Posts tagged ‘M. Harris & Sons’

January 31, 2021

The Grosvenor House Antiques Fair

This blog post is inspired by one of my Christmas gifts – (thanks to my wife Mo!) – an early edition (1935) of the handbook of exhibitors at ‘The Antique Dealers’ Fair’ (known, from 1970, as ‘The Grosvenor House Antiques Fair’ and from 1994 as ‘The Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair).  As you may know, The Antique Dealers’ Fair was staged from 1934, with the final edition of the fair in 2009.  A copy of the 1935 handbook is quite a rare thing – I don’t yet have a copy of the handbook for 1934, (I have a copy of the list of exhibitors though – but if anyone does know of the whereabouts of a copy of the 1934 handbook I would be very interested to hear).

The Antique Dealers’ Fair, catalogue 1935. Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

  There was an obvious break in staging the fair during the period around the Second World War (1938-1947) and the event in 1979 was cancelled due to the ‘chambermaids’ strike at The Grosvenor House Hotel, but other than these breaks The Antique Dealers’ Fair was considered to be the premier antiques fair in the world and attracted an international elite of dealers, collectors and museum curators.  The Fair came under the Patronage of H.M. Queen Mary from 1937, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother from 1954. The Grosvenor House Hotel opened in Park Lane, London in 1928, on the site of the former London residence of the Earls Grosvenor; the chairman and builder of the hotel, Alfred Edwards, was involved with the Fair right from the start, helping with the financing and organisation of the Fair.

Verso of postcard with message to ‘Miss Maud Tidy’ 19th July 1935. Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

Postcard, Grosvenor House Hotel, c.1935. Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

Above is a postcard (also a Christmas gift from Mo!) showing the Grosvenor House Hotel, which was sent to ‘Miss Maud Tidy’ in July 1935, the same year for the date of the catalogue for The Antique Dealers’ Fair, and gives you a sense of how opulent the hotel was at the time. 

The idea for The Antique Dealers’ Fair was that of the dealers Alex Lewis and Cecil Turner.  Lewis was a partner in the antique furniture dealers James A. Lewis & Sons (established in c.1895), who in the 1930s were trading in fashionable Brompton Road, London, with a branch in New York – here is a photograph of the interior of James Lewis & Sons shop in Brompton Road in 1935, and from the 1935 Antique Dealers’ Fair Handbook.

James A. Lewis & Sons, Brompton Road, London. Photograph, Antique Dealers Fair Handbook 1935.

Lewis was a member of the Executive Committee for the Fair, acting as Chair of the Committee in 1938, but does not appear to be listed in the Fair Committees after the Second World War.  Cecil Francis Turner (1889-1959), who was elected President of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) in 1935, was trading as Stuart & Turner (established in 1919) in Soho Square, London; here’s a photograph of Stuart & Turner’s shop, also from the 1935 Antique Dealers’ Handbook.  Turner was the first Chair of the Executive Committee and continued in that role (excepting 1938) until 1953.

Stuart & Turner, Soho Square, London. Antique Dealers’ Fair Handbook 1935.

The 1935 edition of the Antique Dealers’ Fair handbook (like all editions) contains a floor-plan of the Fair, with the names of the antique dealers, and gives a fascinating insight into the ambitions of the dealers at the Fair. Below is the floor-plan of the stands on the ground-floor of the Fair in 1935, with the stands of James A. Lewis & Son and that of Stuart & Turner, side-by-side at the top of the floor-plan. 

Floor-plan of The Antique Dealers’ Fair, 1935. Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

The floor-plan for the stands on the Gallery in the 1935 handbook illustrates the large stands taken by leading dealers such as Mallet & Sons, Moss Harris & Sons and the antique silver dealers S. J. Phillips (left side of the gallery).

