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A history to explain the defensive importance of Shoreham, and its need for the Shoreham Redoubt, finished in 1857
Watercraft, my part in its downfall
Continuing from 'When I left school 1979'. I spent 6 great years learning my trade at Watercraft LTD, and this is the beginning of the story of my time there
When I left school, 1979
Leaving Cardinal Newman school, 1979, 16 years old, my first job, first proper wages, wide eyed and care free, look out world, here I come.
A bygone Shoreham Beach
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John Jabez Edwin Mayall
This page is a brief summary of one of the early leading lights of photography, J.J.E. Mayall
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The Ring Master & John William Godward
This is the story of the late Victorian, early Edwardian world of art dealing, and the link between William Walker Sampson, leader of the biggest art cartel of the time, and a painter whose style was being eclipsed by the emergence of the likes of Picasso
William Walker Sampson's Art Auction Ring
This is just a rough out for an art ring project already going on another page of this site, working, hopefully, to a final edit.
Victorian/Edwardian art dealers directory
One at a time, I will be writing up short bio's of art dealers from the late 19th, and early 20th century, a follow up to the Art Ring story also on this site.
A Brief History of Shoreham Aviation
This is a brief history of the aviators that helped establish Shoreham Aerodrome as a part of the evolution of flight.

The Ring Master & John William Godward

"For optimum view by mobile phone or other hand-held device, please click on the 'Text-Only' version at the bottom of this page"

'Waiting for an Answer' by John William Godward. It has been speculated that this may be a self portrait of the elusive painter. If so, it would be the only image known of him.

The Ring Master & John William Godward



While researching my family tree, (see, 'My Ramus Family Tree', on the side bar on this site), I discovered a great deal of unexpected links to the art world through the late Victorian, and Edwardian era, and from there, connections to what appeared to be the beating heart of a world rushing towards technological advancement, with London at its epicentre. Through my Great Grandfather, Henry Ramus, I have found myself unearthing a story which emanated outwards from the artist, John William Godward, via Christies auction rooms, and one of the greatest art dealers, William Walker Sampson, (who also happened to be Henry’s business partner), then on to some of the biggest names in the world of art, literature, entertainment, and industry. From Gaiety girls, and Stage Door Johnnies, to the old money of Europe against the new money of America, it seems that life as we know it now, with oligarchs, their fortunes, and their ambition to use that wealth to secure some kind of immortality through art collections, little has changed in the last hundred years or so. The difference is in the setting, but the human aspect seems curiously unchanged.


What is here is the tip of an iceberg, it spreads so far and wide, encompassing art, photography, literature, the birth of motor cars, aircraft, engine technology, travel in all its forms. It brings characters that came from nowhere, and found themselves mixing with royalty, as well as the super rich magnates from America. Sampson, who had been born illegitimately in Tynemouth, adopted son of a seaman, sold newspapers on the streets outside Newcastle railway station. He saw his first gallery on a school trip to Cragside, Northumberland, there he skipped the feast laid out for the boys to sneak a second glance at Sir John Millais’s ‘Jephthah’. Later, heading south to Harrogate where he stayed with Major John Potts, and his sister, Fanny Potts, of the Wallsend coal owner.. While there, he began his art dealing career with Dyson Lister, before making his way to the art capital of the Empire, London, and rising to head, from the venerable Christie's, the biggest art cartel of his time.

Along the way I discovered William's friend, Harry Preston, who, (from reading his biography, 'Leaves From an Unwritten Diary'), having trained as a teacher, decided he wanted to taste the life of dockland London, became a shipping clerk, before taking up the running of ale houses, and illegal boxing bouts, finally moving into the hotelier business, and finishing up as owner of hotels in Bournemouth, and Brighton, not to mention giving the likes of Edward the 8th the benefit of his wealth of knowledge regarding the noble art of pugilism.

