December 31, 2020

More Antique Dealer Archives – S. W. Wolsey and Peter Luff

Happy New Year to everyone! We hope that 2021 proves to be a much, much better year than 2020.

I thought we’d end 2020 with a blog post on yet another exciting addition to the Antique Dealer archives – this one, like many of the bits and pieces of antique dealer related ephemera, was spotted by Mo (my wife) in her regular trawls through Ebay on my behalf (I never seem to have enough spare time to keep eyes on sites such as Ebay, so Mo is becoming a great ‘spotter’!). Anyway, it was a great ‘spot’ this time – a small cache of manuscript archive that seems to have escaped from the library/archive of the well-known antique furniture dealer S.W. Wolsey (c.1895-1980); Wolsey’s archive was, I understand, partially destroyed, but I also believe that some of the archive remains in a private collection?

S.W. Wolsey Archive.

The partial archive comprises a selection of typed draft articles, with MS corrections and edits, on antique oak furniture for publications such as Antique Collector written in the 1960s by the furniture historian R.W.P. (Peter) Luff. Also included are a number of fascinating letters exchanged between Samuel Wolsey and Peter Luff in which they discuss their views on the history of oak furniture; there are also some delicious insights into various visits to Country Houses, such as a visit to Longford Castle in September 1963 that was undertaken by Peter Luff and which includes the report of a wry comment by the then Lord Radnor about the restoration of an oak table for Lord Radnor’s father, undertaken by the antique dealers’ Mallett & Son, (‘….for whom he had few good words’)

  S.W. Wolsey was perhaps the leading dealer in antique oak furniture and related objects of the 20th century; the business was begun by Francis Wolsey in the early 20th century and continued by Samuel and his brother; Samuel retired from business in 1969, the year after Furniture in England was published.  The archive contains a small number letters from Wolsey concerning antique oak furniture that passed through the business, including some very well known pieces. For example, the famous ‘Shakespeare’s Chair’ – which Francis Wolsey purchased at Christie’s on 13th April 1947, paying 175gns (£183.15.0.) for the chair.

Another well-known chair figured in the archive is a Charles II walnut cane-seated chair, with a carved front-rail, ‘GEORGE LEWIS – FEBVERY ANNO DO 1687/8, and was formerly in the collections of the antiquarian George Weare Braikenridge (1775-1856); the chair was displayed by Wolsey at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in 1949 – here’s the ‘pass-in’ form for the chair at the fair.

S.W. Wolsey archive – ‘pass-in’ form for the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, 1947.

And here’s a close up of the chair, which ended up, via the dealer Ronald A. Lee, in the collections of John Bryan in the USA.

Charles II walnut chair, with carved inscription. S.W. Wolsey archive.

The Wolsey archive will be making it’s way to the Brotherton Special Collections at the University of Leeds in due course.


October 31, 2020

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

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.


September 27, 2020

Antique Dealers and Theatre & Film Props

As a prelude to our restaging of the play ‘Quinneys’, I thought it might be interesting to post a blog entry on the relationship between antique dealing and film and theatre props and scene sets, given that we have many generous promises of the loan of antiques for the props for the future set of the play Quinneys (there will be more on that in future blog posts, so do keep popping back!).

Quinneys will hopefully take place in the Spring next year, as part of the continuing Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded ‘Year of the Dealer’ project which, as you may know, had been put on hold since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, but we have thankfully had our request for an extension to the project granted by the AHRC (thank you!), so the project will now continue until 31st March 2021.

Anyway, the relationship between antique (and curiosity) dealers and the theatre goes right back to the very start of the modern antique trade in the early 19th century – for more on the early history of the antique trade, if you are interested, you might want to read my book ‘The Emergence of the Antique & Curiosity Dealer 1815-1850: the commodification of historical objects’ (Routledge, 2020), which came out earlier this year.

I don’t wish this blog post to be too much of a promo for my book of course!…but if you are really interested in this subject, Routledge have very generously made a 50% discount on the book (reducing the price from £120 (academic books are so expensive!) to £60 (still quite a lot of money though) – you just need to go to and add EACD50 in the code when you get to the checkout – here’s a link to it – Routledge

Anyway, promo over!….back to the real purpose of the blog post – as I said, the relationship between the antique and curiosity trade and the theatre goes right back to the start of the antique trade itself. For example, the curiosity dealer John Coleman Isaac (c.1803-1887), who traded in Wardour Street in London from 1829 until his retirement in 1868, appears to have regularly hired out suits of ‘ancient armour’ as theatre props for plays performed in London theatres in the 1830s – the archive of Issac (held at the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton – MS139/AJ53) records that Isaac received ‘Ten Pounds for the hire of two suits of Armour for four weeks at the Victoria Theatre’ in December 1835 (MS139/AJ53, no.467), and that he also hired ‘ancient armour’ for a performance at the Coburg Theatre in 1836. So we can certainly say that the use of genuine antiques, as part of theatre sets, has a very long tradition indeed.

