Posts tagged ‘shipping dealers’

April 30, 2022

More Antique Dealer Catalogues – Herbert Sutcliffe 1968

The most recent addition to the growing collection of catalogues issued by antique dealers is this rare copy of Antiques Wholesale to the American Trade by the dealer Herbert Sutcliffe, dating from 1968.

Catalogue, ‘Antiques Wholesale to the American Trade’ Herbert Sutcliffe, 1968. Photograph, Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Sutcliffe appears to have established his antique dealing business at Ing Hey, Briercliffe, Burnley in Lancashire in the late 1940s, expanding the business in the 1960s and 1970s to be a major player in the then very lucrative ‘Shipping Goods’ business, trading mainly with the USA and Canada. The catalogues, aimed specifically at the North American antique trade, were issued regularly by Sutcliffe to American customers for $3.50 subscription per copy. The issue we have is Catalogue No.22, and whilst undated, the information in the catalogue describing details of parcel post and surface and air freight shipping mentions USA Customs duty, stating that ‘items manufactured prior to 1868 are duty free’ – i.e. items over 100 years old, indicating the catalogue must date from 1968.

There are some fascinating photographs of the Sutcliffe business operation, with images of the offices – the catalogue mentions that there were 5 office staff looking after the orders. According to the catalogue, ‘telephoned, cabled and letter orders are received, upwards to 100 per day, to about 15 days after issue [of the catalogues], when most of the individual items are sold out.’

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, office, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

There are also some photographs of the Packing and Shipping Department at Herbert Sutcliffe (see below). The catalogue also contains extensive information on packing and shipping costs and the various methods of transport etc.

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, Packing and Shipping Office, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Images of the storerooms at the business reveal the enormous quantities of antiques that the business sold, with storerooms for antique glass, ceramics, metalwork, furniture, and extensive storerooms full of various types of antique clocks, from mantle clocks and wall clocks to longcase examples.

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, Storerooms for antique glass, ceramics and clocks, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

Below is a photograph of the storeroom for antique longcase clocks, which seems to have been a specialism of Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques. The catalogue usefully mentions that buyers should think about including small items that can be packed inside the cases of longcase clocks to save on shipping costs – freight shipping was costed by space, not weight.

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, Storerooms for antique glass, ceramics and clocks, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The catalogue itself is quite heavy, with more than 100 pages of antiques for sale, with each page illustrating dozens and dozens of antiques in various categories. The introductory information in the catalogue confidently states that each catalogue has ‘over three thousand individual offerings’, and that the business itself has ‘about one hundred and fifty thousand quantity lines’. Here are some examples of the category pages illustrating antiques for sale.

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, catalogue page for antique ceramics, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

‘China ‘D’ (above), illustrates one page of antiques for sale, with each item having a number, so that customers could order by telephone or post; for example ‘D6315′ (which is the bowl, top row, middle, with ’15’ written on it) – in the catalogue list this is described as ‘Flo blue bowl by ‘Malkin’, Burslem 16” di.[diameter] From a chamber set. Perfect.’ ‘$15.00’. Most of the antique ceramics appear to be of relatively low quality and value, all appropriate for ‘Shipping Goods’. There are dozens of pages devoted to the sale of antique clocks – here’s just one example (below), mostly priced at between $9.00 and $20.00. The most expensive antique clock on the page is no.17, (row three, middle) priced at $55.00 and described as ‘Fine quality 19th c. Bracket clock 18” high. Casing richly decorated with brass-work. Bevelled glass to bezel. Ornate silver and brass dial. Mach [machine] for time and strike in good order. Casing has side handles and is dark patina. Gen.[generally] Snd. [sound].

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, catalogue page for antique clocks, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

There are only 7 pages devoted to illustrations of antique furniture, I guess the Sutcliffe business was more interested in volume sales of smaller antiques. The antique furniture is again generally of lower quality and value, mostly Victorian and Edwardian. Here is one of the pages of antique furniture (below).

Herbert Sutcliffe Antiques, catalogue page for antique furniture, 1968. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds, 2022.

The antique furniture item ‘F 10510’ (top left) is described in the catalogue as ‘Cancelled’ – i.e. is must have been sold whilst the catalogue was in production; but looks like a mid-19th century Continental piece. Item ‘F 10511’ is described as ‘A pretty art nouveau style mahogany display cabinet. 45” wide 62” high. Note very pretty marketry [sic] panel to centre. of a stylised peacock. Rich colourful inlaid various woods with some oyster shell inserts. Ex. [excellent] patina. Very cln [clean] and snd [sound] cond.’ [condition]. It is priced at $85.00. The final item, ‘F 10512’ which looks like an early 18th century oak side table, but heavily re-carved in the 19th century, is described as ‘A pretty Victorian 17th century style carved oak loobey [sic]. 33” wide 29” high. 3 small drawers to the front. Richly carved front freeze [sic]. Exce. [excellent] patina. Very cln [clean] and snd [sound] cond.’ [condition]. It is priced at $175.00.

