19th Century Antique Dealers – Robert Pratt (1823-1889)

A recent acquisition to the growing archive of antique dealer related ephemera is this rare 19th century carte de visite, dating from the 1860s I think, and featuring the ‘Antique Furniture Dealer’ Robert Pratt (1823-1889), who traded from High Street, Guildford from the 1850s until the 1880s.

Carte de Visite, c.1860s, featuring Robert Pratt (1823-1889). Private Collection.

It’s very rare to have an actual image of a 19th century antique dealer, so this was a very exciting find – the card is quite small, just 62mm wide by 104mm long; the verso of the photograph is inscribed in pen in a contemporary hand, ‘Mr R Pratt China & Furniture Dealer High St Guildford’ –

Carte de Visite, c.1860s, featuring Robert Pratt (1823-1889), verso with inscription. Private Collection.

Robert Pratt is listed in the Guildford Trade Directories, at 12 High Street, Guildford in 1855, as ‘furniture broker’, which suggests he was involved in the second-hand trade at the time, perhaps specialising in furniture, as it appears he was trained as a cabinetmaker – the Census for 1851 records Robert Pratt as ‘cabinetmaker and journeyman’.  Pratt was also listed as ‘cabinetmaker’ in the Guildford Trade Directories in 1878, and had by then moved the business to 147 and 148 High Street, Guildford.  However, in 1878 Pratt is also listed as ‘Antique Furniture Dealer’ at 147 and 148 High Street, Guildford in the Surrey Trade Directory.  The inscription on the verso of the photograph, ‘China and Furniture Dealer’ was a common classification and description used throughout the 19th century, especially in the period 1820s to 1870s, for what we would now call ‘antique dealers’, although as you can see from the variety of classifications in the Trade Directories, the descriptions of trades encompassed a range of overlapping practices.

Census records for 1861 indicate that Robert Pratt (who had a recorded age of 37 – although he was actually born, according to the birth and baptism records, on February 21st 1823) – census records for age are often slightly inaccurate due the the method of recording, which was rounded down to the nearest 5 years for people over the age of 15.  Pratt was at the time married to Mary (recorded age 31) and had 4 children – Mary (aged 9), Robert (aged 6) Anne (aged 5), and Susan (aged 3), all ‘scholars’ (i.e. at school); he was recorded as a ‘cabinetmaker and broker’ employing ‘5 men and 1 woman’ – by the 1881 census Robert Pratt was employing ‘8 men and 4 boys’, so he seems to have been quite a successful businessman.  His wife, Mary, appears to have died sometime in the 1860s, as by the 1871 Census Robert is recorded as a widower, and by that date Robert and Mary had 2 further children, Alice (aged 8) and Fanny (aged 5).

Pratt’s father, James Pratt, was a ‘bookbinder’, according to the birth and baptism record. Robert died on 18th April 1889 in Guildford, leaving £1,293.4s.6d – a fairly wealthy man considering that the ‘relative income value’ of that sum was about £1,018,000.00 in today’s terms (according to measuring worth.com)

I had wondered if Robert Pratt was any relation to the well-known antique dealers Charles James Pratt, who were trading in fashionable Brompton Road, London from the early 1900s until at least the 1960s – see the entry from C.J. Pratt & Sons in the antique dealers interactive map website – Antique Dealers Map – but it seems that there was direct no relationship between the families – at least none that I have managed to discover as yet.  And Robert Pratt also does not seem to be directly related to the illustrious 19th century ‘antique dealers’ Samuel and Henry Pratt, who traded in Bond Street, London during the 1830s and 1840s.

Anyway, this lovely little carte de visite is a fascinating survival in the history of the antique trade in Britain – if you know of any other photographs of 19th century ‘antique dealers’ I would be very interested to hear about them.


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