A.S.W.Rosenbach, was a giant of the book selling and collectors world, who even more so than Sampson, or Preston, would fill column inches in newspapers across both sides of the Atlantic with his auction room conquests. He also conveniently wrote a couple of books, but most helpful was the biography written about him by Edwin Wolf and John F Fleming, 'Rosenbach', which gives eye opening accounts of the London and New York auction rooms, as well as the driving forces behind the great sales of the time. Inside this enlightening book, there is qualifying evidence of just how much influence W.W.Sampson wielded in Christie's auction rooms at his zenith.


There are other characters of whom you may not have heard, such as art dealer, Lockett Agnew, Arthur Tooth, and antiquarian book seller, Bernard Quaritch, among many others, but had you lived in their day, you would likely have known of them. Through this research, I met the art historian, Vern Grosvenor Swanson, who, after many useful exchanges of information, asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece for the ArtRenewalCentre's website, explaining the ‘art ring’ that William Walker Sampson ran from about 1900 to his death in his adopted home of Brighton, 1929, what follows is a beginning.

(If you have any memories of William Walker Sampson, knowledge of him, (or any of the other characters involved), please feel free to contact me at wolf_e_boy@hotmail.com )

Jephtha's vow,  by John Everett Millais. The picture that captivated a young Bill Sampson on a school trip to Cragside, Northumberland.

(Please bear in mind that this is a work in progress, very much a ‘rough out’ to work with)

The ‘Ring’

‘In these auctions there is a private feature for which one must always be on the alert, this is called ‘La Graffinade’. It consists of a ‘ring’ of dealers who do not outbid each other in the sales… These sharpers thus become masters of the situation, for they manage matters so that no outside buyer can bid above one of their own ring. When a thing has been run up sufficiently high to prevent any outside bidder making a profit, the ring meets privately, and the article is allotted to one of the members. This arrangement accounts for the high prices which surprise so many persons of experience. The ring does not wish the article to re-appear in the auction room, less it should fall to a lower price than at which they pretend to have acquired it. This conspiracy against the purse of private persons has driven from the auction room a large number of buyers….’

(2):- Louis Sebastien Mercier gave this enlightening commentary on an eighteenth century dealers’ ring in his:-
‘Tableau de Paris’: (Panorama of Paris, written 1781–8)


The Ring explained

While researching my Great Grand father, Henry Ramus, I discovered, (courtesy of an ArtRenewal website article on the Victorian artist, John William Godward by Vern Grosvenor Swanson), that he had been in business with a William Walker Sampson, as Fine Art Dealers during the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. That same article named Sampson as being head of an art cartel, or, ‘Ring’ leader. Researching Sampson led me in to a world that involved some of the most eminent people in the country at the time, and to a closer understanding of the mystery of the Auction ‘Ring’, the ‘Knockout’, and the, ‘Knockback’. This research also unveils the various layers involved in the art dealing echelons of the time, from the itinerant commission agents at the bottom, scurrying between artists, collectors, and dealers, to the gallery owners at the top, who often dictate the popularity and price from their showrooms.


My remit here, is not to discuss any rights or wrongs of a dealers ‘Ring’, (it wasn’t illegal at the time), but to show that, if such a thing existed in London during the early nineteen hundreds, there was compelling evidence pointing to William Walker Sampson being a ‘Ring Master’ of Christies at this time, and head of the most prolific Ring of this period, until his death in 1929 in Brighton. It is my hope, that this article should raise enough questions to at least suggest a more in depth investigation would be worthwhile, which, with a close analysis of Christies sales records from the period, should hopefully reveal a definitive answer as to whether W.W. Sampson was indeed head of an organised Ring, how successful it was, and how eventually it may well have led to his financial ruin..
Below are two more descriptions I’ve found which should give the reader an idea of what the Ring represents:-

(1):- ‘Pedigree and Panache: A History of the Art Auction in Australia’ (page 13)
By Shireen Huda

” The aim of the ‘Ring’, usually consisting of a group of dealers, is to reduce the competition and buy the intended work(s) for lower prices than would be achieved in a truly competetive marketplace; that is, beneath real market value. The members of the ring, rather than the original vendor and auctioneer, therefore reap the financial benefits. “

(2):- Hansard House of Commons records:-

House of Commons Debate 23 December 1964 vol 704 cc1241-59 1241
12.13 p.m.

Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry) “I am grateful for this opportunity of raising once again in the House the shabby practice of the ‘knockout’.”

“After recent revelations concerning this form of commercial brigandry, which is really what it is, I think that the House is fairly familiar with how these rings operate, but to get it on the record perhaps I may quote something which I have borrowed from elsewhere and which I have somewhat adapted. It describes fairly well and succinctly the operations of the ring. It says: A group of antique dealers decide to apportion the lots at a given sale, in advance, so that no underbidder may bid against the party chiefly interested. The antiques, therefore, change hands at a price much below their market value. This value is established at a second sale outside the auction room and the difference between the two prices is divided between the antique dealers concerned as a dividend offered in exchange for forbearance. That fairly well sums up the method. But I should perhaps add that in some cases—this is especially true in the provinces—it is not necessary to reach agreement or apportionment beforehand. This is because one member of the ring in given areas knows another and because in many cases, after many incidents, practice has made perfect.”
“There was the knockout graphically described by the Sunday Times as having taken place in the “hired snug” in a hotel. There, it is said, the ring had a poor day because after the first round those who dropped out received only £1 apiece. However, it is accepted I think, that the final round of some knockouts can be very exciting indeed. Three or four dealers may still confront one another; they are the experts in their subjects; and the ultimate shareout in the would-be final round can be about £1,000 apiece. Small wonder that one of those who, I believe, had been engaged in this practice described the process as ‘twice as exciting as poker’.”

A Victorian cartoon of 'The Ring' in the Snug after an auction

William Walker Sampson

William was born in Gardner street, Chirton, North Shields, 6th September 1864, to Margaret Walker, (eldest daughter of John Walker, and Mary Ann). Margaret puts an 'X' as her mark on the birth certificate for the 'Informant', no father is named. On February 9th, 1869, Margaret married Charles Sampson, both of them aged 24 at the time, with Charles profession given as, ‘Mariner’, his father named as, Henry, whose profession was listed as, ‘Grocer’, while Margarets father, John, is listed as being a, ‘Waterman’. They were married at the parish church of Tynemouth, Northumberland, a maritime and mining community, and by the 1871 census, living at Little Bedford Street, Chirton, Northumberland, William has had the Sampson surname added to his full name.


According to his obituary in the Times, one of William's first jobs was as a newspaper boy at the railway bookstall at Newcastle Upon Tyne. By the time of the 1881 census, at the age of 17, and living at Beach Street, Benwell, Newcastle, William was stated as being a 'Stationer', perhaps with W.H.Smiths?, as they were by this time firmly established on virtually all main line stations around the United Kingdom, William Henry Smith having seen the potential of railway passenger custom very early. 

A.C.R. Carter, who started writing for, 'The Years Art', from 1887, becoming editor by 1894, wrote of Sampson in his book of reminiscences, 'Let Me Tell You' (1940). Having clearly known William as a friend, he shares the memories that W.W had shared with him, beginning with the first time a young Sampson was captivated by art:- (pages 66 and 67)

'Although William Walker Sampson was merely a dealer, yet he grew up to be the auction champion of British art.'

He goes on:- 

'He used to tell the story to me with some pathos how he had been taken on a school treat to visit Lord Armstrong's house and park at Cragside. He had never seen a picture collection before, and the boys were hurried through the gallery in order to have a high tea in the grounds. As young Bill passed that tragic picture by Millais of Jephtha, he was fascinated by the figure of the Prophet 'who had been brought very low.' He was plucked away from it by a soulless teacher.'

'Young Bill also vowed a vow. Half-way through the high tea he escaped unnoticed, and returned to the gallery. When dusk set in, the roll-call revealed that young Bill was missing. His mates remembered that he had disappeared to their surprise when the bon bouche of the high tea had been placed upon the table.'