Floor-plan for the Gallery, The Antique Dealers’ Fair Handbook, 1935. Photograph, Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

According to the arts journalist Frank Davis, former saleroom correspondent of The Times and later Country Life, some members of the antique trade were initially a little resistant to participate in the Fair.  As Davis wrote, ‘I remember very well how opinions differed when the idea of a great fair in the heart of London was first mooted, many regarding the scheme as decidedly infra dig, presenting an honourable trade to a wide public as if it were a mere market in the souk of Algiers.’ (F. Davis, ‘High Standards from the Start’, The Grosvenor House Antiques Fair Handbook, 1983, pp.8-9, p.8).  And it is striking that there were a number of leading antique dealers absent in the very first iteration of The Antique Dealers’ Fair in 1934 – Frank Partridge & Sons, Mallet & Son, Norman Adams, H. Blairman & Sons, Moss Harris & Sons, for example, are all absent from the first Fair in 1934, but appear to have embraced the Fair by 1935. 

  The other interesting aspect in the pages of the Antique Dealers’ Fair handbooks is in the presentation of information by the antique dealers.  In the first handbooks, in the 1935 and 1936 editions, the dealers seem to merely use the pages in the handbooks to reproduce magazine advertisements – they look like any dealer adverts of the period in magazines such as The Connoisseur or Apollo – here’s an example from the 1935 Antique Dealers’ Fair handbook for the well-known dealer Jessie M. Botibol. Indeed, many of the dealer advertisements in the 1935 handbook do not even illustrate any objects at all, and merely list the addresses and specialisms (antique silver, or ceramics, for example) of the dealer.

Advertisement for J.M. Botibol from The Antique Dealers’ Fair handbook 1935. Photograph, Antiques Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

Just two years later, from 1937, the pages of the handbooks shift format, and focus much more on objects that the particular dealer will have on display and for sale at the fair.  Here’s one example from the 1937 handbook, from the famous dealers Hotspur, then trading from Frith Street, Soho Square, London – as the caption at the bottom of the page states, ‘the above are displayed by Hotspur’.

Advertisement for Hotspur, Frith Street, London, in The Antique Dealers’ Fair handbook 1935. Photograph, Antiques Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

This is a minor change of course, but directs attention to how the handbooks for the Antique Dealers’ Fair began to act more like catalogues of an exhibition, rather than as commercial advertisements for the trade – and in this sense this shift also perhaps reflects the desires of those organising and participating in the fair to successfully blend the discourse of private and public value, positioning the fair as much for public education as for private profit.

The handbooks for The Antique Dealers’ Fair provide fascinating insights into the history of the antique trade in Britain, and I hope to compose some more blog posts on these important resources over the coming months.

Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 http://www.routledge.com 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, silversirens.co.uk

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 wikipedia.org.

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 Torontofilmsociety.com.

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 wikipedia.org.

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 wikipedia.org.

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 wikipedia.org.

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.

Mark

December 2, 2018

SOLD! A Major Exhibition at The Bowes Museum

As some of the readers of the Antique Dealers Blog already know, for the last 18 months I’ve been very busy working as ‘guest curator’ on an exhibition called ‘SOLD!’ at The Bowes Museum based on over 10 years of research on the history of Antique Dealing in Britain – and we can now announce the forthcoming opening (on 26th January 2019) of the exhibition!  Here is the poster, with the stunning bronze by Antico of c.1490-1500, acquired by the V&A Museum through the dealer Horace Baxter in 1960, as the ‘poster boy’.

SOLD! Poster

SOLD!, which opens on 26th January 2019, brings together more than 40 world-class objects, from various museums, including the V&A, the British Museum, The Royal Armouries, Royal Collection, The Lady Lever Art Gallery and Temple Newsam, as well as objects from the collections at The Bowes Museum itself, and loans from private collections never seen in public before, to tell the ‘hidden histories’ of the objects with a focus on the history of antique dealing.  One of my PhD students (Simon Spier) is working as the project research assistant helping with the assembly of the recreation of an ‘old curiosity shop’ which will be part of the display and interpretation for SOLD! – you can follow Simon’s activities in the special Twitter feed we have developed – see  https://twitter.com/Bowes_GBAS

