Archive for January 29th, 2022

January 29, 2022

More Antique Dealer Ephemera – Mary Bellis Antiques photo albums 1940s-1950s

The collections of antique dealer ephemera and archives gathered as part of the on-going research into the history of the antique trade in Britain continues apace. The latest additions are two unique photograph albums of stock of the well-known dealer in antique oak furniture and early objects, Mary Bellis (c.1896-1897). Bellis opened her first antique shop in Bournemouth in 1943, and the photograph albums appear to date from an early period in the history of Mary Bellis Antiques.

Photograph Album (album 1), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The two albums, both comprising bound leaves of thick black card, mounted with dozens of black and white photographs of various antiques that Bellis had in stock, unfortunately have no metadata; no prices, dates, or provenance information about the objects depicted in the photographs. But all of the photos are numbered, in sequence, so I guess they would relate to a stock book (if one still exists?). The first album (above) 12 inches x 10 inches in size, has a hand-painted title ‘Antiques by Mary Bellis’, whereas the second album (slightly larger at 14 inches x 10 inches) has a cover embossed in gilt lettering, ‘Photographs Mary Bellis of Bournemouth Antiques’.

Photograph Album, (album 2) c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

‘Mary Bellis of Bournemouth’ continued to be a trading name of Mary Bellis Antiques for sometime after Bellis moved her business from Yelverton Road in Bournemouth to Charnham Close in Hungerford, Berkshire in 1952, so the albums could date into the 1950s. The business had an international reputation for early oak furniture and associated objects and this is reflected in the array of antiques illustrated in the photo albums. Mary, together with her husband Eric (d.1976), who was a chartered accountant and company director, amassed an important collection of early furniture and objects during the 1920s and 1930s, before Mary began trading as an antique dealer in the early 1940s. After her death in 1987, Christie’s held an auction sale of their collection (Christie’s 21 May 1987, London).

Photograph Album (album 1), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The photograph above, (from album 1) illustrates a range of antiques that Bellis sold, including non-European objects, such as what is described as ’16th cent candle’, and which appears to be from the African continent? Several of the photographs have these short descriptions, in pen, but frustratingly none have any provenance detail or information on prices at which they were bought and sold.

Photograph Album (album 1), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The page (above) indicates that Bellis also sold ceramics – the photograph shows an English 18th century salt-glaze jug (with a description, in pen, ‘Salt Glaze Jug’ and ‘(see 8)’ and which refers to a photograph of the reverse side of the jug in photograph 8 on the opposite page in the album. Also included are photographs of some of the early paintings that Bellis sold, including one, (photo no.12 bottom right) inscribed ‘Van Kessel’ in pen. Jan van Kessel (1626-1679) was a leading Flemish painter of the 17th century – if anyone recognises the painting, or the other paintings in the album, do let us know.

Photograph Album (album 1), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Album no.1 also contains some photographs of what looks like interiors of Mary Bellis’ shop? (see top two photos in the photograph above); perhaps illustrating how Bellis arranged and displayed her shop.

Album no.2 contains similar photographs, again mostly numbered in sequential order, but with emphasis on 16th and 17th century British oak furniture. This page from album no.2 (see below), shows a range of oak cupboards and an oak coffer/chest.

Photograph Album (album 2), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Album no.2 also includes dozens of photographs illustrating the wide range of trading stock; paintings, sculpture, textiles, metalwork, stained glass and ceramics – including (in the second photograph below) a collection of 18th century English pottery figures.

Photograph Album (album 2), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.
Photograph Album (album 2), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Given the quality of many of the antiques in the photographs, it may still be possible to see if the antique still exist in private or public collections? These examples of 16th an 17th century stained and painted glass, for example, associated with the Verney family? If anyone does know where these objects are now, we would be very interested to hear from you.

Photograph Album (album 2), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.
Photograph Album (album 2), c.1940s-1950s, Mary Bellis Antiques. Image, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The albums are an increasingly rare survival of business ephemera associated with the British Antiques trade, and give us invaluable insights into the history of the trade. The albums will eventually make their way to join the rest of the antique dealer related material in the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds.

Mark

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