After a search failed to find the missing boy, the 'soulless teacher' suggested trying the gallery where he had earlier been, 'plucked away', , and sure enough, there in front of Millais's 'Jephtha', was an entranced young Bill Sampson, who, as A.C.R. Carter recalls:-

'vowed another vow that if ever he became a rich man (he was then selling newspapers in the streets), he would try to buy that picture by Millais'.


It's worth mentioning here, that Cragside, in Rothbury, Northumberland, was no ordinary stately home, it had been built by William Armstrong, who went on to become 1st Baron Armstrong. He had begun his working life as a solicitor in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but showed tremendous aptitude as an engineer, and making use of the naturally available hydraulic power, invented hydraulic cranes, which at the time, revolutionised industry along the quaysides in Newcastle, and all around Britain. Cragside was built in steep grounds, surrounded with artificial lakes used to generate hydro-electricity, resulting in Cragside being the first house in the world to have hydro-electric lighting, which by 1878, was used to illuminate the paintings in the gallery.  It's hard to imagine a place like this not leaving a lasting impression on young Sampson in those days, and no great leap to assume a child could believe anything is possible in such surroundings.


On the 7th August 1887, William Walker Sampson married Elizabeth Colston, daughter of James and Elizabeth Colston,  a Scottish family from Dunse, Berwickshire. They both give their ages as 22, while William names his father as, Charles Sampson, profession- Ship Captain, Elizabeths father is named, James Colston, profession- Painter. They were married at the parish church of Jesmond, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Elizabeths younger sister, Helen (Nellie) Colston is a witness on the certificate. Williams profession is given as, ‘Clerk’. By February 1889, they have their first child, a daughter, Isabella Darling Sampson, but just eight months later, after suffering from diarrhoea for two days, young Isabella died, with the cruelest of coincidences, on the 6th September, William's birthday. His occupation on the death certificate is given as, 'Merchants Clerk', address, 36 South View, Newcastle. On 28th September 1890, William and Elizabeth had a son, John (Jack), born Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland., Williams occupation here given as, ‘Commercial Clerk’. Just a few months later, by the time of the 1891 census, William is staying with (Major) John and Fanny Potts, at Bedford Lodge, Harrogate, his occupation now stated as, 'Solicitor'.
Also mentioned in his obituary, W.W began his career in art dealing with Dyson Lister, picture dealers of Harrogate, in 1894. Given that Major Potts left his painting of 'Cleopatra going to meet Mark Antony' to the National Gallery, is it possible that he influenced William with his love of art?


John Potts and his sister, Fanny, were from a wealthy coal owners family from Wallsend, Newcastle. John was a retired Major, of the Northumberland Light Infantry Militia, by this time, and when he died five years later, in 1896, he named William Walker Sampson as one of the 'Executors' of his will, leaving him a half share in just under £6,000, a small fortune at the time.

Below is his death notice in the London Gazette, 5th June 1896:-


Major JOHN POTTS Deceased.

Pursuant to Statute 22 and 23 Viet. c. 35.
NOTICE is hereby given that all persons having any
claims or demands against the estate of John Potts
late of Bedford Lodge Harrogate in the county of York
Esquire late Major in the Northumberland Light Infantry
deceased (wno died on the 14th day of February 1896
and whose will was proved at Wakefield on the 26th day
of March 1896 by William Walker Sampson and Henry
Anderson Waller the executors therein named) are hereby
required to send written particulars thereof to us the
undersigned before the 30th day of July 1896 after which
date the assets of the said deceased will be distributed
by the executors amongst the persons entitled thereto
having regard only to the claims of which they shall
have had notice.—Dated this 29th day of May 1896:
KIR BY and SON Harrogate Solicitors for the
said Executors

In the Yorkshire Gazette, dated 25th April 1896, it read:-

'A Yorkshire will:- By his will, dated Feb 10 1896, Major John Potts, of Bedford Lodge, Harrogate, who died on 14th Feb, bequeathed to the National Gallery, free of legacy duty, his picture of "Cleopatra going to meet Mark Antony";, to his sister Fanny £100, the furniture of his drawing room, and of her bedroom, and £4000; to Elizabeth Mary Deeley of Teddington, £50; and to Mr W. W. Sampson's son, John, £300. All residue of his property, the value of personalty being £5,884, 19s 7d, Major Potts left to Mr Wm. Walker Sampson of King Street, St James Square, (London), formerly of Harrogate, one of the Executors.'

