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


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 is the first time that the history of the modern antiques trade has been subject to sustained academic study. This 32 month research project, starting in September 2013, is funded (£231,592) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) one of the leading research funding bodies in the UK. The project is based at the University of Leeds, and is 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 seeks to map, contextualize and critically analyze the antiques trade as it has evolved and developed in Britain in the 20th century.

The project will assess 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 seeks to investigate 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 will assemble a large corpus of quantitative and qualitative data, with the help of crowd-source research, and will map the changing locations of dealers and the relationships between various segments of the trade. It also aims to map the trajectories of the objects that passed through the trade, tracking, where possible, the current locations of those objects in public museums in the UK, Europe and North America. As a result of the research ‘Antique Dealers’ will compile an evolving database and an interactive website with potent visualisations of key relationships between dealers, objects, and museums.

Part of the catalyst for the project has been the rapid transformation of the antiques trade over the last few years of the 20th century. The late 20th century has been a turbulent time for much of the trade, with many high profile dealers retiring, or significantly modifying their trading practices. And as part of the research objectives the project will also undertake an ethnographic study, interviewing many retired, semi-retired and working dealers. The result of these interviews will form an oral history archive, which will be made available via the project website.

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 will hold a public Conference focused on the history of the antiques trade, which will take place towards the conclusion of the project on April 14th & 15th 2016, and will be held at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. There will also be an edited volume of essays arising from the project.

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