Besides ‘Antico’ from the V&A Museum…(which I have been calling a ‘Horace Baxter’ – indeed, I have been calling all the objects in the exhibition by the name of the dealer who sold them which has been very confusing for many museum curators! – so the ‘Antico’ is a ‘Horace Baxter’; we also have a ‘Henry Farrer’ (a very rare 16th century Venetian glass goblet – sold by Farrer to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A Museum) in 1854 for £30.0.0) – you can just see the edge of the green glass goblet to the right of the ‘Baxter’ in the poster above; and a ‘David Tremayne’ – the wonderful 18th century bronze mask, sold to The Bowes Museum by David Tremayne in 1966 – you can just the bronze mask to the left of the ‘Baxter’ (sorry, the ‘Antico’) in the poster.

We have a wonderful range of objects in SOLD!, including this amazing demilance suit of armour of c.1620 from the Royal Armouries, (Tower Armouries Collection in London), which was acquired via the well-known specialist dealer in ‘ancient armour’ Samuel & Henry Pratt from their ‘The Gothic Hall’ just off New Bond Street in 1840.

S. & H. Pratt – (1840) – Demilance suit of armour, c.1620. Photograph courtesy of The Royal Armouries.

As part of SOLD! we have objects that passed through the hands of major 19th century dealers such as E.H. Baldock, John Webb and George Durlacher; and in the 20th century, major dealers such as Frank Partridge, M. Harris & Sons, H. Blairman & Sons, Mallett & Son, Wartski, Hotspur, S.J. Phillips, and Bluett & Son…plus many more besides.

One of the major dealers we have focused on is Phillips of Hitchin; mainly because we have the Phillips of Hitchin archives at the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds. And here’s a very rare photograph of the Phillips of Hitchin shop in c.1905, with Frederick W. Phillips (centre) the chap that established the firm in 1882, and Hugh Phillips (his brother) to the right (we don’t know who the third person is) – the photograph was taken just a few years before Frederick Phillips bought the ‘Gothic Cupboard’ and sold it to Robert Mond (see below).

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) shop, Hitchin, c.1905. Digital copy of glass-plate negative courtesy of the V&A Museum.

Jerome Phillips, the grandson of Frederick Phillips, kindly identified the people in the photograph – and Kate Hay at the V&A Museum and her volunteers generously made a digital copy from the original glass-plate negative (part of the Phillips of Hitchin material that is, at present, at the V&A stores).

There are also couple of objects from the V&A Museum in the exhibition that were sold by Phillips of Hitchin – this Gothic cupboard (known as ‘Prince Arthur’s Cupboard’ in the early 20th century when it was acquired by the V&A Museum) was sold by F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) to the well-known collector Robert Mond in 1912 for £220.0.0. – Mond donated it to the V&A in the same year.

F.W. Phillips (Phillips of Hitchin) ‘Gothic Cupboard’ c.1500-1600. Sold by F.W. Phillips in 1912. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The other Phillips of Hitchin object in the exhibition is the famous ‘Medal Cabinet’ by the 18th century cabinetmaker William Vile (c.1700-1767), of c.1760, which was sold by PoH to the V&A in 1963 for £10,000.

Phillips of Hitchin (1963). George III mahogany medal cabinet, c.1760. Photograph courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

The exhibition will also have a wide range of exceptionally rare antique dealer archives, and a range of dealer ephemera, to bring to life the history of the antique trade.  But there are also some spectacularly rare objects in SOLD! – indeed, one of the key premises of the exhibition is to show some very familiar, world-class museum objects, but to ‘reframe’ them through the narrative of the art market; and to bring the previously marginalized story of antique dealing more directly, and more explicitly, into the spaces of the public museum – and to provoke us all (museum curators, academics, and the public) to reflect on why the art market has often been suppressed and dislocated from the narratives of the history of art that the museum presents us with.

We hope that the ‘SOLD!’ exhibition will be a catalyst for increased public engagement with these previously marginalized stories.