More recently, I’ve been doing some research on antique dealer firms and the film industry in the 20th century, and discovered some fascinating details of the role that some leading antique dealer firms played in the film industry during the period from the 1930s until the 1960s.  For example, M.Harris & Sons, who were one of the most important dealers in antique furniture during the 20th century, advertised that their business included, ‘Hire and Hire-Purchase….for short or long periods, or household use. Also for Theatrical and Film Productions, at specially agreed rates’ (M. Harris & Sons, An Abridged Introductory Catalogue of Antique Furniture and Works of Art (n.d. c.1925), p.6. Here’s Moss Harris’ shop in New Oxford Street in London, in c.1921 –

M.Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1921. Photograph ‘The Connoisseur’ 1921.

M. Harris & Sons must have been used by many film companies over the years, and they certainly hired antique furniture for the set of at least one film (there must be many more?…if anyone knows of any further examples I’d be very interested to hear?).  The film was The Beloved Vagabond (1936), a famous musical made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Curtis Bernhardt and starring Maurice Chevalier and Margaret Lockwood.  The film was made at Ealing Studios, just to the west of London, so convenient for the hire of props from a London antique dealer.

Film poster for ‘The Beloved Vagabond’ (1936). Image,

One can see various pieces of antique furniture, typical of the stock of M. Harris & Sons in the 1920s and 1930s, in some of the film stills.  Here, for example, in one scene, the 18th century open armchair, to the right in the photo-still, is perhaps a piece on hire from Moss Harris & Sons. The business certainly had many examples of such 18th century chairs in stock during the 1920s and 1930s.

Film still from ‘The Beloved Vagabond’ (1936). Image Avaxhome.

And here (below), in another film still from The Beloved Vagabond, there is another mid-18th century open armchair, to the left, together with a mid-18th century stool (just behind the man, centre of the still) and an 18th century sidetable behind, all typical of M. Harris & Sons stock of the period.

Film still from ‘The Beloved Vagabond’ (1936). Image Avaxhome.

In the late 1930s and during the Second World War, in the early 1940s, Thomas Crowther & Son, North End Road, Fulham, London, also hired hundreds of objects to many British film companies – during WWII it would have been cheaper, I guess, to hire genuine antique room panelling and 18th century chimney-pieces (the kinds of things that Thomas Crowther was well-known for buying and selling) than it would have been to have things made, given the extreme rationing during the War and the fact that almost all factory production was devoted to the war effort. Crowthers were established as stone masons in the late 19th century and were themselves also heavily involved in the war effort – they had contracts for the building of Anderson Shelters, and for production of pulley blocks for the Royal Navy.

Part of the archive of T. Crowther is held in the Hammersmith & Fulham Local Record Office in London (DD900 – stock book records 1938-1948).  The wide range of film studios that Crowther did business with was extraordinary and is a testament to the desire to keep film production going during WWII.  The list of film companies in the Crowther archive includes, Warner Brothers Film Studios at Teddington in Middlesex; British National Films, Boreham Wood; Grafton Films, Shepperton Studios; MGM Films, Denham Studios; Ealing Studios; Twentieth Century Productions Ltd., Lime Grove; British Lion Corporation, Wardour Street; Gainsborough Studios Ltd; Columbia British Pictures Corporation; and Associated British Pictures, Welwyn Garden City. Unfortunately, the archive detail is rather limited, with just an entry stating ‘hire of goods’ and various amounts, from £1.4.9. ( MGM, Denham Studios in May 1940), to £183.8.0 (Gainsborough Pictures in October 1942), so it is not possible at present to identify which films the Crowther props were used in.

Film poster for ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ (1957). Image

The firm of Stair & Company, of London and New York, established in 1911 as Stair & Andrew, also appear to have been used regularly by film companies for the hire of film props.  In 1956, for example, Stair & Co. hired antique furniture and many other antique objects for the set of the film The Barratts of Wimpole Street, directed by Sidney Franklin and starring John Gielgud and Jennifer Jones. The film was made in England and was released in January 1957. Here’s the film poster, and a film still, in which one can just detect an 18th century armchair, in the Chinese taste, in the centre background, and many other 18th century and 19th century objects also populate the scene – perhaps some of these were on hire from Stair & Co.?

Film still from ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ (1957). Image

Stair & Co seem to have hired antiques for films sets fairly regularly during the 1950s and 1960s. The provided ‘hire of furniture for 2 weeks’ in July 1968 for the film ‘Mosquito Squadron (1969), directed by Boris Sagal and which starred David McCallum; it was filmed in England, with some scenes shot on location at the mid-19th century Minley Manor near Farnborough, Hampshire, then, appropriately, owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Film poster for ‘Mosquito Squadron’ (1969). Image

In 1963 Stair & Co also ‘hired various goods’ for the set of the film Woman of Straw (1964), which was partly shot at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, and was directed by Basil Dearden, starring Gina Lollobridgida, Sean Connery and Ralph Richardson.

