SOLD! The antiques trade gets its first museum exhibition


A new exhibition taking visitors on a journey through the history of antique dealing, curated by a Leeds academic, opens this week at The Bowes Museum, County Durham.

SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story, developed by Dr Mark Westgarth, is officially opened on Friday by Antiques Roadshow contributor and dealer Lennox Cato.

This intriguing show, which runs at the Barnard Castle museum until 5 May, will take visitors on a journey through 200 years of antique dealing from Dickens to Bargain Hunt.

This is the first time the history of the trade has been the subject of an exhibition in a museum, with an in-depth look at antique dealers, their taste and eye for objects, their shops and practices.

SOLD! tells the back story of 33 stunning internationally-renowned objects, some loaned by major museums including the V&A, British Museum, National Gallery, Royal Collection Trust, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Preston Park, Temple Newsam and Royal Armouries,  as well as previously unseen objects on loan from private collectors and items from the Bowes Museum’s own collections.

Visitors will be able to peer through the windows of an Old Curiosity Shop from the 1850s, showing what was considered an antique then, compared to what an antique is today.

SOLD! gives a rare insight into the world of antique dealing and tells the intriguing story of the objects before they were housed in museums.

Dr Mark Westgarth

Guest curator Dr Mark Westgarth is an expert in the history of the art market and histories of collecting at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at Leeds, and had a previous career as an antique dealer.

He said: “SOLD! gives a rare insight into the world of antique dealing and tells the intriguing story of the objects before they were housed in museums.

“It looks at the relationships between the art market and museums, including some of the more controversial practices of the trade such as auction ‘rings’, and of course fakes.”

Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections at The Bowes Museum, said: “It’s really special that The Bowes Museum is the first place to hold an exhibition dedicated to the history of the antique trade.

“Our founders, John and Jos├ęphine Bowes, sourced much of their collection from dealers throughout Europe so I believe they would have been delighted that their Museum is hosting this pioneering show, featuring their finds alongside many breath-taking objects, including an exquisitely beautiful Ming dynasty bowl on loan from The British Museum.”

Sold poster

A series of events, talks and exhibition tours will be held alongside the exhibition, beginning with SOLD! curator Mark Westgarth in conversation with Lennox Cato on Saturday 26 January at 11am. Book a free place here.

Lennox Cato opened his first antique shop in 1978 and is now one of the UK’s leading antique dealers and a regular specialist on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. The event will provide a fascinating insight into his life as a dealer, as well as the BBC One Sunday evening staple.

An art-market themed Game-A-Thon on Saturday 9 March will give visitors the opportunity to unleash their inner antique dealer playing vintage games such as ‘Swindle’, ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and ‘Modigliani’.

  • Full information about the exhibition and events programme can be found at the museum web site.
  • Find out more about Dr Westgarth’s Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Antique Dealers: the British Antiques Trade in the 20th century, a cultural geography, here. A blog on the site is documenting the story behind SOLD!