John Hobbs is a name well known to the antiques trade in Cumbria. Victorian dining chairs with Chippendale-style leanings were among 16 lots withdrawn from a Bonham’s auction in November, following a tip-off that several pieces had been substantially “embellished” or otherwise misrepresented to increase their saleable value.
The whistleblower was Hobbs’ ex-employee, master furniture restorer Dennis Buggins, who was then embroiled in a legal battle with Hobbs (since settled out-of-court). This was old news to auctioneers in Cumbria. Antique desks and tables entered by Hobbs had already been withdrawn by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, following Buggins astounding revelations in 2008 that many of Hobbs’ “priceless” antiques were created by Buggins himself.
Buggins’ operation, which was quite legitimate, was comparable to the Revival period in Lancashire, when Victorian dining chairs were produced in 18th century fashion. Buggins fabricated his antiques in the exact style of masters like Chippendale and Sheridan, using cheaply salvaged genuine antiques and even old doors to aid authenticity. However, he had no idea his work was being passed off as genuine.
Already embroiled in a bitter dispute with Hobbs, and about to lose his business premises, Buggins said “enough’s enough” when he saw one of his revamped antique desks on Hobbs’ showroom website for £525,000. Previously, one of his antique desks, which he’d made from an old wardrobe, was sold at Christie’s as a George IV original.
Dealers in Cumbria say the Victorian dining chairs withdrawn by Bonham’s had an estimate of £8,000 – £12,000, though Hobbs’ original price was £120,000. They also say that buyers looking for genuine antique desks in Cumbria should only use dealers displaying BADA membership – an organisation from which John Hobbs has quite rightly been expelled.
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