Film poster for ‘Woman of Straw’ (1964). Image

Other London-based antique dealers that hired antiques as props for film sets, include Montague Marcussen, who was trading from Crawford Street in London during the 1960s, and announced in one of their advertisements in 1965 that they had ‘supplied many props used in the film The Yellow Rolls Royce’ (1965). This was a big budget film, made at MGM Studios in London, directed by Anthony Asquith and starring, among others, Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, Omar Sharif and Shirley MacLaine.

Film poster for ‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ (1965). Image

It’s not known what actual objects Marcussen supplied as film props for the film, but the firm was known for extravagant, interior decorator objects, so perhaps some of the objects in the film set (below) were from the firm?

Film set still for ‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ (1965). Image Heritage Auctions.

There’s a lot more to be said about the role of the antique trade in film, theatre and television, not least in the ways that film sets became increasingly concerned with historical accuracy, and the supply of genuine antiques helped to fulfill those ambitions.


August 14, 2020

Curating SOLD! Dealers, Museums, and the Art Market – Zoom Talk Sunday 6th September 7.00pm

I thought you may be interested to hear that I’m giving a FREE talk on ZOOM on 6th September on behalf of the Furniture History Society focused on the SOLD! the Great British Antiques Story exhibition, staged at The Bowes Museum from January 26th to May 5th 2019. The talk is called ‘Curating Sold! Dealers, Museums and the Art Market’ and is a kind of autopsy of the SOLD! exhibition, as well as a chance to offer some reflections on the exhibition itself.

SOLD! exhibition Poster. Image courtesy of The Bowes Museum.

For those of you that missed the exhibition this is a chance to see what the exhibition looked like and to see a wide variety of installation photographs; it’s also a chance to hear about the exhibition themes and the objectives of the exhibition.  You will also be able to see many of the spectacular objects from a wide range of museum and private lenders that we managed to encourage to come to The Bowes Museum for the exhibition.  And for those that did manage to see the exhibition this is also an opportunity to more hear about the behind-the-scenes development and delivery of a major museum exhibition and to hear about the challenges and opportunities of working on the exhibition project – which took more than 2 years in final stages of development, but was also underpinned by more than 10 years of research – so you can also hear about things that did not make the final cut!

SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story – The Bowes Museum, 2019. Photograph courtesy of The Bowes Museum.

The talk takes place on SUNDAY 6th September 2020 at 7.00pm on the ZOOM platform, and will last about 1 hour, including some opportunities to ask questions via the chat function in the Zoom platform.  The Furniture History Society are managing this talk and ask that anyone interested in hearing the talk could send them an email and they will send out the link to the Zoom room and a password for access.
Do email FHS Events Secretary, Beatrice Goddard at for your free ticket!
Here’s some extra blurb for the talk –

Curating SOLD! Dealers, Museums, and the Art Market

SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story was the first exhibition of its kind in a public museum.  The exhibition directed renewed attention to the history of museum objects through the fascinating story of the history of antique dealing in Britain.  SOLD! brought together some world-renowned and familiar museum objects from leading public collections, but presented these objects in new and unfamiliar contexts. SOLD! highlighted the extraordinary role that antique dealers have played in the development of public museums, presenting an illuminating story of our 200 year-old fascination with ‘antiques’

This talk, by the guest curator, outlines the objectives and purpose of this ground-breaking exhibition, with reflections on the development and the processes, and the challenges and opportunities of working on the exhibition, as well as retelling the intriguing tales of expert discoveries and fortunate finds and revealing some of the stories, and myths, about antique dealing.

SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story exhibition catalogue 2019.

As you know, PDF digital copies of the accompanying exhibition catalogue, SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story (Bowes Museum, 2019) are available as a FREE download; made possible by the generous support of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art – you can download the catalogue at the bottom of the Antique Dealers Research project page HERE

Hope you can make the talk!


July 27, 2020

Milestone for the Antique Dealers Map website

Our Antique Dealer interactive map website has hit a momentous milestone this month – we now have more than 10,000 antique dealer shop locations in the map of Britain for the period 1900-2000 – there are 10,456 if one includes dealers with branches of their businesses in the USA and elsewhere in the world.  Here’s the link to the MAP website if you want take a look

The map is still very much a work in progress and there are many more dealers to add, but we’ve been concentrating on adding dealers for the period from 1900 to c.1970 – when I say ‘we’, recently it’s actually just been me…..indeed, adding dealers to the map during the Corona Virus Lockdown has been a really mind-soothing job.  I guess I’ve added more than 3,500 over the past few months.  It’s been detailed, repetitive work, but it’s also been truly fascinating seeing the map evolve and change as more and more antique dealers are added. And with so many dealers in the map you can now begin to see the changing spacial geography of the trade emerge.

I can share some preliminary insights with you, through the amazing technology of screen-capture! Here, for example (below), is the bird’s eye view of the clusters of total numbers of antique dealers in Britain in the period 1900-1930 – the colour of the dots indicates the concentration of dealers in an area – blue for lower numbers, red for higher numbers, pink for highest concentration.

