Looking Back: History of Art & Antique Dealers


Illustration of the Interior of Ackermann’s Repository by Rudolph Ackermann circa 1809

Mackinnon Fine Furniture opened its doors in 2005, so we can’t take the credit for being the first antique dealers.  However, we are part of a long lineage of art gallerists and dealers that stretches back to the 18th century.

P & D Colnaghi & Co takes the crown as the oldest commercial art gallery, established in 1760.   Giovanna Battista Torre opened the gallery in Paris of that year, entitled ‘Cabinet de Physique Expérimentale,’ with books, prints, and scientific instruments.  By 1875, Torre sent one of his Directors, Paul Colnaghi, to London to sell prints from a gallery in Pall Mall.  In 1799, the gallery moved to Cockspur Street and soon after received a Royal Warrant from George IV.  Throughout the years Colnaghi has been involved in some of the most famous art collections, including that of Isabella Stewart Gardener, Henry Clay Frick, and Prince Chigi.

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Messrs Lackington Allen & Co, Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square by Rudolph Ackermann circa 1809

A name familiar to many in the antiques world is Sir Joseph Duveen, a Dutchman who settled in London and opened an antique shop, similar to the one his father had run before him.  Along with his brother Henry, Joseph Duveen helped form the notable art and antique collections of J. Paul Getty, William Randolph Heart, Andrew Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller.

The Duveen Brothers occupied 21 Old Bond Street from 1894.  But before their arrival, Bond Street had already served as the heart of the antiques trade.   Phillips, the auctioneer, had established itself in 1796 at 101 Bond Street, and the jewellers Apsrey opened in 1830 in 165-169 New Bond Street.  Throughout the 20th century, the street was lined with the prominent dealers including Mallett & Son, Partridge Fine Arts, and S J Phillips.


The Exhibition Room at Somerset House by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin circa 1808

Today, Bond Street is a centre for high end fashion, and the antique dealers that remain are spread throughout London.  We have covered St. James’s, our neighbourhood that is just a short walk south of Bond Street, in previous blog posts here and here.  We are surrounded by other art galleries of all different varieties, including Old Master paintings, Asian art, armour, and rare books, to name a few.

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