Auction Catalogue of George Baxter's retirement Sale 8th May 1860
Fig 1 - 45) Covers and contents of this rare auction catalogue - images credit: NE65 S68 1860
Southgate and Barrett (firm), Catalogue of the Remaining Stock of Mr. Geo. Baxter's Valuable Collection of Oil Pictures, London, Richard Barrett, , letterpress with annotations and chromoxylograph, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Fig 46) An invitation to see the 'Exhibition of Baxter's Oil Pictures' and auction © The Trustees of the British Museum Fig 47) An poster advertising the auction, courtesy of Julian Harding Fig 48) The announcement of Baxter's retirement and auction sale The Athenaeum 3 March 1860 Fig 49) An advert part way through the 12 day sale The Athenaeum 12 May 1860 Fig 50) S & T Gilbert advertising they had purchased Baxter's entire remaining stock! The Athenaeum 9 June 1860
This particular catalogue is now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art who have photographed the pages for me, I couldn’t have produced this article without their great assistance.
The outer cover states “To be sold by Auction by Southgate and Barrett at their rooms 22 Fleet Street on Tuesday Evening May 8th 1860 and Eleven Following Evenings (Saturdays and Sundays Excepted) at 6 for half-past 6 o’clock each Evening”
The inner Cover is illustrated with a copy of Baxter’s Holy Family, cut circular, and gives some addition information including “By order of the proprietor, who is retiring from his artistic labours”.
The content of this book is highly interesting, the information was published in H G Clarke’s ‘Baxter Colour Prints Pictorially Presented’ in a series of 12 parts during 1920-21 and then bound into book form.
Although Clarke doesn’t state from where he got the information a hand written note in this catalogue gives us the answer. On the foot of the page listing the first day’s sale is written:
“Note – Lots not marked with buyers name were unsold. The catalogue is priced together with the buyers names from the original auctioneers book in the British Museum” and signed J H Rylatt Dec 1933 - Rylatt and Clarke jointly published The Centenary Baxter Book in 1936.
As mentioned this auction was held every weekday evening over twelve nights starting on Tuesday 8th May 1860 and concluding on Wednesday 23rd May. The last 2 days were exclusively for Baxter’s plates, blocks and Plant.
There were a series of adverts in ‘The Athenaeum’, the earliest I can find is on March 3rd 1860 (Fig 48) where Southgate & Barrett advertised “The retirement from business of Mr George Baxter the celebrated Patentee of Oil Colour Printing” and ends “There is no doubt that in the hands of persons of moderate capital and talent, the same profit and success would follow which has distinguished the career of Mr Baxter”. The other interesting statement I bring to your attention is ‘The Plant (which cost upwards of Fifty Thousand Pounds)’ - that is equivalent to £6.2M as at 2020. At this stage the auction was announced for ‘early April’. Ironically in the same publication they review Baxter’s latest print ‘The Dogs of St Bernard’ which had only been published just over 3 months earlier. On April 21st a similar advert was published stating the auction date as the 3rd May and again ‘Catalogues (when ready) will be forwarded…’ A week later on April 28th they advertise the auction as on the May 8th, the date on the catalogue, and again ‘Catalogues forwarded when ready. The sale obviously commenced on the 8th as on the on the 12th May an advert states May 14th and following seven days, so still ending on the 23rd (fig 49).
The British Museum holds an invitation card (Fig 46) where Southgate & Barrett invite you to the auction or actually an “Exhibition of Baxter’s oil pictures’ where they can be viewed from “10 o’clock and 4 pm each day” with the auction starting at 6pm. They state “upwards of 100,000 of these beautiful productions will be sold”. Again stating that Baxter is “Retiring from his artistic labours”.
Southgate & Barrett appeared to offer a unique ‘interest free credit’ scheme (Fig 4) whereas they gave credit terms on a scale starting at 3 months for purchases over £50 and giving up to 12 months credit for purchases of £500 an over. Obviously the idea didn’t catch on, I can’t see any modern auction house thinking this was a good idea. I say they offered the credit, in reality, I presume it meant that Baxter would have had to wait for up to a year to get any monies from the larger purchasers.