Antique Dealers Map showing dealers in Britain 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers Project, University of Leeds.

As you can see (above), there are clusters of dealers in various regions and cities and towns across Britain in 1930, but several areas are worthy of note and can be compared with the same visual representation in the screen shot of dealers in Britain in the Map in the period 1900-2000 (below).  One thing that emerges in the 1930 map (above) is that London has by far the largest concentration of antique dealers (1,846 in 1930); one can also note the number of dealers on the South Coast – Bournemouth area has 80 dealers and the Portsmouth area 115 dealers in 1930.  To the west, the Exeter area has 109 dealers; and Bath/Bristol has 101 dealers in the same period.  If one moves North, one can see that Leeds and surrounding locations (which would include Harrogate and York in this map view) have 147; the North East of England has 83 dealers.  Note however, the area around Sussex and Hampshire border, to the south west of London, which has 40 dealers in 1930; and note around Brighton and the South Sussex coast, which has c.50 dealers.

In the screen shot of the same map showing dealers 1900-2000 (below) – (note however that the map will be mainly concentrating on dealers dating from up to c.1970) – one can see some striking developments in the changing geography of the antique trade.

Antique Dealers Map showing dealers in Britain 1900-2000. Image, Antique Dealers project, University of Leeds.

In the view (above), the number of antique dealers has increased enormously across all areas of Britain since 1930. The numbers of dealers in London alone has grown to more than 3,600 by c.1970; the Brighton area has also expanded considerably to 264 dealers (from c.50 in 1930). The Bournemouth area (including Portsmouth) has gained steady growth, and now has c.300 dealers (in c.1930 the area had c.200 dealers); the number of dealers in the Exeter and Torquay area has expanded to c.140 in each location (increasing from c.120 to c.300 for the area over the period). There has also been an increase in the number of dealers in Bath and Bristol, rising from 101 to 277. The Leeds area, including Harrogate and York, has expanded to c.400 dealers, doubling in size since c.1930. The North East, by contrast, has gained a much smaller percentage, expanding from 83 dealers in 1930 to c.100 dealers by c.1970.  What is really striking however, is the expansion of dealers around Hampshire/Sussex area – here the numbers of dealers has grown exponentially from just 40 dealers in 1930, to 243 dealers by c.1970.  Indeed, the whole area of the South East has seen the largest increase in the numbers of dealers, with not just the larger satellite towns around London seeing an increase in dealers, but dozens of smaller villages in the ‘Home Counties’ (those counties surrounding London such as Berkshire, Sussex, Essex, Kent etc) attracting antique dealers.

This change is itself a symptom of the expanding market for antiques in the Post World War II era, but also a consequence of the development of increasing numbers of amateur collectors opening antiques shops in the 1950s and 1960s – a development that had particular effect in and around London and the South and South East. One other thing to note (although not illustrated in the map) is that during the 1950s and 1960s there was also a significant increase in the number of antique shops that were called ‘Ye Olde’ or some other generic name, rather than being named after the owner of the person that owned the business – so, for example, by the late 1960s there are dozens of shops called ‘Old Bakehouse Antiques’ or ‘Old Malthouse Antiques’, or ‘Cottage Antiques’; there is also a new development in quaint names for antique shops – ‘Old Things’, ‘Quaint Conceit’, ‘Year Dot’, ‘The Shambles’ etc. These developments, which seem to be concentrated in the ‘Home Counties’ also appear to be the result of the increasing presence of former amateur collectors entering the antique trade during the 1950s and 1960s.

We can see more granulation in the results by focusing in further on some discrete locations and exploring the changing landscape of the antique trade at regional and county levels.  Here, for example (below) is the birds eye view of the numbers of antique dealers in the South Coast of England in 1930.

Antique Dealers Map – showing dealer location on South Coast of England 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In this map (above), which gives a closer view of the South Coast, we can see that the town of Brighton had 18 dealers in 1930; Eastbourne had 13 dealers; Sevenoaks had 8 dealers; Tunbridge Wells had 7 dealers; Maidstone, 5 dealers; Winchester, which was a very popular location for dealers in the opening decades of the 20th century, had 30 dealers.  Portsmouth has c.50 dealers and Southampton c.25 dealers.  There are also a few towns dotted across the South East with just a single dealer (represented by a small blue dot), but most towns, if they had any dealers at all, only had 2 or 3 antique dealers.

If we explore the South Coast map in the period 1900-2000 (see below) (and which, as I say, concentrates on the period up to c.1970) we can see the scale of the change in the region between 1930 and c.1970.