I’ll be updating the blog with regular progress reports on SOLD! as we move towards the opening of the exhibition on 26th January 2019 – I do hope that we will see as many people who can make it to SOLD! at Bowes Museum and I hope to say ‘hello’ if I am about at the exhibition.

Mark

 

March 1, 2018

Moss Harris & Sons – in the 1930s – antique shop images

Images of Antique Shops are something that the Antique Dealer Research Project has been collecting since the research project began in 2013; we now have more than 600 photographs of antique shops, interiors and exteriors, dating from c.1900, and illustrating the changing fashions for shop displays and marketing antiques over the last 100 years.  And thanks to John Hill, of the antique furniture dealers Jeremy Ltd., who very generously shared some early photographs of the antique dealers Moss Harris & Sons with us, we have some more fascinating images of this most important antique dealer firm.

John very kindly sent us these two photographs of the business of M.Harris & Sons.  Both appear to date from c.1935, when M.Harris opened an extra showroom at 61 St. James’s Street, London. Below is a photograph of the New Oxford Street shop of Moss Harris – it is fascinating to see how the shop had been remodelled, changing the old 1920s shop front (see further below) – certainly the shop front has a much subtler facade, and the late 19th century style advertising, a legacy of the firm of D.L. Isaacs, which Moss Harris took over in c.1918, has been much toned down; its also noticeable that the 1930s shop front has two Royal Warrants and a uniformed doorman.

Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1935. Photograph courtesy of John Hill, Jeremy Ltd.

Compare with the facade of M. Harris & Sons New Oxford Street shop in c.1920.

Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1920.

John also sent us a photograph of the Moss Harris & Sons’ delivery van, also dating from c.1935; another very smart thing and indicative of the high class antique dealer business that Moss Harris had become by the 1930s.

Moss Harris & Sons, delivery van, c.1935. Photograph courtesy of John Hill, Jeremy Ltd.

All of our corpus of photographs of antique dealer shops are currently being uploaded to the Antique Dealer Research Project Interactive Map – (see here – Antique Dealer Map).  Thanks again to John Hill for sharing his images of Moss Harris & Sons.

Mark

November 25, 2017

Antique Dealers – ‘Treasures I Would Not Sell’

The complex social and cultural relationships between ‘dealers’ and ‘collectors’, and indeed the historical dimensions of these evolving identities, is a fascinating topic (and something I’ve been working on for the last few years). And I was recently reminded of this subject when I came across an intriguing little article on the dealer Moss Harris (Harris, as many readers of the blog will know, founded one of the world’s leading antique dealing businesses, M. Harris & Sons in c.1915, taking over the business of D.L. Isaacs); the history of Moss Harris & Sons is also partially sketched out in an earlier blog post (see the blog on the oral history interview with John Morris).

The article, published in The Bazaar, Saturday June 15th, 1929, was titled ‘Treasures I Would Not Sell’.  The article is no great piece of journalism – it seems to have been essentially an excuse to have a sneaky peek into the private collections of some high profile antique dealers.  Anyway, the article indicated that there were in fact 2 objects that Moss Harris ‘would not sell’. One was described as a ‘graceful Hepplewhite side-table’; the other was a ‘magnificent Chippendale armchair’. Harris was obviously so proud of the ‘Chippendale armchair’ that he appeared sitting in the very chair in an image published in the next issue of The Bazaar (22nd June 1929): The photograph of the picture of Harris is very grainy I’m afraid, but the quality of the original is rather poor…anyway, here is Moss Harris, cigar in hand, sitting proudly in his ‘Chippendale chair’:

Moss Harris, in his ‘Chippendale chair’. Image from ‘The Bazaar’ June 22nd 1929.

The article suggested that Harris did eventually sell the Hepplewhite side-table; as Harris stated;

‘I bought this (Hepplewhite side-table)…quite forty years ago from an old established London firm for much less than £100. It was one of those pieces that I was loth to part with.  In fact, I eventually sold it to a collector only on condition that if he ever parted with it he would sell it back to me….he fulfilled my request in a sense. For when he died ten years later he thoughtfully left it to me in his will.’

