Antique Dealer Project Conference – Day Two…the Day of the Dealers!

Further to our report on the first day of the Antique Dealer conference at Temple Newsam House (see previous blog post), here is a brief summary of Day Two of the Antique Dealer project conference, which we have named ‘The Day of the Dealers’.

We wanted to focus on, and acknowledge, the knowledge and perspectives of the Antique Trade on the Antique Trade, as well as the exceptional generosity that members of the Antique Trade have given us throughout the research project. The day started with coffee/tea and welcome, as usual.


Conference delegates, early morning tea/coffee on arrival.

There then followed ‘the history of the antique trade’ from the dealers’ perspective, with three fascinating talks by some prominent members of the trade. Martin Levy, of H. Blairman & Sons, started proceedings with a very engaging overview of the history of Blairman. It was quite a task…Blairman’s were established in the 1880s, but Martin’s family associations in the antique trade go back to the early 19th century, and the ‘curiosity dealer’ John Coleman Isaac….so almost 200 years of trading history, condensed to 20 minutes!…But Martin pulled this off with his usual erudite charm and insight.

martin levy

Martin Levy, of H. Blairman & Sons, at the Antique dealer project conference, ‘Day of the Dealers’.

Following Martin’s talk on the history of H. Blairman & Sons we had a wonderfully detailed overview of the history of a very specialised antique dealing practice – that of the Chinese Works of Art dealers Bluett & Sons from Dominic Jellinek.  Bluett were also established in the late 19th century, and Dominic, who also comes from a family of antique dealers, worked at Bluett’s from the late 1970s, until they closed in late 1990s.

dominic j

Dominic Jellinek, at the conference, giving a talk on the history of Bluett & Son, with some black & white images from the archive of Bluett.

Bluett’s were one of the world’s leading specialist dealers in what we now call ‘Asian Works of Art’, as many of you will know. Dominic has been doing some fascinating research work on the Bluett archive for many years and his many insights into the history of Bluett’s, and the many spectacular Chinese ceramics and works of art that they sold, further illustrated the importance of antique dealer archives – something that the Antique dealer project has been very keen to highlight too – indeed, as many of you will know, our newly established Centre for the Study 0f the Art & Antiques Market at the University of Leeds is leading the way on highlighting, and demonstrating, the critical significance of the Antique Trade in cultural history – (and do keep your eye on the forthcoming activities of the Centre). As I say, the rich potential of archive material such as the Bluett archive, was brilliantly demonstrated by Dominic.

Our final formal presentation in the opening part of the ‘Day of the Dealers’ was delivered by Chris Jussel (famous, as some of you will know, as the former Presenter of the USA version of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’) – But, more importantly (for the project!) Chris is also the son of Stephen Jussel, formerly of the leading antique dealer firm of Vernay & Jussel – itself established in 1906 in New York, by Arthur Vernay. And Chris came all the way from the USA to talk to us and to participate in the Antique Dealer conference!

chris jussel

Chris Jussel, presenting his paper on ‘The Transatlantic Migration of British Antique Dealers to America, 1890-1920’.

Chris gave us a beautifully presented paper on the key role that British antique dealers played in the development of the antique trade in the USA around the turn of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, one could almost hear a latter-day Paul Revere, exclaiming to the American public, ‘The British are coming!…the British are coming!…..’ such was the impact of these British dealers on American collecting and the development of American museums – (it’s worth remembering too that Arthur Vernay, to whom Chris Jussel’s own history in the antique trade is so inextricably entwined, and one of the leading dealers in the USA, was also an expat from Britain). Chris outlined the significance of the impact of the arrival of British antique dealers in New York – C. Charles (Joseph Duveen’s brother, who was paid £5,000 a year by Duveen not to use the family name – hence ‘C.Charles of London’). We also heard about Stair & Andrew, Arthur Vernay himself, and many other British dealers besides.

chris j co

Chris Jussel at the Antique Dealer conference.

Chris’ talk not only provided us with fascinating insights into the practices of the antique trade and the role and impact of these important transatlantic relationships, but also highlighted the extraordinary future potential of continuing the research into this key dynamic…… as Chris himself acknowledged, ‘there’s so much more to do!’.

We certainly needed to continue the discussions that the 3 key perspectives of Martin, Dominic and Chris gave us – and an animated chat over tea and coffee followed!


Our next session continued the theme of the ‘Day of the Dealers’, and here we had a group of our Oral History interviewees ‘In Conversation’ – in conversation with themselves, and with the conference delegates. Our dealer interviewees were composed of a selection of those dealers that had participated in the Oral History research as part of the Antique Dealers project –  Gary Baxter (of H.C. Baxter & Sons); Robin Butler (of Robin Butler Antiques); Lennox Cato (of Lennox Cato Antiques); Georgina Gough (daughter of R.A. Lee); Dominic Jellinek (of Bluett & Son); Chris Jussel (of Vernay & Jussel); Martin Levy (of H. Blairman & Sons); Tony Lumb (of Charles Lumb & Sons), and Jerome Phillips (of Phillips of Hitchin).  We wondered what such a gathering of dealers could be called?…Martin, and many others called out the obvious! – ‘A Ring of Dealers!’….

in conversation

The ‘In Conversation’ session at the Antique Dealers Conference.



in conversation 2

‘A Ring of Dealers’ at the ‘In Conversation’ session at the Antique Dealers Conference at Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

The ‘In Conversation’ session proved to be very successful, with lots of animated discussion on the history of and changes to the antique trade, especially as it was reflected in the recent memories of the dealers present –  and there were some interesting perspectives on the future of the antique trade…Thank you again to all our Oral History interviewees for participating!

Following yet another lunch, the conference got down to full particpatory mode, with our infamous ‘Sandpits’!…this final session of the conference had been designed to ensure that everyone attending the conference had the opportunity to contribute to the debates on the history of the antique trade in Britain – and we certainly had some fascinating contributions, reflections and perspectives.

The ‘Sandpits’ were themed around some of the main issues that have either been part of the research questions that have driven the Antique Dealers research project, or had emerged as a result of the on-going discussions.  We had 4 facilitated group discussions, 2 before a tea/coffee break, and 2 after the break. Participants were divided into each of the 4 groups, and each group had a facilitator (thanks again to those that stepped forward to lead a group!…) and a ‘scribe’ to capture the discussion – we also recorded the discussions on our digital audio recorders, with the permission of all participants, as part of the further research for the project – thank you again to everyone for being so generous!

Our groups were themed – Group One had the theme of ‘So what, exactly, is an antique?’, Group Two’s theme was ‘The end of Antique Furniture?’; the theme of Group Three was ‘For the Love of Art, or Money?….the Antique Trade and Museums’, and finally Group Four’s theme was ‘A Profession or a pastime?….the social geography of antique dealing’.  We had an extraordinary series of rich responses from all of the groups, with much discussion and debate – each of the groups also fed back to the main conference with summaries of the key elements of their respective group discussions…so everyone at the conference had a chance to hear what other ‘Sandpits’ had debated and discussed.  We are presently composing a summary of all of the discussions, which will be available via the Antique Dealers project websites – see keep your eyes open!

Finally, on behalf of everyone involved in the Antique Dealers Research Project Conference, I’d like to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone at the conference – it was an amazing, if slightly exhausting 2 days!

One final photograph (thank you again to Reinhold for all the photos that he took…all 184 of them!)….Here’s most, not all, of the conference delegates…in the Great Hall at Temple Newsam House, day ONE.


AD conf delegate photo 2016

Antique Dealers Conference, Temple Newsam House, April 2016.

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