Antique Dealers Map – showing number of dealers on South Coats of England 1900-2000. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In this view (above), the number of dealers in Brighton has expanded to 144 (from just 18 dealers in 1930); Eastbourne now has 32 dealers; Sevenoaks has 20 dealers; Tunbridge Wells has attracted 33 dealers; Maidstone has 17 dealers. But even Winchester, which had comparatively high concentration of antique dealers even in 1930 (30 dealers) has more than doubled in size to 63 dealers. Portsmouth has also expanded to 75 dealers and Southampton has increased too, rising from 25 dealers to 45 dealers. But the real growth can be seen in the large numbers of dealers in the smaller satellite towns around the South East, each of which has expanded the numbers of dealers – and many towns now boasting 10 or more antique dealers.

Below is another section of the map, this time a bird’s eye views of the South West of England – with the counties of Somerset and Devon – this view is of the area showing the number of antique dealers in 1930.

Antique Dealers Map – showing number of dealers in Devon and Somerset 1900-1930. Image, Antiques Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In this view (above), The city of Exeter, which was an attractive location for antique dealers due to it’s historic architectural fabric and as a centre for tourism, has 34 dealers; Taunton, the County Town of Somerset, has 14 dealers.  On the North Devon coast, Bideford has 7 dealers and several of the other coastal towns have a quite a few dealers even by 1930.

If we explore the same Devon and Somerset locations in the period 1900-2000 (see below) – (but up to c.1970, as I say) we can again see the changes to the geography of the trade.

Antique Dealer Map, showing dealer locations in Devon and Somerset 1900-2000. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

Here (above), the number of antique dealers in Exeter has expanded to 104 from 34; Taunton now has 29 dealers; Bideford has 18 dealers; Barnstaple 14 dealers.  But there is also striking growth in the number of dealers across all the county towns as well, and an increasing number of small villages have also been chosen as key locations for antique shops (represented by the small, single blue dots on the map).  This expansion was itself a symptom of the influence of tourism, but also of the regular (weekly) buying trips to the West Country made by the London and South East antiques trade.

But what of the North East of England, an area often seen as being far removed from the tourist hotspots of the West Country and the South Coast of England? Below is a screen shot of the map for the North East:

Antique Dealers Map – showing number of dealers in the North East of England 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

We can note (above), that there were in fact quite a number of dealers in the North East in the period 1900-1930 – there were, of course, some very wealthy individuals in the North East, with fortunes built on Shipbuilding and industrial production – so it’s not really surprising that towns like Darlington already had 17 antique dealers by 1930; or that the area around Sunderland had 14 dealers.  Durham, a historic city like Exeter, by contrast, only had 6 antique dealers in 1930.  Scarborough was a particular hot-spot though, with 25 antique dealers by 1930.  One can also note the small number of towns with just a single dealer (see Kendal, Barnard Castle, Leyburn etc).

Compare this (below) to the map showing the number of dealers in the North East of England in 1900-2000 (mainly up to c.1970, as I say):

Antique Dealers Map – showing number of dealers in North East England 1900-2000. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In the map (above) of the North East of England, the number of dealers in various locations has increased significantly, but nothing like the expansion seen in the South and the South East of England.  In the North East, for example, Darlington, has seen the number of dealers increase from 17 to 35.  But in the Sunderland area, there are c.15 dealers, which was about the same as it was in 1930.  In Durham, there were now 12 antique dealers (up from 6 in 1930).  Scarborough has seen a significant increase though, with 61 dealers by c.1970, up from 25 in 1930. Carlisle had 5 dealers in 1930, but has expanded to 13 dealers by c.1970. But perhaps the greatest change is in the numbers of antique dealers in the smaller, tourism driven towns, such as Kendal (which had just 1 dealer in 1930 and now boasts 12 dealers), and in towns like Ambleside (0 dealers in 1930, but 10 dealers by c.1970); and Penrith (0 dealers in 1930, but 8 dealers by c.1970).

In North Yorkshire, inland from the coastal town of Scarborough, there were already a number of locations long associated with the antiques trade, as this section of the map (below) of the number of dealers in the are in 1930 illustrates.  Here, Harrogate (with 44 dealers) and York (with 45 dealers), as well as Leeds (with c.45 dealers) dominate the landscape in 1930. But there are also a small number of antique dealers in Knaresborough (9), in Bradford (9 dealers) and Halifax (9 dealers) by 1930.

Antique Dealer Map – showing numbers of dealers in Yorkshire in 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In the Yorkshire region in the period 1900-2000 (below) (focused on dealer locations up to c.1970 again), the number of antique dealers in Harrogate has risen to 78; in York, to 63, and in Leeds to c.80. And the numbers of dealers in Knaresborough, Bradford and Halifax, have all increased to c.23 in each location. There is also a general increase in the number of dealers in the towns west and south of Leeds.

