15 Apr 2021
February 13, 2013 - Filed under: Auctions — Harriet

A Chester nonagenarian who grew up in Kendal has given a nostalgic insight into how auctions were conducted in his youth – and it seems that an antique bookcase in Cumbria was as desirable an object then as it is now.

Mervyn Bowley celebrated his 90th birthday in 2007, but during the 1930s he worked at the Borough Treasurer’s office in Kendal, the town where he grew up. He can remember, with amazing clarity, events from his childhood – including auctions he attended with his parents, who were keen antiques collectors. He recalls:

“My mother attended almost every sale – even if she had no intention of buying.”

The period between the wars brought many changes. Four million new houses were built, allowing working class people to own a property for the first time, which they furnished with the latest looks and gadgets. arts & crafts furniture gave way to Egyptian inspired Art Deco and streamlined modernist designs, which invariably found their way to the auctions as tastes and fashions changed. There were no charity shops around back then, and Bowley recalls that the sales he attended in the 1920s and 1930s were mostly general auctions, with contemporary furniture and bric-a-brac mixing with Victorian balloon backed dining chairs and other quality antiques.

Bowley’s parents built up a fine collection of period pieces over the years, including an exquisite 17th century antique chest that cost them five guineas. However, sale rooms have changed a lot in the 21st Century. People buying Victorian mahogany pedestal desks in Cumbria today might get better bargains from antiques dealers.

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