09/05/2020 General News
Our forthcoming auction has a rare and exciting dining table by Robert 'Mouseman' Thompson who was born in Kilburn in North Yorkshire in 1876, the son of a carpenter and stonemason. His work is hugely desirable and can make large sums of money at auction.
Here is a little background about the incredible man and the history behind his work:
Thompson began experimenting with his own ideas for producing furniture in the British vernacular tradition. Eschewing the modern tools of an industrial revolution, he embraced the mortise and tenon joint dowelled for strength and mastered the adze as a tool for shaping and smoothing surfaces that gave his furniture its distinctive rippled appearance, also visible on the table we have in the May 30th Auction.
His first major commission came in 1919 from Ampleforth College and here in the early 1920s he would create his trademark.
"The origin of the mouse as my mark was almost in the way of being an accident. I and another carver were carving a huge cornice for a screen and he happened to say something about being as poor as a church mouse. I said I will carve a mouse here and did so, and then it struck me, what a lovely trademark." The mouse was registered as a trademark in the 1930s and at this time, Thompson had 30 men working for him.
Now, the mouseman has a huge international following, and Sotheby's New York hold the auction record for Mouseman furniture - $70,000 (£40,460) for a distinctive two-section cupboard c.1923 with elaborate ironwork by the Kirkby Moorside blacksmith Will Dawson.
Furthermore, Wilkinsons Auctioneers in Doncaster, for whom I worked for many years sold a fabulous Mouseman pedestal dining table from c.1926-27, reaching an incredible £31,000 (20% buyer’s premium) in November 2018.
When valuing mouseman's work, it is the date is the key to the pricing structure: the earlier the piece, the closer it will be to the original design and the better its colour and patination. The piece we have in the auction falls into this desirable category, being early in date (pre-1955)
Whilst there is no guarantee that they will have been by his own hand, they were made under his tutelage.
However, items from the late 1950s and 60s are starting to acquire pleasing signs of age as well, and there are attractive forms from this period that are no longer in general production. As a general rule, however, post-1955 Mouseman will cost roughly half of what it costs to buy a newly manufactured piece, and we have had several items such as ashtrays, stools, chopping boards, all of which made good prices even though they were in the later date category.
So many old designs remain in production, that shape and form rarely give a clue to the date of a piece, but there are some things that are useful indicators: the signature of the mouse - the earliest mice have front paws that were prone to breaking. You will see them on domestic furniture from the 1920s into the 30s before a cuter little chap, without paws, pops onto the scene in the 1930s.
Construction details give important clues; for example look closely at the table tops which were dowelled rather than tongued and grooved until the early 1970s, or underneath a chair where the position of the 'rush rail' was altered in the mid 1950s because it was thought preferable to position the rail, formerly mortised and tenoned to the front legs, a few inches back. Early chairs have solid panel backs and legs that were turned on a lathe and then worked on a bench to form their distinctive octagonal shape. They will often retain the telltale 'prop' marks where they were held in the lathe. The classic lattice back chairs were not made until the end of the 1930s.
The first screws used for attaching ironwork were handmade with a square slot and were replaced with crosshead screws and then with the flat head screws that are still used today.
A couple of other simple tips are that earlier cheeseboards feature a mouse on the board and the 1960s the mouse was repositioned on the handle to provide more strength. And if you see a mouse in the centre of a fruit bowl it was likely made after the 1960s because before then the rodent sat on the side of the bowl.
If you are wanting to collect these interesting pieces of work, but the cost is too high, then you could look to another arts and crafts pieces from
by Tom ‘Gnomeman’ Whittaker of Littlebeck, near Whitby whos pieces we have sold in the past, and do not tend to make quite as much as the Mouseman's work, but is still Arts & Crafts at its best.
Lot will be sold on the 30th May 2020, so tune in to see how much it achieves, and if you have any Mouseman pieces you wish to sell, feel free to contact us for a valuation and advice!