Antique Dealer Map – showing number of dealers in Yorkshire 1900-2000. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In the East Midlands of England, around the Norfolk and Suffolk areas, we see similar patterns of growth between 1930 and c.1970. In the map of 1900-1930 (see map below), the city of Norwich, again a location associated with tourism and with an important historic architectural fabric, had 39 antique dealers by 1930.  And one can also notice a few locations on the north Norfolk coast with small numbers of dealers (Cromer, with 3 dealers for example). Indeed, further down the coast, into Suffolk, in the towns of Lowestoft (9 dealers) and Southwold (6 dealers), the presence of antique dealers illustrates the continuing legacy of tourism in the development of the antique trade.  Further inland, the town of Bury St. Edmunds, again with a significant historic fabric, had 10 dealers in 1930.  Inland further still, Peterborough was also an important location, attracting 17 dealers by 1930.

Antique Dealer Map – showing the locations of antique dealers in East Midlands 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

Looking at the same locations in the map of 1900-2000, (focused on dealers up to c.1970) (see below), we can see some significant increases in the number of dealers in popular tourist locations.

Antique Dealer Map – showing numbers of dealers in East Midlands in the period 1900-1930. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

In this map (above), the number of dealers based in Norwich has risen to 61 (from 39) by c.1970.  And the coastal towns of north Norfolk have also seen a significant increase in the numbers of dealers – Cromer now has 7 dealers, and there are a number of other towns and villages on the north Norfolk coast that now have antique shops. The Suffolk coastal towns of Lowestoft and Southwold have also seen the numbers of dealers increase (Lowestoft has risen to 13; Southwold to 10). Bury St. Edmunds also has an increase in the number of dealers, rising to 25 dealers in c.1970, from 10 dealers in 1930.  Further inland, in Peterborough, there has been a less significant rise in the number of dealers, increasing to 21 dealers in c.1970, from 17 dealers in 1930.  But again, what is striking is the general increase in the number of locations that have attracted antique shops by c.1970, with dozens of villages across Norfolk and Suffolk being chosen as key locations by antique dealers.

And finally, a look at the most important location for antique dealers in Britain – London.  The map (below) shows the number of antique dealers across the capital in the period 1900-1930. Here, the West End of London dominates the landscape, with 826 dealers in 1930, followed by North London, with 236 dealers; then the Kensington area, with 224 dealers, and South West London (Fulham and Chelsea) with 213 dealers; and finally East London, with 70 dealers in 1930.

Antique Dealer Map – showing the numbers of dealers in London in 1900-200. Image, Antique Dealers research project, University of Leeds.

By c.1970, these already very high numbers of antique dealers (compared to anywhere else in Britain at least) had increased again, as this final map (below) of the same area illustrates.  Here the numbers of antique dealers in the West End has risen to c.1500; in the North of London growth has remained virtually static though (220 dealers in c.1970); the Kensington area has seen a significant increase in the numbers of dealers, from 224 (in 1930) to 484 (in c.1970). But the biggest percentage increase of dealers in a single area in London appears to have taken place in South West London, in Fulham and Chelsea, which saw an increase in the numbers of dealers from 213 (in 1930) to 516 in c.1970. This area had some of the most high profile locations in the biography of the antique trade – Fulham Road, the King’s Road, and streets such as Beauchamp Place and Brompton Road.

There’s still a lot more to say about these changing geographies, and their significance, and still many more dealers to add into the map – there was a further expansion of the antique trade in the 1970s and 1980s, before the rapid contraction during the late 1990s, all of which we hope the Antique Dealer Map will illustrate.  But I hope this brief overview demonstrates the rich potential of the Antique Dealer Map as a key resource in the ongoing research into the history of the antique trade in Britain.


June 29, 2020

Emergence of the Antique & Curiosity Dealer book published

I thought you may be interested to hear that my new book, The Emergence of the Antique & Curiosity Dealer in Britain 1815-1850: the commodification of historical objects has finally been published, and it has now been released from the warehouses that have been holding it (in India I think?).  The book has been a very (very) long time in gestation – 10 years in fact, and I won’t bore you with the complicated history of its genesis – suffice to say that I have been busy with many, many other things.  And, for all those that are sitting on what they think are long dead book projects, the Emergence is a testament to keeping faith, and a testament to the many people who have supported me over the years; and of course to my publisher, Routledge (who were ‘Ashgate’, when I signed the contract back in the day!) for keeping faith too – and a special thanks to all at Routledge for their patience.  I can’t say what people will think of the book of course, but I hope someone out there likes it, or at least appreciates the effort!

Here’s the blurb for the book, in case you wonder what it’s actually about – Rather than the customary focus on the activities of individual collectors, The Emergence of the Antique and Curiosity Dealer in Britain 1815-1850: The Commodification of Historical Objects illuminates the less-studied roles played by dealers in the nineteenth-century antique and curiosity markets. Set against the recent ‘art market turn’ in scholarly literature, this volume examines the role, activities, agency and influence of antique and curiosity dealers as they emerged in the opening decades of the nineteenth century. This study begins at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when dealers began their wholesale importations of historical objects; it closes during the 1850s, after which the trade became increasingly specialized, reflecting the rise of historical museums such as the South Kensington Museum (V&A). Focusing on the archive of the early-nineteenth-century London dealer John Coleman Isaac (c.1803-1887), as well as drawing on a wide range of other archival and contextual material, Mark Westgarth considers the emergence of the dealer in relation to a broad historical and cultural landscape. The emergence of the antique and curiosity dealer was part of the rapid economic, social, political and cultural change of early-nineteenth-century Britain, centered around ideas of antiquarianism, the commercialization of culture, and a distinctive and evolving interest in historical objects. This book will be of interest to scholars in art history, histories of collecting, museum and heritage studies, and nineteenth century culture.

