Karen Sayers, archivist, writes
Special Collections is developing its collections of British Art and Antiques Dealers. With the help of the Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market at Leeds we recently acquired the archive of Roger Warner Antiques Dealers. Roger Warner (1913-2008) was one of the most famous and knowledgeable dealers of the recent era.
Warner founded his company in Burford, Oxfordshire, in 1936. He started by specialising in items of little interest to other dealers such as beds, the furnishings of servants’ quarters and obsolete agricultural implements. Known as vernacular pieces, these utilitarian items demonstrated the subtly varying regional skills of their artisan creators. Through Warner’s work many pieces of wooden furniture and pottery, and domestic utensils associated with ordinary people’s lives survive to be studied today.
Warner became a leading figure in the antiques world, dealing with many important museums and private buyers worldwide. These included the V&A, the National Trust and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Warner also had Leeds connections. In 1977 he acquired the now famous four poster painted bed made to celebrate the 1724 marriage of Francis and Anne Hall. Sold by Warner to the dealers, Jellinek and Sampson, the bed found its way into the collections at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. Later Warner donated many objects and textiles to Temple Newsam.
The Roger Warner Antique Dealers’ Collection includes stock books, financial records and a collection of auction catalogues. Warner’s archival collection is distinctive because of the extraordinarily detailed records he kept of the business. These give insights into the cultural and social practices of the antique trade and are an important resource for researchers into the 20th century market.
A Quaker and conscientious objector, Warner closed his shop during the Second World War and helped to organise hostel accommodation for evacuees. He resumed business in 1947. Warner married the geologist Ruth Hurcombe in 1949 and she became an active participant in the company.
In the 1960s and 1970s Warner appeared on the BBC antiques show ‘Going for a Song’ sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with the audience. He finally shut up shop in 1985. Warner’s reminiscences ‘Memoirs of a Twentieth-century Antique Dealer were published by the ‘Regional Furniture Society’ in 2003.