David Smith Collection in Essex sale

The collection of a late antique collector who furnished his Suffolk home with pieces sourced from leading dealers, auction houses and car boot sales over a 35-year period will go under the hammer at Essex auction house Reeman Dansie’s Fine Art sale from February 13-15.

The David Smith Collection includes some 300 lots of English, Irish and Welsh vernacular furniture and works of art, blended with vintage signs, modern design and 19th- and 20th-century paintings by artist’s including Lucy Harwood, Rowland Sudderby and Thomas Churchyard.

In 2012, David purchased ‘School House’ in a remote Suffolk village and proceeded to convert the run-down Victorian red brick building into an airy modern living space. As a passionate collector for decades , the converted School House became a canvas to showcase his eclectic collection of English, Welsh and Irish vernacular furniture, Modern British paintings, artefacts and curios.

Collecting from auctions, leading dealers and with some winning discoveries rescued from local car boot sales, considered purchases were made with a clear focus on context within the existing collection and how they would ‘fit’ within his period property.

In April 2022, David wrote: “My home, School House, is a former 19th-century school and teacher’s residence, one of the products of the 1870 Elementary Education Act, which introduced the first national system of primary education for children in Britain. It was built in 1875 as a state of the art modern school in the popular gothic revival style, – just one of some 3 to 4 thousand new schools that were built between 1870 and 1880. It opened in 1876 and operated from then until it closed in 1964. It was at the centre of village life and attended by generations of local children for nearly 100 years. Since then it has been in private hands but, happily, has escaped intrusive modernisation. This makes it something of a rare survivor. I bought the school in a semi-derelict condition in 2012.

The renovation of the former school house was a large project for David, with the classroom for infants having been turned into a garage, while the main classroom, some 40-foot long, was in a poor state of repair, with rotten floors and joists, a leaning gable-end wall, and bare brickwork where a tongue and groove dado had been removed.

Elsewhere in the building, many of the wooden window frames were rotten, ceilings were in need of attention, there was no insulation, and heating came from a multi-fuel stove in the main classroom and an open fire in the teacher’s parlour.

In further recollections, David wrote: “I bought the school as a restoration project, but also as a home and a showcase for the display of various collections, of furniture, paintings and other collectibles. I have been collecting ‘country’ furniture for more than thirty-five years and have quite a lot, ranging from 17th, (and some 16th), century oak, to 18th and 19th century fruitwood, mahogany and pine, including quite a lot of early/original paint.”

Other items in David’s collection, which feature in the upcoming sale, include examples of 20th-century paintings, oriental rugs, 20th century glass, and mostly early-20th century toys. Further pieces purchased to meet the needs of the restoration range from industrial and ‘retro’ 20th-century lighting, to Bloomsbury/Omega Workshop fabric – designed by artists such as Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, (reproduced under licence by Charleston Enterprises) – for upholstery and curtains.

Auctioneer and valuer at Reeman Dansie, Daniel Wright, said: “The David Smith Collection was assembled with the same keen eye for detail and enthusiasm for history which is imbued in the sympathetic restoration of his historic property. In this fascinating collection original features are to the fore: the schemes of early paintwork on a Welsh stickback chair, the evident care of an unknown craftsman of a scratch-built barge. We are proud to offer The David Smith Collection, a wonderful curated selection of art and artefacts, with history and relevance which will chime with all connoisseur collectors.”

The collection will be sold largely without reserve.