I’m sorry it’s rather expensive – at £120 it’s quite a whack (as they say!), but that’s academic publishing for you I guess; the economic model must take account of the fact that only half a dozen people will actually buy it!?…My other book (SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story) by contrast, is FREE, as you may know (thanks to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art).

Anyway, if you are at all interested in this arcane subject, then Emergence may be one for you.


May 23, 2020

Antique Silver Dealers – Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co. archive

It’s amazing what turns up at auction sometimes – during ‘Lockdown’ I seem to have ‘’ constantly running in the background whilst I’m writing on my PC; last week, at Keys Fine Art in Aylsham, Norfolk, a rather dishevelled old album caught my eye. Lot 217, described as ‘Vintage Album containing various photographs of hallmarked silver and other artworks’ sounded rather intriguing, and I recognised the type of photographs and that it was probably a silver dealer’s album – so I had to buy it of course; it was a bargain I think, just £12 plus commissions and postage, so cost about £24 all told (and thank you to Keys Fine Art Auctions for packaging the lot so well and posting it so promptly!).


‘Vintage Album’, Keys Fine Art Auctions, Norfolk.

The album arrived in the post this week. I guess the album itself dates from c.1900 – it has an old title on the original red leather spine ‘Photographs & Records of Cups and Presentation Plate’ – although it has been recovered in plain brown paper at some stage, and as you can see it is in a very distressed condition.

The album turned out to be a fascinating record of the well-known London-based silversmiths and antique silver dealers ‘Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd‘.  In some business letters, dating from the 1920s and which have been pasted into the album, Attenborough described themselves as ‘Goldsmiths, Diamond Merchants and Watchmakers’; they traded from 142-144 Oxford Street, London, from c.1905 until the late 1950s, although like many 20th century antique silver dealers (such as Harman & Lambert, or Birch & Gaydon), Attenborough can trace their genealogy into the 18th century – their business letterhead states that they were established in 1796. The Attenborough business was acquired by the silversmith James Charles Jay in 1887 and by 1904 had become Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd – the business seems to have closed sometime in the 1960s? They were listed as ‘antique silver dealers’ in the London Trade Directories in the 1920s-1950s. As silversmiths, Attenborough also sold antique silver and indeed the album exemplifies the continued tradition within silversmithing of buying and selling second-hand and antique silver. The famous firm of S.J. Phillips, for example, began as silversmiths and jewellers in the 19th century and many other antique silver dealers can trace their origins as silversmiths.

The contents of the album are mainly photographs of modern silver made by Attenborough in the 1920s to the 1950s, but there are also many photos of 18th and 19th century antique silver, including this amazing George II silver basket – in the style of Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751).

George II Silver Basket; Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd album, photograph c.1930s?

Some of the most interesting photographs in the album illustrate pieces of antique silver that have been remounted as presentation pieces by Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co in the 1920s and 1930s.  This silver punch bowl dating from 1870 has been remounted for presentation in 1924.  There is a long description of the object in the album; ‘Silver Punch Bowl, weighing 144 ounces, standing 14 inches high, and measuring 18 inches across. It is entirely wrought and chased by hand, and bears the Victorian Hall mark for the year 1870. The body of the bowl is decorated with repousse work in high relief of figures of horsemen and footmen in armour, symbolising battle scenes from early English history. The pedestal foot is ornamented with a series of wreathed designs of oak leaves and acorns; the whole forming a remarkable and unique specimen of the silversmith’s art. It was originally on [sic] the collection of the late Viscount Chaplin, who was a great patron of the turf, and a thorough sportsman, also a political associate of the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain. The inscription engraved on the foot is as follows:- Monday, 14th July, 1924 ‘To have the honour to meet H.R.H. The Prince of Wales’ Souvenir of ‘At Home’ at the Jamaica Court. BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION, WEMBLEY.’

The album also contains dozens of photographs of commissions for presentation cups and plate that the firm created in the early and mid 20th century. Here, for example, is ‘The Spectaclemakers Cup’, made to commemorate the tercentenary of the granting of the Royal Charter by Charles I in 1629; ‘made in May 1930 for Sir Osborn Holmden’ – who was made Master of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers in 1928.

The wide range of commissions for silver that the firm undertook is illustrated by these two further examples – a large silver presentation salver, made as a gift to William Lawrence Stephenson Esq. on his retirement as chairman of F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. in 1948.

And the winner’s trophy for the Miss World Competition in 1955, which that year was held in London.

