Frank Partridge and William Hesketh Lever - page 4
Fig.13. Black mirror vase (LL 6495).
Sydney Ernest Kennedy (1855-1933) was a senior partner in the family firm of Sydney Kennedy & Co., one of the largest dealers in the foreign railway market and a senior trustee of the London Stock Exchange. He sold most of his collection when he disposed of his town house in 1916. The Chinese porcelains were sold over two days, 21-22 June 1916 and the Catalogue was described as being 'innovative', including illustrations, and for the first time some in colour. Although consisting largely of late Ming and Kangxi period wares, the collection was considered significant at the time, some having been acquired form earlier notable collectors, such as Trapnell (Fig.13: LL 6495), Stuart (Fig.14: LL 6670), Grandidier, Huth and Revelstoke. Kennedy's label is recognised by a dolphin and SEK monogram on paper (Fig.15).
Nine months after the Kennedy sale, Sparks thought that Lever might still be interested in buying one of the Ming figures and made an attempt: 'Kennedy gave the sum of £850 for the figure, but I am now able to offer you £700. Should this piece not interest you, may I ask you to be so kind as to allow one of your secretaries to send me back the coloured illustration.' On 12 March Lever replied, 'I do not think it is likely to be of interest to me, therefore, do not miss a sale to anyone else by considering it is under offer to me.' However, on the same day Lever also inquired of Partridge: 'Do you know anything about the figure?' A more competitive dynamic was presented in Partridge's response: 'I was prepared to give £400 for it. There has been some restoration done to the head and I think the head has been off, but this could be gone into if you entertain it. I am in favour of purchasing this if it can be got at a reasonable price, as it is a very fine figure and brilliant in colour.' He added: 'I often wondered where this figure had gone as Christie's deliberately told me it was sold, and it looks as though it was run up and bought in.' This incident suggests that the balance of negotiating power had now shifted. Partridge acted as a powerful dealer who was able to blacklist Sparks who 'threatened' him in the china market. A year later S. E. Kennedy's second sale was held on 21 March 1918: Lever obviously put his trust in Partridge.
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Fig.14. Famille verte bowl (LL 6670).
In their letters Lever and Partridge often discussed the transformation of aesthetic value into economic value and Partridge included marked lists of interesting lots for Lever. On 24 June 1918 he sent two catalogues of snuff bottles to Lever and suggested, 'If you can spare £500 - I believe we can get nearly all the best ones.' Lever was smart enough to reply, 'I think if I go up to £300 … it will be a good start. I have generally done better when I have started slowly. If, however, the prices were extremely low, then I would leave it to your discretion.' Partridge reported to Lever that he had a most successful day and bought 155 pieces which cost £445. 15s. 0d. Partridge additionally commented on their value: 'They are average about £2. 10. 0d per piece, which is exceedingly cheap. If you cannot afford to take the lot I am quite willing to keep half of them myself. I do not think such an opportunity will come along again, and as they were going so cheaply I took the opportunity of making a nice collection. They will cause you lots of pleasure when you have time to go into them.' Part of the pleasure of collecting lies in competition, and the successful acquisition provides full customer satisfaction. Lever immediately replied, 'I enclose cheque £490. 6. 6 being the amount of the price paid at auction, plus 10%.' (Fig.16: LL 9323)
After the decision had been taken to build the Lady Lever Art Gallery in 1914, Lever bought some quite different Chinese objects (e.g. jade and hardstones, cloisonné enamels, and reverse paintings on glass) for his new gallery through Partridge. In 1918 Lever asked him to recommend a curator. Partridge introduced a young collector, John H. Gardner who was from Witham, Essex: 'I will endeavour to get Mr. Gardner's porcelain for the £600. He seems quite a nice man and has a liking, and a slight knowledge of Works of Art. I should think he would be a good man to have as a Curator as he has spent some time at the British Museum and the South Kensington Museum. If your Lordship still wants a man, I think it is worth while seeing him and taking up his references. He has been a Captain in the Army and from the conversation I had with him I gather he would like such a job as yours.' Unfortunately this deal was not successful. Lever said that he had no job for Gardner at this moment and he was not willing to buy his collection.' Perhaps the obligation became too compulsive for Lever. Once he wrote to Partridge: 'I am still like the small boy who has spent his Saturday penny on the previous Saturday and has on Monday to content himself with looking through the confectioners' windows at the sweeties. I still get occasional pleasure from looking through the windows, but I have no intention of buying for some time.'
