Tag Archives: history

The Auction that Launched the Antiques Trade

As a lover of antiques and of the wonderful LOVEJOY series on the BBC, I was happy to find this article to share. Great information by Wayne Jordan on what is said to be the auction that started it all.
Enjoy!

1 Marlborough Estate

As Captain-Generalcy of the English forces, John Churchill was the commander of the English troops at the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria (1704). His clever tactics enabled him to beat his French opponents, and the Monarchy awarded him the title Duke of Marlborough and an estate (above) named in recognition of his successful battle at Blenheim.

The antiques business began in July, 1886.

At least, that’s the claim made by author Jonathan Gash in his book “Paid and Loving Eyes” (Penguin, 1993). Gash is the creator of the Lovejoy character, a roguish antiques dealer whose escapades are recounted in more than two dozen novels and 71 BBC television shows.

I enjoyed watching the BBC series (what’s not to like about Ian McShane?), but there was little to be learned about antiques by doing so. That’s not the case with the books, however. Although the Lovejoy novels are works of fiction, Gash (real name John Grant) doesn’t stray far from the facts when he discusses antiques. He devotes a lot of detail—sometimes pages—to describing the antiques that are the catalysts for his stories. He also goes into great detail about how forgeries and fakes are made, and how common they are in the antiques trade. Want to know about 18th-century German snuff boxes? Lovejoy will tell you. Want to fake a Sheraton table or age a freshly painted watercolor? Lovejoy gives up those secrets. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Gash/Grant was an accomplished forger; he seems to know a little too much about how to fake antiques. (He was actually a physician and university professor).

2 John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough

So, when I read Gash’s claim that the antiques trade began in July of 1886, I paid attention. I’d never known anyone to try to pin a “start date” on the antiques business. I consulted my old friend Google to check the claim myself. Here’s Gash’s claim, from the above book:

“Once upon a time, antiques were a rarified pursuit for scholars… they spent fortunes, and founded private museums. Until July 1886. In that month, the great antiques hunt began when an auctioneer intoned “Lot One” and the Duke of Marlborough’s Blenheim Palace’s magnificent treasures—art, furniture, statuary—went under the hammer… the Great Antiques Rush was on.”

As it turns out, Gash wasn’t too far off regarding the date and spot-on regarding the contents of the auction. The Duke’s possessions were, in fact, auctioned off over a period of several weeks in late June/early July in 1886. In just a few generations, the Marlborough “dynasty” went from fame and fortune to dissolution under the auctioneer’s hammer.

The first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, was initially a page in the Court of Stuart. Through his political savvy and a marriage to Queen Anne’s close friend Sarah Jennings, Churchill rose to the Captain-Generalcy of the English forces. When the War of Spanish Succession broke out, Churchill found himself commanding the English troops at the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria (1704). His clever tactics enabled him to beat his French opponents, and the Monarchy awarded him the title Duke of Marlborough and an estate named in recognition of his successful battle at Blenheim.

John Churchill died in 1722, and his title and property passed through various successors over the next 150 years. The Churchills (and later Spencers), though not among England’s most prosperous families, were well-to-do and spent a considerable sum furnishing Blenheim Palace. The Fifth Duke of Marlborough was a real spendthrift and bought the family right into an awkward financial position. What was awkward for the family, though, turned out to be good for launching the antiques trade in 1886.

3 1st Marlb auction catalogue

The first Marlborough auction catalog from June 1886.

4 2nd catalogue 1886
The second Marlborough auction catalog from July 1886.

5 3rd catalogue 1886
The third Marlborough auction catalog from July 1886.

6 terms of auctions
The terms and conditions of Marlborough auctions.

As the grip of the Industrial Revolution tightened around England’s economy, the “Old World” economy of wealthy landowners and tenant farmers began to collapse. By the turn of the 20th Century, many Peerage estates found themselves in financial difficulty. The fastest way for an estate to raise cash was by selling off their vast collections of art, jewelry and furniture.

By 1870, the family’s financial situation was so bad that the Seventh Duke began to sell off family assets. Real estate (other than Blenheim) was sold, as well as personal property, including the famous Marlborough gems. When the amount raised proved to be insufficient to pay his debts, the Duke petitioned Parliament to break the estate’s entail and allow liquidation of the estate. Under English law, estates were required to follow a strict method of inheritance, called an entail. To accommodate the Duke’s request, an act of Parliament was required. When the Blenheim Settled Estates Act of 1880 was passed, the Duke was free to call an auctioneer and arrange for the liquidation of the estate. The Duke’s descendants, including Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer (“Princess Di”) could claim descendancy from Marlborough but didn’t benefit from the Blenheim money.

7 james christie founder of Christies
A portrait of James Christie, founder of what would become the fames Christie’s auction house.

The Marlborough auction began on Saturday, June 26, 1886, and was conducted by the firm of Christie, Manson and Wood (which would become today’s “Christie’s”) at their London sale rooms. Auctioneer James Christie had started his auction business some 120 years earlier and his company was considered to be London’s finest auction house. In the 18th century, peerage auctions were uncommon, and much of Christie’s trade came from bankrupt merchants and private sales. In the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, Christie’s became the auctioneer of choice for destitute aristocrats.

The Marlborough sale ran, off and on, for several weeks. Lots offered were furnishings, porcelain, rugs, silver and household goods; plus art and sculptures by Rubens, Van Dyck, Raphael, Rembrandt and others. A catalog of the first day’s sale, preserved by the University of California Los Angeles Library, can be seen here.

