Duke’s auction on 9th December will include a fascinating group of furniture and objects from the Collection of Victor Needham (1900-1976).
Victor Needham was a dealer of the old school with the eye of a connoisseur and a straightforward honest approach to business, which earned him many friends in the world of antiques. He was a quiet and unassuming man with an immense knowledge, which he was always pleased to share with other members of the trade and collectors, who came to him for advice. One of his pearls of wisdom was “buy with your eyes, not with your ears”. He served on the council of the BADA and counted a number of important collectors on both sides of the Atlantic as clients and friends.
He had a deep appreciation for early objects and furniture and he did so well that in 1927 he set off from Manchester for North America to open a branch of the business in New York. This was at the time of prohibition and, after the first two consignments, the last item to be packed was always a chest of drawers stuffed full of bottles of whisky to help “oil the wheels” of the Customs Office in Manhattan. The reputation of Needhams spread rapidly amongst the New York dealers and each time a consignment arrived a gang of them would gather outside the shop at 137½ East 56th Street. and buy items of furniture as they were unloaded onto the pavement. Every shipment included a couple of dozen butlers trays, which were much sought after at the time and the profit on these alone covered the cost of packing and shipping across the Atlantic.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression, put an abrupt end to the booming business and Victor returned to the UK. During the early 1950’s he transferred the business to Bournemouth and his premises soon became a mecca for the London trade and collectors in the area. One of these customers was Sir Laurence Olivier, who purchased a very nice secretaire bookcase. This particular transaction resulted in him being invited to tea with the thespian’s wife, Vivien Leigh, a meeting he never forgot.
In 1961 Victor Needham was joined in the family business by his son-in-law, Brian Fox, who continued trading under the banner of Victor Needham Antiques. The business went from strength to strength under his custodianship.?
Both Victor Needham and Brian Fox were particularly keen on early oak and the items being sold at Duke’s include two beautifully patinated pieces illustrated in Victor Chinnery’s “Bible” – “Oak Furniture: The British Tradition”. A William and Mary oak occasional table with an oval top and turned standard end supported on sledge feet boasts a particularly good nutty-brown colour (reference Victor Chinnery, fig3:221). This charming table was acquired at The Grosvenor House Antiques Fair on 13th June 1973.
The auction will also include a Charles II oak armchair illustrated by Victor Chinnery and attributed by him to South West Yorkshire, circa 1670. The boldly scrolling cresting and typical earpieces incised with a pattern of leaves are a particularly good feature. This chair was purchased from that doyenne of oak dealers, the late Mary Bellis, on 3rd July 1974. The auction will also feature a good group of metalware including an extremely rare and important Spanish steel incense burner with finely engraved decoration and dated “1611”. This was purchased from the daughter of the renowned collector, Dr. Statham. The late Tony North, Keeper of the Department of Metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London greatly admired the object and it was he that came up with the identification of it