Archive for October, 2022

October 30, 2022

A BADA President medal 1962-1964

As part of the Antique Dealer’s research project at the University of Leeds, we are constantly on the look out for rare ephemera and items associated with the history of antique dealing in Britain. Often material is very generously donated to us, but sometimes things appear on the market which we just have to acquire. One such object was this medal (see below), which turned up at auction in August.

The medal is silver-gilt, about 34mm in diameter, and has a pale blue and white silk ribbon attached. I’d never seen one of these medals before, so asked Mark Dodgson, Secretary General of the British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) about it – he tells me that they were awarded to BADA Presidents to acknowledge their work as Presidents of the organisation. The BADA, as many of you will know, was established in 1918. This particular medal was awarded to the antique dealer Nat D. Ayer by the BADA in 1964 in recognition of Ayer’s Presidency of the BADA between 1962 and 1964. The Verso of the medal has the inscription ‘Nat D. Ayer 38th President 1962-1964’.

Nat Ayer was a very well-known character in the British antiques trade in the Post WWII period. He appears to have begun trading in antiques immediately after the end of the Second World War, opening a shop in Quiet Street, Bath by 1946. Nat Ayer is perhaps also well-known as the son of the famous composer Nathanial Davis Ayer (1887-1952) who was also known as Nat D. Ayer; composer of such famous songs as ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’ (1911) and ‘If you were the only Girl in the World’ (1916), with the lyricist Seymour Brown (1885-1952), and for his work on the Ziegfeld Follies. Below is a cover for a music sheet for ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’.

Nat Ayer Snr. was born in Boston in the USA – below is a photograph of Nat Ayer in 1916. He settled in the UK, becoming very successful in the Music Hall and theatre scene in London in the 1910s and 1920s. Ayer appears to have been less successful in the 1930s; he was eventually declared bankrupt in 1938; he sadly passed away in 1952 aged 65, in Bath, Somerset. Perhaps Nat Ayer Snr was also instrumental in his son Nat Ayer Jnr. opening an antiques shop in Bath in the 1940s?

Nat Ayer Jnr. went on to be a highly successful antique dealer, and as well as being elected the President of the BADA, he moved his business Mount Street in London in about 1964, which was at the time one of the most important locations for high-end antique shops in London. It may have been when Nat Ayer opened his new shop in Mount Street that he met his long-term partner, H. Gustave, who worked as the manager of the Connaught Hotel located in Mount Street.

Nat Jnr., like his father, was also a composer and an accomplished pianist. Indeed, in one of our many Oral History interviews with member of the antique trade – in our interview with the antique dealer John Bly (see Oral History pages on the project website) – John recalls encountering Nat Ayer whilst viewing an auction sale in Bath with his father Frank Bly. John remembers the auction was on view in a cinema building and seeing a tall man with a smart fur collar on his coat, playing a piano – his father Frank told him – ‘that’s Nat Ayer’. And as part of his introduction to the antique trade, John Bly also worked for Nat Ayer, helping him on his stand at the world-famous Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in the 1960s. John recalls that Nat was famous for introducing stage settings on his stand at the GH Fair – in 1969, for example, Nat Ayer backed his stand with a huge photograph of the New York skyline, and created trompe l’oeil effects on the floor, creating diminishing perspective effects like in theatre sets. The result, John tells us, caused a sensation at the Fair. Here’s a photograph of Nat Ayer’s shop window in Mount Street from 1966, demonstrating the flamboyant stock, typical of Nat Ayer’s ‘look’.

Nat Ayer became well-known as an interior decorator as well as a leading antique dealer. ‘Ayer & Co’, as the business became known, continued trading until the mid 1970s, moving his shop to 26 Bruton Street in about 1972, a shop now occupied by one of the leading specialists in antique furniture, Ronald Phillips.

It’s not known how or why Nat Ayer’s BADA medal ended up for sale at auction, but it has now joined the growing collections of antique dealer ephemera at the University of Leeds.

Mark

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