects of the constant fluctuations in taste and fashion in relation to the antiques trade is the emergence (and subsequent disappearance) of antiques departments in some slightly unexpected places.

Those of you who have been collectors/connoisseurs/enthusiasts for some time will not need to be told that Asprey and Harrods were once very serious players on the London antiques scene. Both firms were members of the BADA (British Antiques Dealers Association) and exhibited at the celebrated Grosvenor House fair every year. They carried extensive stocks of furniture, textiles, silver, jewellery and porcelain etc. and traded at the very top of the market. Both firms had always been associated with luxury goods of course but neither were founded as antiques dealerships as such. Harrods does still have a small antiques section in its store but, as this image from 1951 shows, at one stage the department was very extensive indeed.

Harrods 1951

Asprey’s antiques department was the starting point for many celebrated dealers including silver specialist, and Antiques Roadshow expert, Alastair Dickenson who worked there between 1983 and 1996. Sadly the department is no longer operational though the firm does still retail antiquarian books. The image below is from an advert published in 1951.

Asprey 1951

More surprising still are the following two firms that also had antiques departments in the past. Firstly Debenham and Freebody (yes, that Debenham’s). I bow to the greater experience of others but until I saw this advert from the Connoisseur in 1916 I had no idea that they had ever sold antiques. The advert below suggests that the antiques department was limited to textiles but what textiles! Some incredible examples of needlework including one piece possibly worked by Mary, Queen of Scots. Debenham’s flagship store straddling Wigmore Street and Oxford Street is still in place of course but unfortunately the collection of needlework is not.

Debenhams 1916

Finally we come to one of the country’s most prestigious retailers but one that I certainly wouldn’t associate with antiques. Fortnum and Mason has long been a foodie’s destination but, apparently, in the post-war period (this advert is from 1951 once again) you could also expect to see a fine selection of antiques. What I find particularly interesting about this advert is that the firm is taking a noticeably different approach to those illustrated above by concentrating on “moderate prices” as the primary selling point. That having been said, the beautifully laid-out gallery setting certainly leaves the viewer in no doubt that, however “moderate” the prices may have been, there are objects of real quality on sale here.

Forthum and Mason 1951

Who knows, perhaps during the next antiques boom we’ll witness the birth of the IKEA or Tesco fine antiques department…

Chris Coles,

Project volunteer.

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