Antique Dealer Catalogues – Rueben Shenker c.1920

Our collections of historic antique dealer catalogues and brochures continues to expand. The latest edition is a rare sales catalogue issued by the antique dealer Reuben Shenker (1872-1952) in c.1920. Shenker was born in Russia and came to England, settling initially in Grimsby, North Lincolnshire with his parents. The family moved to London by 1910, and Reuben, together with his younger brother Isaac (1882-1959) established an antique dealing business, specialising in ‘early oak furniture’.

Rueben Shenker, ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue, c.1920. Image, antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Isaac Shenker seems to have worked for his brother Rueben – he is recorded as ‘assistant antique furniture’ in the 1910 Census, whilst Reuben is listed in the same Census as ‘antique dealer’. Isaac appears to have left his brother’s business in 1913, first trading from Holland Park Avenue, then, by 1928, from 118 Brompton Road, a location with a very high concentration of antique dealers in the period. Isaac became a BADA (British Antique Dealers’ Association) member by 1932, and seems to have been very successful, ending up with a shop in Old Bond Street by the late 1940s.

Rueben established his business in 1911, trading from Red Lion Street, London until 1936. He specialised in ‘early oak’, which was hugely popular for furnishers and collectors in the opening decades of the 20th century. In 1937 Reuben appears to have closed his Red Lion Street shop and became ‘manager’ of an antique dealing business, Coslyn Limited, who were based at St. Mary Abbott’s Terrace, London.

Advertisement, R. Shenker, from Connoisseur, June 1914. Image antique dealer research project University of Leeds.

Rueben’s ‘Illustrated Catalogue of Inexpensive Genuine Antique Furniture’ contains a series of photographs of various examples of 16th, 17th and 18th century furniture, and is dominated by ‘early oak’ specimens.

Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.
Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

In his introductory remarks to the catalogue, Shenker draws attention to the popularity of ‘early oak furniture’. He writes, ‘In recent years Genuine Antique Furniture has come into greater favour with buyers of all tastes and classes than heretofore…..The most important and durable pieces are to be found in the early oak examples, which, while being quaint in design and workmanship, are the most useful for country residences.’

‘Old oak’ was indeed amongst the most popular tastes in the opening decades of the 20th century, with many specialist dealers emerging in the market. There was also a thriving trade in the sale of ‘old oak rooms’, recycling 16th and 17th century panelling and fittings into new old-style properties as collectors and furnishers wanted the ‘period room’ look. Dealers such as Lenygon & Morant, Frederick Litchfield, and perhaps most famously, Charles Roberson, did a brisk trade in the sale of period panelling and period rooms. Below is a photograph of a ‘Gothic Oak Room from Boughton Malherbe Manor House, Kent’, from Roberson’s sales catalogue, volume II of three volumes, also, like Shenker’s catalogue, dating from the early 1920s.

‘Gothic Oak Room from Boughton Malherbe Manor House, Kent’, from Roberson, ‘Antique Panelled Rooms, vol II’, c.1921. Image, antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.
Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Reuben continued in his introductory remarks in his catalogue, highlighting the increasing importance of authentic specimens, which was a special concern for collectors of ‘old oak’ in the period, and of his own his expertise as a dealer. Reuben writes, ‘Having specialised in early oak furniture for many years, I offer intending purchasers the benefit of my experience to guard them against unfair dealing…I may mention that I have a large clientele all over the world, which has been obtained by giving satisfaction and by honest dealing.’

Rueben Shenker ‘Genuine Antique Furniture’ dealer catalogue c.1920. Image antique dealer research project, University of Leeds.

Shenker’s catalogue is a rare survival of an antique dealer’s sales catalogue from the 1920s and will be joining the growing collection of antique dealer catalogues and ephemera and antique dealer archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds in due course.

Mark

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