SALES OF PRINTS
Firstly let us look at the first ten days of sale which included all the prints. Some lots were listed as individual items but looking through the catalogue all those lots were either ‘The Dogs of St Bernard’ or ‘The Parting Look’, Baxter’s two largest prints, both mounted or proof copies strangely excepting Lot 2359 which for some reason was a single copy of the Bridesmaid. The number of prints in each Lot varied considerably and the average is over 30 prints per Lot. The highest number was for Lot 2213 which was 510 prints and was described as ‘Prince Consort and others, unmounted. Lot 2104 stated ‘Two subjects for needle boxes – 3000’ but presumably this must mean the normal 10 to a sheet, so 300 sheets. As is stated above, the total number of prints amounted to ‘upwards of 100,000’ – Clarke states, ‘more than half were ‘bought in’ which is an auction term for unsold, so remained with Baxter.
According to the notes on page 78 the total value of the prints sold amounted to £2303 5s 6d. It also states that the value of the prints not sold amounted to £645 15s. He says on the first page “Lots not marked with buyers name were unsold” yet next to each unsold Lot is given a ‘sale’ price, was this a reserve? Whatever that value appears to be used to get to the value of ‘unsold’ prints.
Certain names appear regularly throughout the 10 days of prints sales and, as stated, any purchaser of goods over £50 could get a minimum of 3 months credit. Mr Frederick Passmore, a printer of Cheapside London, a regular buyer of the prints also purchased a large number of Baxter’s plates and as such would have been given up to 12 months credit. We will see later that he and other purchasers of plates did not pay when due and the plates were returned to Baxter, perhaps in his case also along with his print purchases? Even taking this into account I feel that the majority of sold Lots did actually get completed at the sale.
In The Athenaeum of 9th June 1860 (fig 50) I can find one S & T Gilbert advertising “having purchased of the patentee the entire remaining stock….” Gilbert purchased many Lots throughout the days sales including 461 prints on the final day but his claim to ‘the entire stock’ must be salesman’s bluff, long before the days of advertising regulations.
Assuming only 50% of ‘upwards of 100,000’ prints were sold for a value of £2303 5s 6d that calculates to an average of under 1s per print. This compares to See Saw Marjorie Daw a print of small size which was selling when published in 1858 at 1s 6d and Dogs of St Bernard published only 4 months prior to the sale being advertised in its cheapest form at £1 1s (Proofs £5 5s). Overall I can’t see Baxter being pleased with the result.
PLATES AND BLOCKS
Clarke in 1920 states that three lots of plates were ‘bought in’, described as “passed” in this catalogue, the end result being the same but the catalogue actually states FIVE lots were passed, these were:
• Grand Entrance To The Great Exhibition, The Great Exhibition (Small Exterior) and The Royal Exchange
• Gems Of the Crystal Palace No. 1 the Exterior
• Morning Call
• The Dogs of St Bernard (surprising as this was his latest print – perhaps Baxter had a reserve on this Lot which wasn’t reached? – William Dickes, a Licensee of Baxter, purchased this plate, presumably direct from Baxter, some time later)
• Copper your Honour
• Gems of the Great Exhibition No. 4
It is presumed that Southgate & Barrett’s claim that “in the hands of persons of moderate capital and talent, the same profit and success would follow” wasn’t true and they couldn’t easily replicate Baxter artistry, ironically Baxter had been claiming for many years that other printers were unable to achieve his level of perfection. Either that or the fact that Baxter prints must have been freely available in the marketplace after the sale of so many prints at the auction. Whatever the reason the general consensus is that most of the payments on credit were never made and the plates were passed back to Baxter.
We know this as most plates and blocks were still in Baxter’s possession in 1865 when he sold them to Vincent Brooks. In 1868 those plates were then sold to Le Blond, who reprinted in full colour from a good number. In 1893 Mockler purchased the plates from Le Blond and he took monochrome pulls from about 60 plates, including some of those that LB hadn’t printed from. All in all confirming they couldn’t have been sold at the 1860 sale. Perhaps only the sales to printers who purchased under £50’s worth plates, so which would have had to be paid on the day, actually went through?