That year, the fifth edition of the now highly contentious and outdated competition, Miss Venezuela, Susanna Duijm, won the competition; here she is, holding the trophy made by Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd.

As well as the photographs of modern and antique silver, the album also contains a small number of fascinating watercolour designs for cups and medals, including these beautiful watercolours for designs for a medal for the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club, dating from the 1930s.  The Club was established in 1888 and is still going.

The Attenborough album is an amazing document, one that clearly demonstrates how the practices of antique dealing, and those of contemporary design, have been in continuous flux.  The album will be making its way to the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds in due course!


May 11, 2020

Antique Dealer Research Project Newsletter – Spring 2020

Hello all friends and colleagues,

I hope you are all staying safe and well and everyone in your respective families are all OK and well too.  We thought, in these very challenging times, that you might like to hear about all the things that the antique dealers research project has been involved in over the past few months – and to hear about our future plans in the Post-Covid-19 world (not much detail on that front at present I’m afraid…but do keep an eye on the antique dealer research project blog for news, as and when things start to settle down).  But anyway, we have developed a new initiative – our Antique Dealer Research Project Newsletter – the first of which is attached here – Newsletter No.1 – ADRP Issue 01 HiRes FINAL (1)

We do hope that you enjoy reading the News – and hope that you remain safe and well.

Very best wishes

Stay Safe


April 20, 2020

Lockdown Quiz – Answers!

Looks like the Lockdown Quiz was rather too daunting and appears to have defeated everyone! We didn’t get one completed or even semi completed response to the quiz. The Christie’s Christmas Quiz from 1978 was indeed a fiendish beast, and if I’m honest, I don’t think, even with the help of Google it was possible to answer many of the questions.  There certainly were some really perplexing questions; who knew, for example that Augustus John and King George V were the only British Army Officers that were allowed to keep their beards in World War One (Question 23)? Or the answer to question 84 – ‘If James Yates is 5338, who is 2341’?….the numbers are pewterers numbers, so, obviously, 2341 is Robert Hitchman!….of course!…

There were some rather standard empirical art history questions, which I guess many people would be able to answer quite easily – Question 26, for example, which asked to match up the ‘ism’ to the artist; or question 14, which asked to name the artist who painted particular paintings – such questions seemed pretty easy to deal with, especially with the help of Google – but many other questions seemed to be rather obtuse – I particularly liked question 16 – ‘L.S.D. stands for what?’….no, it was not acid (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), but ‘Librae. Solidi. Denarii.’

Some of the questions were too obviously time specific – question 22, for example ‘What is the record for an ‘elephant’ – one needed to know that an ‘elephant’ is a folio size, and that the record at auction in 1978 was £216,393; or question 61, ‘Which proved more expensive: vultures, bantam cocks or cocatoos’ – (they are all birds modelled by the Meissen porcelain factory, and hence, it’s Vultures….of course!).

Anyway, I know you will all be waiting to see the answers to the quiz, to see how you did – so here are the answers!….Hope you did well, even if you didn’t submit your answers for the prize!

Answers 1-40:

Answers 41-100:

They were really hard, weren’t they!


April 13, 2020

Lockdown Art and Antiques Quiz – Christie’s Christmas Quiz 1978

In these challenging days of ‘Lockdown’ we all need distractions – so how about an art history and antique collecting quiz, from back in the day – from 1978 to be precise, and a fiendishly difficult one too!  The Christie’s (auctioneers) ‘Christmas Quiz 1978’, which is a real mind boggler!

1978 – think Space Invaders, think Grease and Saturday Night Fever at the cinema, Charlie’s Angels and Love Boat on TV, boogie woogie disco clothes, and public services strikes in the UK – so what on earth was the state of knowledge in the art and antique markets in Britain at the time – well, exceptionally wide and very extensive if we go by the standard of the questions in the Christie’s 1978 Quiz!……here’s just one example to perplex you!…Question 33 – ‘What do Bawbee, Merk and Plack have in common?’….what on earth?…..and there are much more difficult questions!
The quiz has 100 questions, all related to art, antiques and collecting, with a few questions on wine too (as one might expect in a cultural quiz!).

There’s a prize for the winner – a print copy of the recently published SOLD! Great British Antiques Story exhibition catalogue will be posted to the winner (anywhere in the world!) – you have ONE WEEK (so the quiz deadline is Monday 20th April – 12.00pm UK time) to complete the quiz (I’d be very surprised if anyone managed to get all 100 questions correct!).  Email your answers to the project email address:

The winner will be announced here on the project blog on Monday 20th April at 5.00pm – GOOD LUCK! – I have all of the answers to the quiz of course and will publish them on here on Monday 20th April – I’m guessing people will try to google some of the answers, but I’d be surprised if all of the questions can be googled!

Anyway, here you go…here’s all the questions, in each of the pages from the 1978 quiz

Questions 1-13


Questions 14-30

Questions 31-42

Questions 43-57

Questions 58-72

Questions 73-87

Questions 88-100




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