But the chair, it seems, was a different story; indeed, the article set me off to see if it was possible to identify the ‘Chippendale chair’ that Moss Harris would never sell, and to find out what happened to the chair – and, thanks to the help of my amazing colleagues at the V&A Museum in London (Kate Hay and Leela Meinteras) as well as the help of Lucy Wood and Sarah Medlam, we think we might have answered that particular question.

Anyway, the Chair – the 1929 article recounted Harris’ memory of the acquisition of the chair, as he states:

‘It was, in a way, a ‘holiday find’….I was touring the country some 300 miles from London before the War. (this would be World War I)  A fellow guest at my hotel recognised me, and knowing my interests, told me of some beautiful Chippendale chairs that he heard were for sale at a little place about 100 miles further on.  The next day accordingly saw me many miles away, and sure enough I found five exceptionally fine ‘Chippendales’.  Four of them I sold to a private museum, and the fifth – well you see it here.’

Tracking down the chair should be relatively easy.  The model is a very famous one – but it seems there are actually 6 of them (not 5 as Moss Harris stated in the 1929 article).  One was sold by Moss Harris to Lord Lever in 1915 and remains at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool – it was illustrated on the cover of Lucy Wood’s monumental study of ‘Upholstered Furniture’ published in 2008. 

A set of four of the chairs eventually made their way to Frank Partridge & Sons, the leading London antique dealers, trading in New Bond Street, and were exhibited together at their Summer Exhibition in 1949 – the current whereabouts of these four chairs is not known?

But it seems that Moss Harris did keep his word and never actually sold the final chair of the 6, the one that Moss Harris is actually sitting on in 1929.  The chair, so Moss Harris’ mentioned in the 1929 Bazaar article, was exhibited at the ‘Exhibition of Art Treasures (1928) organised by The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) at Grafton Galleries; probably item no.134 ‘A Chippendale stuffed-back easy chair, with carved mahogany scroll arms, carved frame and scroll legs, circa 1760’.  It was also still in his possession in 1937, when it was illustrated in the book, published by M. Harris & Sons, called ‘The English Chair’ (1937, republished 1947) – here is the chair; and the cover to book and the image of the chair.

 

The chair was eventually sold posthumously (Moss Harris died in 1941) at a Christie’s auction sale on November 9th 1944 (lot 114, where Harris is recorded as the owner in the Christie’s archives – and thanks again to Kate, Leela, Lucy and Sarah for this information) – the buyer was recorded as Sir S. Bairn(?). But it seems that the chair was acquired by that other famous antique dealer firm, Mallett & Sons sometime after 1944, and was sold by them to the collector Brigadier Clark, who gifted the chair to the V&A in 1956. And here is Moss Harris’ chair:

W.16-1956. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum, and copyright V&A Museum.

 

There’s still some ambiguity in the history of this set of ‘Chippendale chairs’ – it’s certain that Moss Harris retained the chair – it was, as I say, sold posthumously at Christie’s in 1944.  But there’s also some contradictions in the story that Moss Harris recalled about his acquisition of the chairs sometime ‘before the War’. Lucy Wood also tells us that the chair in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, the one sold to Lord Lever by Moss Harris in 1915 (when Harris was at that stage, working with the established dealer D.L. Isaacs), was, according to the records at Lady Lever Art Gallery, originally purchased by Harris at a Christie’s auction in London on 10th June 1915 – so not the ‘300+ miles away from London’ that Moss Harris recalled in the 1929 article.

But perhaps Moss Harris’ memory was unclear, or perhaps he spun a story for the reporter? Either way I’m pretty sure that the chair that now resides at the V&A Museum is indeed the ‘Treasure’ that Moss Harris ‘Would Not Sell’.  And in that sense it’s an amazing discovery.

