James Munro’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’, Inverness c.1910

I recently acquired a rare copy of the auction sale catalogue of the collection of antiques of the antique dealer and antiquary James Munro – all part of the growing body of historic antique dealer ephemera we are building at the University of Leeds.  Munro traded from ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ in Castle Street, Inverness during the period c.1870 to the opening decade of the 20th century.  The catalogue dates from 1910 and includes a wide selection of antique objects that would have been of interest to collectors in the period.  Like many Scottish collectors, Munro appears to have had a particular interest in Scottish antiquarian objects and especially anything associated with the Jacobite Rebellion. Munro is listed in the Trade Directory for Inverness in 1899 as ‘Antiquarian’, at 3 North Church Place, Inverness – I’ve yet to find out when Munro died, but the sale is a posthumous auction, so he certainly died a short time before 1910.

Title page, ‘A Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Antiques…belonging to James Munro Esq. 1910. Private Collection.

The catalogue contains some fascinating photographs of the stock of objects that would have been on sale in Munro’s shop.  The collection amounts to 1,398 lots at the auction; although it seems this was not the full extent of the collections of Munro.  Indeed, the ‘Introductory Note’ to the catalogue, penned by the ‘auctioneer’ R. Noble, of ‘The White House’ Inverness (who also appears to have been working as a cabinetmaker – (or at least there is an R. Noble listed as ‘cabinetmaker’ at the White House in the 1909 Trade Directory for Inverness) states that a ‘Mr F. Maciver, of the Highland Bazaar, has pleasure in intimating that he has purchased the entire stock belonging to the estate of the late Mr James Munro and he is now issuing this catalogue of the articles to be sold by auction…..(and he) intends to dispose of the remainder by auction on a future date.’ I wonder if there is another catalogue of the other auction, if it took place?

There are some wonderfully interesting objects in the auction sale – lot 377a, for example – ‘AN OLD DIRK with ivory handle inlaid with gold.’ The catalogue states that this dirk was allegedly the same dirk that was used by Alexander Fraser, the ‘Young Master of Lovat (born 1677)’ to kill the piper at ‘the wedding at Teawig’ – a story that at the time had also been rehearsed in the recently published book, The Clan Fraser in Canada by Alex Fraser (1895). The dirk is a little hard to see in the photograph on the title page of the catalogue, but it’s the small dagger, just to the left of the rifle on the right hand side of the photograph (above).

The auction also included ‘A RARE OLD HIGHLAND TARGE, an excellent example of the XVII, Century…’ (lot 812 – and is the small, circular shield in the centre of the photograph of the title page of the auction catalogue – there is a very similar Targe in the National Museum of Scotland and we are checking to see if this might be related to that Targe?)

Munro’s collection must have been well-known in Scotland – he had earlier loaned a number of ‘Highland Curios’ and ‘Jacobite Relics’ from his collections to the Highland and Jacobite Exhibition, held at the Inverness Free Library and Science and Art Building in 1903 –  these two photographs of the displays at the 1903 exhibition are from the ‘Exhibitions Study Group‘ website.







The Highland and Jacobite Exhibition took place between 14th July and 20th September 1903 and was one of a number of similar exhibitions that took place throughout the 19th century and into the opening decades of the 20th century throughout Britain.

The auction sale of Munro’s ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ took place at the ‘Music Hall, Inverness’ on Wednesday 28th, Thursday 29th and Friday 30th September 1910, and as well as the famous collections of ‘Highland Curios and Jacobite Relics’ also included a wide range of objects that were symptomatic of an antique dealers’ stock at the time – here’s a photograph of a selection of ‘Old Furniture’ as it was described at the time, from the auction catalogue –

A Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Antiques…James Munro….1910. Private Collection.

The chairs appear to be a selection of 18th and mid 19th century examples, as well as some evidently of more recent date, supplemented by some antique mirrors and pole firescreens. The small corner chair in bottom left is especially interesting – it was described as ‘an Old Laburnum Corner Chair from Orkney, supposed to have belonged to the Bishop of Orkney’ (Lot 937).

Whether the chair actually had this illustrious provenance is, I guess, not really the point – as with many of these ‘relics’, it was the object’s role as ‘story teller’ that was central to their interest to collectors. As the commentary of Mr Noble suggests in the ‘Introductory Note’ to the catalogue – ‘Anyone visiting his Old Curiosity Shop in Castle Street and looking around could not help feeling as if transported back into the times of clan feuds, and even into Druidical and Pictish ages.’


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