Antique Dealers: the British Antique Trade in the 20th Century, a cultural geography

Queen Mary visiting Blairman antiques

Queen Mary visiting H. Blairman & Sons Antiques, London, c.1930. Courtesy of Martin Levy, Blairman & Sons.

The ‘Antique Dealers’ project was the first time that the history of the modern antiques trade has been subject to sustained academic study. This 32 month research project started in September 2013, and was funded (£231,592) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) one of the leading research funding bodies in the UK. The project was based at the University of Leeds, and was led by Dr Mark Westgarth as Principal Investigator (PI), with Dr Eleanor Quince, University of Southampton, as Co-Investigator (CI) and Elizabeth Jamieson, Research Fellow (RF) University of Leeds. The project sought to map, contextualize and critically analyze the antiques trade as it evolved and developed in Britain in the 20th century.

The project assessed the cultural geography of the trade in antiques in a British context, with consideration of its international dimensions and the relationships to European and North American markets.

Antique dealer invoices.

A selection of Antique Dealer invoices. Private Collection

Using previously unexplored archives, the project investigated the evolving business practices of the trade, placing these practices into social, economic and cultural contexts and mapping these practices against the changing landscape of the broader consumption of antiques. The project assembled a large corpus of quantitative and qualitative data, with the help of crowd-source research, and mapped the changing locations of dealers and the relationships between various segments of the trade. It also aimed to map the trajectories of the antiques that passed through the trade, tracking, where possible, the current locations of those objects in public museums in the UK, Europe and North America. ‘Antique Dealers’ compiled an evolving database and interactive website with potent visualisations of key relationships between dealers, objects, and museums – see the antique dealers interactive map website.

Part of the catalyst for the project was the rapid transformation of the antiques trade over the last few years of the 20th century. The late 20th century was a turbulent time for much of the trade, with many high profile dealers retiring, or significantly modifying their trading practices. As part of the research objectives the project undertook an ethnographic study, interviewing many retired, semi-retired and working dealers. The result of these interviews form an oral history archive.

Blairman Antiques, Grosvenor House Antiques fair 1960s.

Blairman & Son Antiques, stand at Grosvenor Antiques Fair, 1950. Copyright, Blairman & Son Antiques. Courtesy of Martin Levy.

As well as these web-based and oral history archive outputs, the Antique Dealers project held a public Conference focused on the history of the antiques trade, took place on April 14th & 15th 2016 at Temple Newsam House in Leeds.

Project News

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Locating the Jewish Art Dealer in London: cultural and spatial geographies This keynote lecture from Dr Mark Westgarth forms part of the Jewish Country Houses’ project workshop: Jewish Dealers and the European Art Market, 1850 – 1930.

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The Furniture History Society have organised a seminar focused on the antique dealer archives, generously donated by leading antique dealers to the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds.  These archives have brought together, for the first time, an extraordinary range of historic business archives of several well-known antique furniture dealers such as Phillips of Hitchin and Ronald A. Lee.  This event, chaired by Dr Mark Westgarth, brings leading dealers Jerome Phillips and Martin Levy in conversation with Joanne Fitton, Head of Special Collections, and Karen Sayers, lead archivist, at the Brotherton Library Special Collections, to explore the riches of these archives.  The event will highlight key items in the archives, some of which date back to the 1880s, as well as outlining their history and how they came to Leeds.  There will also be an opportunity to direct questions to the participants and to hear about plans for the future of these increasingly important resources.

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A FREE talk on ZOOM on behalf of the Furniture History Society on curating the SOLD! exhibition, staged at The Bowes Museum last year.  For those of you that missed the exhibition this is a chance to see a wide variety of installation photographs and to hear about the themes and objectives of the exhibition, and to see many of the spectacular objects we managed to encourage to come up to The Bowes Museum.  For those that did manage to see the exhibition, this is also an opportunity to hear about the behind-the-scenes development and delivery of a major museum exhibition.   The talk takes place on SUNDAY 6th September 2020 at 7.00pm, and will last about 1 hour, with opportunities to ask questions via the Zoom platform.  The Furniture History Society are managing this talk and ask that anyone interested in hearing the talk could register an email contact with them and they will send out the link to the Zoom room and a password for access. Do email FHS Events Secretary, Beatrice Goddard at events@furniturehistorysociety.org for your free ticket!

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We are pleased to announce that we have created a new antique dealer research project Newsletter - here is Number 1, of what we hope will be news from the project, two or three times a year. ADRP Issue 01 HiRes FINAL (1) We very much hope you enjoy reading about the project. Mark

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