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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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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The SOLD! catalogue is now published, and thanks to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council) we are able to make the digital E-Version of the SOLD! catalogue free for everyone - you can download the PDF version (9Mb at 72dpi) - here's the PDF below; Enjoy!

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A special theatre performance of the now little known, but important stage-play ‘Quinneys’ (1915, The Haymarket, London) at The Witham (Barnard Castle) for one public performance on 28th March 2020. The performance will take place at 7.30pm; a drinks reception will be held from 6.30pm. Re-staging Quinneys' is part of an AHRC funded Impact and Engagement project; a small charge of £5.00 will be made to support The Witham theatre. You can book tickets here: https://thewitham.org.uk/event/quinneys/ The subject of the play is fictional antique dealer Joseph Quinney and his activities as a dealer in the early 20th century. The character of Joseph Quinney is based on a real antique dealer called Thomas Rohan (1860-1940) and offers a strategic opportunity to address key tropes in the history of antique dealers such as the relationships between antique dealers and fakes and forgeries (the notion of authenticity) and the relationships between art and money.

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Our two-day research project conference, which took place at Temple Newsam House, Leeds in April 2016, was an opportunity to...

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