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Fig.15. S. E. Kennedy's label.
On 18 December 1922 Partridge was invited to the opening of the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight. The Museum was dedicated to the memory of Lever's wife Lady Elizabeth Ellen Lever who died in 1913. Partridge expressed his admiration for what Lever had achieved. He wrote, 'I must confess a touch of pride came to me at having had a good share in collecting some of them. ... most impressive sights are the Sculpture Halls and the Oriental Porcelain, which I thought looked lovely.' Lever replied, 'I am sorry I did not see you there, but it was all such an exciting time and so rushed that it was impossible. I enclose you copy of the speech from a Liverpool paper.' During the opening, Partridge was very sociable with Lever's guests; the next day he wrote, 'The Queen has asked me to help her in placing important pieces of furniture illustration in Mr. McQuoid's Book. ... Your Lordship must have several of these pieces, and if you could give me a list of them.'
In March 1923 a Chinese Australian merchant, Mr. William Yinson Lee was probably introduced to Lever. He was a key member of the Rotary Club of Shanghai in the 1920s and wanted to sell his collection to Lever. However, Partridge acted as a monopolist in dealing with collectors and wrote, 'I have just been to see Mr. William Yinson Lee's Collection of Porcelain…. They are all very inferior pieces.' Lever was very surprised about this rejection. Some of Yinson Lee's pieces are now shown in the Powerhouse Museum, Australia. However, Partridge proposed from the 'Tonying Collection' a 'pair of puzzle teapots for £300' but Lever replied, 'Not of interest to me.' It seems that Lever and Partridge occasionally had different concepts of power play in the antiques market.
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Lever argued, '… Cobden's definition of business was buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. I have such confidence in your buying that I am certain you fulfil the first requisite, and now that you have got a wider market including the United States, it is quite obvious you are able to fill the second.' The following day Partridge replied, 'I am always anxious to offer you pieces that I think suit your Lordship, in preference to any other Client. ... Thank you for the compliment you paid me as regards 'buying' because one knows that if the buying is wrong, the bottom falls out.'
Lever's answer followed soon: 'I do not like long-standing friendships cooling off any more than I like ices this hot weather warming off. Let us keep the ices cold and the friendship warm, but I haven't conscious now, and I should not have been your friend if I had not mentioned it, that … I am beginning to think that Mr. Frank Partridge must be described as an Art Dealer entirely surrounded by wealthy American customers and that the poor Englishman is frozen out.' Partridge replied forthwith, 'I promise you that it will not be through lack of desire on my part that our happy relationship should not be even more strongly united in the future, and if the Englishman is frozen out it will not be the fault of yours sincerely.'
In 1923 the dealer-collector relationship was already weatherproof and talking about success implied another meaning, 'If your Lordship does not make much money out of your work, you can comfort yourself with the satisfaction of knowing that you do try and help keep the world clean.'
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Fig.16.Example of a snuff bottle from the Lever collection (LL 9323).
No 'China' business but friendship in the Last Days
In a letter dated 23 March 1925 Partridge wrote to Lever, '[I] am sorry that the gathering on the 28th May will not be able to have the pleasure of your Lordship's company. Thank you very much for your kind enquiries about my family and I am glad to say they are all in the best of health. There has been quite a lot doing in the Art World since you have been away, but still there are some nice things left, and I hope I shall soon be seeing you.' This was followed by another letter the next day, 'Will you kindly accept the enclosed, which I know you will appreciate? I saw it when I was dining with some friends in New York and I asked them to try and get me two copies - one of which I am keeping for my self, and trying to do it!'
Partridge had sent framed verses by EA Guest and Lever replied, 'I am delighted to have them and can quite understand your wishing to possess a copy yourself after seen them in New York…It is most generous of you to send me the other copy.' Guest's most famous poem is the oft-quoted 'Home'.
It don't make any difference how rich ye get t' be',
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.
Home ain't a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it's home there's got t' be a heap o' living in it.
Excerpt from 'Home', A Heap o' Livin' (1916).