‘Dick’ Turpin sale at Sworders

Essex auction house Sworders will conduct a single-owner sale on January 25 devoted to the contents of Barons Court flat of Maurice Turpin (1928-2005).

Maurice, known throughout the trade as ‘Dick’, was one of Britain’s foremost antiques dealers of the second half of the 20th century, achieved near legendary status over a 50-year career.

Born in Bow in 1928, the son of an East End fruit seller, Turpin originally trained as a sound engineer for the BBC, before taking work as an ‘runner’ in the summer of 1948. He began searching provincial shops and markets for objects he could sell to the London antiques trade before opening his own small premises on Portobello Road.

A pair of Blue John vases

During the ‘golden age’ of the antique furniture business, Turpin, was a familiar sight at regional UK salerooms and one of the first British dealers to undertake frequent buying trips to America. He opened a shop at 27 Bruton Street in the late 1980s.

The calibre of the pieces that he bought and sold was only surpassed by his persona; a giant of a man with a large walrus moustache, thick-rimmed spectacles and trilby hat that mixed incongruously with a curiously high-pitched voice.

While never a man to cross, his friends credited him with extraordinary kindness, good humour and generosity. Kent dealer Lennox Cato remembers him with great affection: ‘Dick enjoyed life immensely, he was never far from good food, fine wine, great antiques, and close friends.’

Following his death in 2005, his remaining stock was sold in two sales at Christie’s, titled The Legend of Dick Turpin. Sworders will sell the contents of the Barons Keep, W14 residence he shared with partner Jackie Mann – comprising hundreds of meticulously chosen pieces of furniture, works of art and paintings. The sale of 267 lots will simply be titled Dick Turpin: The Legend Lives On.

Leading the sale is a George III padouk and kingwood commode attributed to one of the great figures of British furniture history, John Cobb (c.1715-1778). Of serpentine outline with ormolu mounts and a matched-veneered top, the 88cm high by 125cm wide piece carries an estimate of £30,000-50,000.

The auction also includes spectacular ‘classics’ such as a pair of George III blue john and ormolu ‘Cleopatra’ candle vases attributed Matthew Boulton, estimated at £2,000-4,000 and an Italian bronze group of Hercules and the Nemean Lion after the antique, estimated at £3,000-5,000. Both were areas in which Turpin held considerable expertise.

A pair of the distinctive ‘basso relievo’ embossed bird pictures by Samuel Dixon of Dublin c.1750.The hand-coloured prints Canary Bird with a Group of Flowers and The Cock Butcher Bird with a Group of Flowers are both signed and dedicated ‘To Her Grace the Duchess of Hamilton’. They are guided at £3,000-5,000.

Less expected from a dealer who bought ‘period’ antiques are four inter-war bronzes by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). The quartet of portrait busts includes casts of the First Portrait of Lillian Shelley and Eighth Portrait of Peggy Jean estimated at £2,000-3,000 and £1,500-2,000 respectively.