Those purchasers were:
• Mr Gillmour purchased the plate comprising of St. Ruth's Priory, The Small First Impressions, Llangollen and Cader Idris
• Dean & Son purchased the plate containing The Fisherman's Home and Eu Cathedral
• Messrs Braun & Wustlich purchased three plates, Flora (Clarke in 1920 states this plate passed to Le Blond but this is incorrect), Holy Family - After Murillo and Prayer
None of the above plates have been heard of since the 1860 sale inferring yet again that the sales were final. As I mentioned it is very likely that these purchasers found they couldn’t print from them but Braun & Wustlich’s plates of Holy Family and Prayer were both Baxterotypes i.e. printed in sepia from a steel plate and just one colour block, basically an all over tint and, in my opinion, could have been printed from by any competent printer. Could copies of these two prints that we accept as by Baxter actually be by Braun & Wustlich? Possibly, Prayer is a hard to find print and Holy Family, I would say, very rare so could some copies not on a stamped mount possibly be by them?
The only other purchaser of plates totaling under £50 was Joseph Mansell, the licensee of Baxter. He purchased the plate containing Netley Abbey, Warwick Castle, River Teify, Cardiganshire and Lake Como and successfully reprinted from the plate in full colour the full details can be found under 'Mansell' on our 'Chats on' listings.
We know the current location of this Baxter / Mansell printing plate along with many others in a register maintained by the New Baxter Society. One great benefit of the interest in Baxter prints starting only about 27 years after his death is that many relatives, employees and licensees of Baxter were still alive in those years. The interest in Baxter has always been there and hopefully that has meant that collectors in the early years tracked down many of Baxter’s Plates etc and since then most have been retained and passed on to other Baxter collectors.
Perhaps the engraved plates, especially those with text under the plate, might not get lost but about 30 years ago the New Baxter Society knew the location of seven colour blocks for Baxter’s Prince Albert. The then owner, a very prolific collector of many things, has now unfortunately passed away. If anyone has seen images of any of Baxter colour blocks they are at best very hard to see what prints they are for. The raised surfaces, the only definition on the printing surface is only intended for one colour, for example, just the yellow in the print. If those printing plates aren’t clearly labelled they became just old printing plates from an unknown printer and will be lost forever which is more than a shame.
I don’t plan to write much about the plant as it is better you read it for yourself in the last two pages of the catalogue. We know that Baxter gave up the lease to No 11 Northampton Square sometime around 1860/1. The catalogue doesn’t give an address for the property lease which is available but assuming it was just No 12 reading through the equipment listing gives a little insight and a ‘virtual’ walk around of Baxter’s premises. The other interesting aspect I notice is that the preliminary notes state that ”The Purchaser will have his permission to use Mr Baxter’s name as his successor, and the advantage of receiving foreign as well as home orders at the well-known old establishment”. This is so unlike Baxter, basically allowing someone to use his name. Also strange as it is stated “can receive orders” which would be fine if you had purchased all the plates but Samuel Holland, the buyer, an engraver and copperplate printer of Clerkenwell, only purchased 22 of the plates.
As the purchaser of all the plant (stated as costing upwards of £50,000) as well the option on the lease, did Holland ever take up the lease and move into No 12? If not did he remove the presses etc to his premises to print from the plates he had purchased? All we know is that they returned back into Baxter’s hands, who knows if Holland ever moved or used them.
SO WHO WAS BRAMAH?
We know that J H Rylatt annotated this catalogue but the cover and most of the pages clearly states the name of James Bramah. Although not that well known he is an important connection in the story of Baxter. The name of Frederick Mockler is more well known for owning many of Baxter plates that he purchased from Le Blond but in fact Mockler only owned them for a few months before he sold them to Bramah. Bramah held them for nearly 30 years before selling them to Ernest Owens where they remained in the family until being sold at auction in the 1980’s.
I own or have seen a number of items from the Owens buying archive, amongst them are letters between him and Bramah buying the plates in 1921. In those letters he refers a number of times to a ‘catalogue’ that Owens particularly wants and Bramah seems very reticent to sell. I feel that this must be that catalogue. I don’t think Owens ever did manage to secure it as it would have been retained in the family until the 1980’s and we also know Rylatt had it in 1933. We do not know how it came into the hands of Yale Centre for British art.