Mark

 

October 22, 2017

New Oral History Interview – John G. Morris

Our ‘Voices from the Trade’ oral history interviews continue to make progress, thanks again to the BADA for their generous support towards the Oral History project. 

Our most recent interview was with John G. Morris (and his wife Lorraine).  John established his own business, John G. Morris Limited, in Petworth, West Sussex, in March 1963, and will be very well known to many readers of the antique dealers blog. John was a specialist in antique English Furniture and his shop in Petworth was a regular feature in the country antique trade for more than 35 years, until his eventual retirement in 1996.

John G. Morris, photographed for the Voices from the Trade research theme, as part of the Antique Dealers Research project. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers Project, University of Leeds, 2017.

John is now 87 years of age, and as well as some fascinating reflections on his own antiques business, he also had some astonishingly vivid memories of the time he began his career in the antiques trade, starting with the world-famous antique dealers M. Harris & Sons on 4th November 1946. During this enthralling interview, peppered with delicious anecdotes of his time at Moss Harris, John recalled with amazing clarity the characters he encountered during an astonishing 70 years experience of the antique trade!

John started with Moss Harris & Sons, aged just 16 years of age – working in workshops at M. Harris, at 27 Little Russell Street, near the British Museum. The main showrooms for M. Harris were in New Oxford Street (shown below, in c.1921); John recalled a different shop front when he joined the firm in 1946 – and thinks that the shop front was changed sometime in the late 1930s, just before World War II.

M. Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, in 1921.

M. Harris were perhaps the leading antique furniture dealers in the world and when John joined the firm in 1946 they had been trading for 80 years.  The business had roots back to 1868, with the firm of D.L. Isaacs. Moss Harris, who made his first fortune as a dealer in horsehair, recycling this material back into the furniture trades for upholstery work, acquired the D.L. Isaacs business around the time of World War I and established M. Harris & Sons. They published a celebratory publication in their centenary year 1968. When John worked at the firm, he recalled that they still had more than 100 rooms filled with antique furniture.

John initially worked under the then office manager, Harold Dawson, and was tasked with booking in goods that constantly arrived in the yard behind the New Oxford Street shop – he remembered that in those days there was often so much stock that they had trouble getting it into the store rooms in time before closing the yard. John was paid £2.0.0 per week when he started, but obtained a pay rise of 5 shillings a week within a few months.

John’s memories of the business in the 1940s and 1950s will, I’m sure, be a rich resource for future scholars; he remembers, for example, one of the old retainers from the D.L. Isaacs business deal (there was an agreement, apparently, that a member of the Isaacs family was to be attached to the business until the last member of the family died out) – and John remembers ‘Old Ick’, resplendent in top hat, walking the floor of the M. Harris galleries. John also remembered the sad day when George Harris (one of two sons of Moss Harris) died suddenly of a heart attack; George was found dead in his Bugatti in Mecklenberg Square at 4am.  John recalls having to steer George’s Bugatti back into the yard at M. Harris as the police removed the car back to the shop. One of the lighter memories John recalled, was the time in 1947 when Sidney Harris (the other son of Moss Harris), was entertaining some important clients at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, but had inadvertently left the shop without his wallet.  John was immediately dispatched to the Grosvenor House Hotel with £100 in crisp £5 notes, and was allowed by Sidney to wander the stands at the Grosvenor House Fair during the afternoon – the first time that John had seen Grosvenor House, which was then the premier event in the antiques calendar.

M. Harris & Sons; one of the showrooms in 1948.

John also recalled that in 1946, when John joined the firm, business was booming, but after John did his National Service in 1948, and returned to M. Harris in the Spring of 1950, he remembered that the business had changed; George had died in 1947, and Sidney, his brother, also died in the late 1940s, leaving the firm with significant Death Duties to pay.

There are many other more amusing, and illuminating anecdotes of John’s time at Moss Harris – memories of visits by Queen Mary and the Princess Elizabeth in the early 1950s (Moss Harris were granted Appointment to Queen Mary as  ‘Dealers in Antique Furniture & Works of Art’), as well as many other well known personalities and V.I.P.s.