The Herbert Sutcliffe catalogue gives a fascinating insight into the Antique Shipping Goods trade in the 1960s and 1970s, which was of course a major part of the British Antique Trade in the Post World War II period. The catalogue will be making it’s way to the Brotherton Library Special Collections in due course.


November 6, 2014

The Architecture of the Trade – The Export Trade

Further to the blog posts on the architecture of the antique trade we’ve been doing some work on the development (and decline) of the trade in importing and exporting antique furniture (often called ‘shipping goods’).  The ‘wholesale’ import and export trade in antiques has a long history – one could, if one adopted certain classificatory frameworks, suggest that such activities began to emerge in the opening decades of the 19th century – there were certainly dealers shipping ‘containers’ of antiques and curiosities between the Continent and Britain just after the Napoleonic Wars, and those import-export activities continued into the early 20th century as part of the transatlantic (UK-USA) trade – the now relatively well-known photograph of Duveen’s ‘storeroom’  is a testament to those practices.


Duveen’s storeroom, c.1920

But at far as the present project is concerned this particular segment of the trade appears to have taken on a particular form in the decade after World War II.  By the 1960s a specific form of ‘import-export dealer’ emerged – often known as ‘a shipper’- and a certain kind of classification of antique objects, called ‘shipping goods’, also developed as a specific category of antiques.  These ‘trade only’ import and export dealerships often seem to have chosen specific locations and occupied specific building types – they were/are often located on the edge of cities or towns, near major driving routes, sometimes on ‘industrial’ estates; or often could be seen to be occupying redundant barns on farmsteads. They are still a familiar sight today of course.

Alongside the emergence of the ‘shipping dealer’ there developed a whole range of shipping firms, such as Fenton & Co., Gander and White, and Michael Davis – which in the 1970s had offices in London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Melbourne and Johannesburg – indicative of the main trading locations for shipping antiques at the time – now I think China may be top of the list!

Evidence from sources in the 1950s-1970s highlights that the import-export trade can provide fascinating evidence for a number of conceptual notions central to the ‘antique trade’ – one is the shifting definition of ‘antiques’ themselves. In the 1970s for example, in terms of import duties that have been payable on such kinds of objects, certain countries defined antiques as being over 100 years old; such objects would be exempt from any import duty. Some countries had different classifications – in the USA in the 1970s, for example, an ‘antique’ was, according to tax law at least, an object made ‘prior to 1830’ (the notional date of the development of the ‘machine age’). At the same time in the UK, the Board of Trade definition of an ‘antique’ was an object that was over 75 years old.  The age of an ‘antique’ has been constantly in flux of course, but it’s interesting that even if one takes something as ‘solid’ as tax law, one will still see variations in the classifying principles!…

Further evidence from some short articles on ‘Exporting Antiques’ in the Antiques Yearbook (1950) and a summary of export figures published in Antique Finder magazine (1976) there seems to have been an expansion of the export trade between the 1960s and the 1970s.  In 1962 the UK export figures were c.£5 million, rising to £68.5 million in 1975; Import figures from the UK illustrate a similar pattern (in 1962 the UK imported £4 million of antiques, and in 1975 the figures was £33.8 million).  The countries the UK exported antiques to also provide a fascinating picture of the global markets in the 1960s and 1970s. Here’s some figures for 1976:

USA £13.4 million

(West) Germany £7.1 million

Japan £2.2 million

Canada £1.3 million

Netherlands £4.4 million

Australia £3.1 million

Belgium £4.0 million

France £4.3 million

Kuwait/Dubai/Abu Dhabi £0.01 million

I imagine the figures today would be relatively familiar in terms of countries….with more activity in the Middle East; and the absence of China (so important today) in the 1976 figures is very significant of course.

What is also of interest in the market conditions for antiques in the 1970s was the economic crisis of the early-to-mid 1970s (the oil crisis) – the commentary from the Antique Finder suggested that the top of the market (the top 5%) had ‘felt the pinch in 1975’ but that the rest of the trade (95%) had ‘continued to move forward’ – the 1974/75 depression in world industrial prosperity had impacted most on higher wealth purchasing power. In today’s economy, the economic depression of 2007-08, seems to have had limited effect on the top 5% of wealthy collectors.



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