The Marlborough auction was certainly the most important auction of its time, but is it a fair assessment to use it as the start date for the antiques trade? I believe that it is, although I’m sure that there are those who think I’m crazy for believing so. In my opinion, it makes as much sense to ascribe June 1886 as the start date for the antiques business as it does to ascribe July 4, 1776, as the date of American Independence. Certainly there had been skirmishes with the British before July of 1776—most notably the battles at Concord and Lexington, and the Boston Tea Party—but in spite of those early skirmishes, we lay claim to the date of July 4, 1776, as the start of our independence. Similarly, there was antique buying and selling going on before June 1886. But the Duke of Marlborough’s auction was the watershed event that brought the antiques trade into general awareness. After that date, antiques were no longer the exclusive province of the gentry.

The turn of the 20th century, would see antique shops cropping up all over Europe, and in America they were found in the seaport towns of New York, Boston and New Orleans. In the 21st century, antiques are in vogue; there are thousands of shops in America alone and countless magazines, books, websites, blogs and television shows that cater to antiques collectors and enthusiasts. As Gash’s Lovejoy says:

“Now we’re all at it. Clever people draw graphs of antiques’ values, starting back in that summer of 1886. Don’t be fooled. It’s not a mathematical proposition. It’s not a philosophy. It’s a scramble.”

Wayne Jordan spent more than 40 years in the music business as a performer, teacher, repairman and music store owner. In 25 years of musical instrument retailing he has bought, sold, rented or repaired thousands of pianos, band & orchestra, combo, and folk instruments. Wayne is currently a Virginia-licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser. For more info, visit Wayne Jordan Auctions.

Reposted from http://www.worthpoint.com

Preserving Ephemera

Ran across this article which has some great advice about preservation and storage of your ephemera collection. Be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the post for a free eBook on ephemera preservation. Happy treasure hunting.

Most ephemera can be effectively handled by putting them in inexpensive polypropylene sheet protectors, and keeping these in a binder. The two clear sides of the protectors allow viewing of the items without destructive handling. Typically newspapers would have the relevant item cut out (either including the newspaper name, date, and page from the same sheet, or with that information noted on the retained item). Most items will fit into letter-sized protectors, but some may need some larger format.

Digital preservation is important, since the information can be better preserved and shared by having multiple backup and distributed copies. Flatbed scanners are usually the tool of choice to generate the images. 300 dpi (dots per inch) scan resolution is a good rule of thumb, although it may be more than needed for newspaper-like items. I like to name each scan file with the year, person and short subject indication. For cataloging, I usually rely on the descriptive filenames, which can be viewed and searched via the computer’s normal mechanisms. For a few kinds of items for which it seems important, I make text files with greater detail about the contents.

DON’T use the cheap plastic envelopes to keep your original paper records in. The chemicals in them destroy the contents over time. Use proper archive quality plastic envelopes if you wish to keep them in good order for future generations. – Colin Mar 20 at 7:26

I would start by investing in some (archival-quality) plastic binder pockets. For digital storage, a small flatbed scanner will get a better image, but a digital camera is also fine for recording a digital copy. Try to organize as you go (slip an article into the plastic, scan/photograph it, and then record any additional notes about it), although I would prioritize physical organization if you’re finding it overwhelming or you’re facing a time constraint.

The great thing about using binder pockets (assuming things will fit in them) is that it’s simple to:

1. take the binder to a family reunion and let everybody page through it

2. drastically reduce the possibility of damaging something while reading

3. take the collection to a library or other archive to look up vital records

4. reorganize the order

5. group by event (wedding, death, birth, etc.)

6. group pieces by family

7. group pieces by generation

8. or change your mind halfway through and switch your organization around!

Try to include your grandmother or other older relatives in the preservation process as much as possible — hopefully they will be thrilled that you’re excited about your family history and want to share all sorts of stories about the newspaper articles, photographs, etc. (Ironically, this makes the job of “family historian” harder, since you not only need to preserve the physical object, but also organize associated stories — but it is so, so worthwhile. The number of details and even new family relationships that I learned about when reading through newspaper articles with my grandmother was astounding.)

Ephemera comes in all shapes and sizes. Check out The Heirloom Registry to preserve the stories attached to ephemera found around the house. The online registry allows users to preserve and share the stories behind family heirlooms and precious belongings. You can see the Heirloom Registry sticker on the bottom of my teacup in this picture.

As another person mentioned, digital records, as simple as taking an image with your cell phone, are a good way to capture the information. I have done this with great success in photographing an old scrapbook full of newspaper clippings my grandfather made. I can zoom in and read all the text in the article clippings. The challenge with this is HOW DO YOU ADD CONTEXT AND METADATA TO A DIGITAL FILE? And therein lays the crux of your question. I would suggest that you do as the archivists would do. Assign each piece of ephemera it’s own unique identifier (number) and then in a separate document (notebook, text file or database) record the number and then all the contextual information you know about it. Like “Grandma clipped this out of the Washington Post when Aunt Mabel died” or “Cousin Grace gave Grandma this muffin recipe in 1960 – Grandma made it once, but thought it had too much baking soda, so she adjusted the recipe. She said it was Grandpa’s favorite :)”

I’ve been scanning the family photo albums and doing some acid-free repair as I go. I have a high quality flatbed scanner and have done the photos separately (both sides if there’s anything on the reverse) and transcribed any writing on the photo, photo back or page captions into the jpeg files information.

Then I set up a camera and photograph the entire album page with all photos on it. Context can be important.

After I have a set done, I put the photos up on a photoshare site (SmugMug in my case) in a private gallery so I can share them out and have an online backup of the information.

My next project is all the stories my grandmother handwrote to my siblings and I when we were children relating her growing up in Texas and New Mexico during the great depression. They are priceless to all our family.

There is now a free eBook in PDF format available from here all about preservation of records that is well worth downloading and reading imho.

Free Ebook about ephemera preservation:
http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/documents/ebookpdf_march18.pdf