John’s memories of his own business, which he started, with his wife Lorraine, in 1963, were equally fascinating. He recalled the antiques scene in Petworth – which when he opened his shop in 1963, had just 4 antique businesses; 2 of which were cabinetmakers and antique dealers (Ron Denman and Mr Collingham)….

Lorraine Morris, wife of John Morris. Photograph 2017. Photograph copyright Antique Dealers project, University of Leeds.

…. and 2 antique dealers proper (Bill Boss, and Miss Streeter, of Streeter & Daughter). As the antique business boomed during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Petworth became home to at least 15 dealers, eventually becoming a key location for the trade.  During the interview John also recalled his memories of some of the ‘old characters’ of the antique trade, now long gone – people such as Sam Wolsey, Claude Partridge, J. Rochelle Thomas, and ‘Jippy’ Botibol (J. M. Botibol), as well as more recently departed dealers such as the legendary Dick’ Turpin.

Our interview with John makes an absolutely fascinating addition to our corpus of interviews with members of the antique trade, and like all of our interviews, will, once edited, be available on the project website in due course.

Mark

September 25, 2016

BADA Voices Interviews

Our project to capture the reflections and memories of antique dealers and people involved in the British Antique trade is one of the central research themes in the Antique Dealer project.  And thanks to the British Antique Dealers’ Association, who have very kindly given the project financial support, we are able to continue the oral history interviews – do check out the Oral History pages in the project website for more information of the support from the BADA and the new interviews that we have undertaken as part of the ‘BADA Voices’ initiative, see – Antique Dealer Project Oral History

PrintOf the two most recent interviews we have completed, one focused on the history of the BADA itself, in our interview with Mark Dodgson, Secretary General of the BADA.  The other interview, with the former antique dealer, agent, Forensic Appraiser and Expert Witness, Nicholas Somers, allowed us to capture some of Nicholas’ memories of the history of that most famous of antique furniture dealers, M. Harris & Sons, amongst many other things.

 

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Mark Dodgson, Sec Gen of the BADA. Photo courtesy of the BADA.

Mark Dodgson started at the BADA in 1989, as an assistant to the then Secretary General, Elaine Dean, before succeeding Elaine as Secretary General in 2008.

In this engaging interview Mark tells us about the history of the BADA – which was founded in 1918, and has the exciting prospect of their centenary celebrations coming up in 2018. Mark outlined the wide range of activities and projects that the BADA have been involved with over the years – as many of you will know, the BADA was initially founded by members of the antique trade in 1918 to lobby Government as a response to the proposed introduction of the so-called ‘luxury tax’, and the organisation has continued that tradition.  The BADA has been a central player in many of the most high-profile issues affecting the antique trade, from the introduction of Valued Added Tax and ‘margin scheme’ in the 1970s, the (still contentious) issue of the introduction of auction sales buyers premium in the 1970s, to the lively debates surrounding the restrictions on the sales of elephant ivory – currently animating (excuse the pun!) the art world at present.

Mark also talked about his role as Secretary of the Art Trade Liaisons Committee (The British Art Market Federation), and the history of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair (founded in 1934 as an initiative by some key BADA members), as well as the more recent BADA Fair (established in 1991) and the BADA relationship with, and support for, the conservation courses at West Dean College. With the centenary of the BADA coming up in 2018, I’m sure the interview will be a valuable resource in those celebrations.

Our other interview in the BADA Voices series was with the retired antique dealer, agent, auctioneer, and Expert Witness, Nicholas Somers.

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Nicholas Somers, at his home in London. Photo Antique Dealer project, University of Leeds, 2016.

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Richard Grose, 8 Exhibition Road, London, c.1950.

Nicholas, currently the Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners (he has also been collecting treen for decades!) and has over 50 years experience of the antique trade.  Nicholas started his career in the world of antiques with the dealer Paul Smith (a BADA member) in 1965, before moving to work for Richard Grose at Exhibition Road in London.

