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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Research project: Understanding the twentieth century Antiques Trade

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Buying and selling a multitude of historically important objects, antique dealers have played a big, but often unseen role in the formation of our national collections.

Map of antiques trade
Fig.1 The interactive map of the antiques trade

During the twentieth century antique dealers faced a number of challenges as the market for art and antiques changed dramatically. Research into the trade, undertaken in collaboration with the University of Leeds and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), aimed to highlight the evolution of the antiques trade across the last century. This project, titled ‘Antique Dealers: the British antiques trade in the twentieth century, a cultural geography’, mapped the changing face of the trade, creating an interactive database with the locations of antique shops, their dates of operation and important sales, alongside an oral history archive with prominent members of the trade.

Queen Mary at Blairmans
Fig.2 Queen Mary at Blairmans

Emerging through this research was a growing awareness of how little antique dealers feature in the narratives of our national and local museums.  A further project, also funded by the AHRC, aims to change this. ‘SOLD: the Year of the Dealer’ is a collaborative project with The Victoria & Albert Museum, National Museum of Scotland, The Ashmolean Museum, The Lady Lever Art Gallery, The Bowes Museum, Temple Newsam, Preston Park Museum, The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, The Witham, Community Arts Centre, and H. Blairman & Sons. A series of workshops, in-conversation events and object trails, all held at the partner institutions, place the antique dealer back into the history of our national collections by demonstrating the role that they played in shaping them – the objects they sourced and the advice that they gave. The project also restages a play about an early twentieth century antiques dealer, Quinneys. Although fictious, it well known that the central character is based on dealer Thomas Rohan who had shops in Southampton and Bournemouth.

Keeble Antiques, Carlise House, London (1927)
Fig.3 Keeble Antiques, Carlise House, London (1927)
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