In 1967 Nicholas left Richard Grose and became one of the sales team at the world-famous antique furniture dealers M. Harris & Sons, staying with Harris until 1971, when he set up his own antiques business in Worcester  – ‘Somers at the Sign of the Chair’.

Nicolas had some fascinating memories of working at Moss Harris – with some wonderfully evocative descriptions of the showrooms – the business was already contracting somewhat when Nicholas joined Robert Harris in 1967, and, as Nicholas tells us, the showrooms had been reduced by half, but it still had 80 rooms packed with museum-quality English furniture and objects when he joined the firm. Here is the gallery of Moss Harris, in New Oxford Street, London, in the early 1920s, soon after Moss Harris had taken over the firm of D.L. Isaacs, who established the business in 1868.

M Harris 40 54 New Oxford Street Feb 1921 Conn

M. Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street, London, c.1924.

Nicholas has an exceptionally wide ranging experience of the antique and art world, having been part of the management buy-out at the auctioneers Bearnes in Torquay, from the then parent company Sotheby’s, in 1981, and as a ‘forensic appraiser’  and Expert Witness in legal disputes in the art world.

Both interviews make rich contributions to the growing archive of antique trade interviews that we are assembling as part of the Antique dealer project.

Mark

 

 

 

December 23, 2015

And even more on Quinneys

I’ve been undertaking some further research on the play ‘Quinneys’  – as readers of the project blog now know, I hope – it’s the fictional story of the life of an antique dealer, Joe Quinney, composed as a play by Horace Annesley Vachell in 1915, based on Vachell’s novel of the same name of 1914 – see previous blog posts on ‘Quinney’ and on Thomas Rohan. In a recent post I posted about the playbill for Quinneys, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, which was staged in 1915 (see blog entry for December 2015), and drew attention to the fact that the London antique trade had supplied much of the antique furniture and etc for the stage-set.

I recently found another playbill for Quinneys, this time from 1925, for a staging of the play at the New Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane, London.

Quinneys New Theatre 1925

Playbill, ‘Quinneys’, New Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane, London, 1925. Image, copyright Antique Dealers project 2015.

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Henry Ainley as ‘Quinney’, c.1915.

As in the 1915 play, the lead (Joe Quinney) is still played by the Shakespearian actor Henry Ainley (looking much older, as one would expect, to his youthful self in the 1915 photograph – see above, and in our earlier blog post).

There are a few other photographs of Ainley as the character ‘Quinney’ in the 1925 playbill – here’s one with the aged Ainley suitably posed as the ‘connoisseur’ inspecting an antique cup –

Henry Ainley as Quinney 1925

Henry Ainley as ‘Quinney’, 1925; ‘Camera Portrait by Dorothy Wilding’. Image copyright Antique Dealer project 2015.

The 1925 playbill is a much more extensive document than the 1915 one (which was effectively just a single, folded, page), and amounts to 12 pages, mostly of advertisements. The adverts, as one might expect, included many of the leading antique dealers of the day; including the antique glass specialist Arthur Churchill (then in Dover Street); Joe Sale, of Kensington Church Street; John Sparks; Dreyfous of Mount Street; Frank Partridge; Charles J. Pratt; M. Harris & Sons; Hotspur Ltd; Stoner & Evans, the ceramics specialists, as well as lesser know dealers such as C. Rose, Edith Lee, C. Griffiths, Mrs. Mellor, and H. Fisher.

And, just as the 1915 play had antique furniture and objects loaned by dealers, (in 1915 it was Keeble, Parkenthorpe and Spillmans), in 1925 the antique furniture for the stage-set was supplied by leading antique furniture dealers Moss Harris & Sons, New Oxford Street.

If anyone knows anything else about the staging of the play ‘Quinneys’ we would be very interested to hear!

Mark..

Oh and Merry Christmas to all our readers of the project blog!

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