At the time of discovery, this was the earliest reference thus far of Sampson in London, and in Major Potts probate record, W.W is stated as being a 'Fine Art Dealer', also a first reference to that fact at that point.


Since beginning on this road of research into Sampson, I have discovered a great deal of information regarding the world of Victorian art dealing, not least of which was the modus operandi of greasing the palms of butlers, valets, and other servants in a position to spill the beans on their wealthy employers, especially regarding the works of art in a lot of the country’s stately homes. It is with this in mind that I mention now the 1891 census report for William's wife, Elizabeth, where she, her sister, Nellie, and William's sister, Lizzie, his Aunt, Mary Walker, and young Jack (John) Sampson, now six months old. They are living at Temple Grove, Mortlake, Surrey, and William's sister, Lizzie, now aged 20, is a Scullery Maid, his wifes sister, Nellie, is a Servants Hall Maid, his Aunt Mary is a cook, while his wife, Lizzie, and boy Jack, are listed as Visitors.


So far, so what?, I hear you ask yourselves, until you discover that the residence they are staying at is that of their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Fife, but not just any old Duke and Duchess, this Duchess was Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, the younger sister of George V and the sixth daughter of a British monarch to be styled Princess Royal..

Mortlake is some 285 miles from Tynemouth, half the length of the country, so however one looks at this situation, it’s quite some set of circumstances that would lead to William's family members travelling that distance, in those days, to arrive at them all landing a job with Royalty.


The bookman, Dr Rosenbach, and the worlds leading art dealer of the time, Joseph Duveen, were both known to use the knowledge and assistance of the staff, family, or even friends, of their rich clients, in order to gain an edge on their competitors. The subject is touched on in Fleming and Wolf's bio- 'Rosenbach', they write:-

'If it was true that Sir Joseph obtained the solicitous interest of rich men's butlers by well-bestowed and handsome largesses, it was equally true that Dr Rosenbach usually found a friend at court whom he charmed with his smile and a host of small but effective favors- and, when necessary, and handsome check*. (cheque in U.K English). A choice brook trout, bulkily packed in ice, would arrive as a sign of the Doctor's regard. Special cigars, obtained from a London tobacconist known only to the few, marked a birthday. Theatre tickets appeared in a hotel room. A card to a New York speak-easy, with the assurance of royal Rosenbach treatment, did not even have to be requested. Everywhere, on trains, in restaurants, at night clubs, the maitres d'hotel and the porters and waiters and doormen knew Dr Rosenbach. They knew him as a demanding patron with a twinkling eye, a good eater and drinker, and a generous tipper, and without fail they treated him and his guests as kings. It was fun to eat, drink, and be merry under the Rosenbach aegis.'

Sampson at Christies

The earliest account I have found of W.W at auction, was from the Times, 22nd July 1895, where he is recorded as having paid 150 Guineas at Christies, for 'Sheep Entering a Shed', by Charles Emile Jacque, (1813-1894). At this auction he was very much the, 'new kid on the block', among the big art dealing guns of the time, in Agnew, Tooth, and Vokins, as well as his former employer, Dyson Lister. I must assume that Sampsons finances were assisted by Major Potts,as it would be doubtful in the extreme for him to have amassed the necessary funds to bid at Christies on the wage of a junior solicitor. 

It was in the Times of 23rd of March 1896, a little over a month after the death of Major John Potts, that William is recorded, beginning to flex his newly acquired financial muscle, picking up Lawrence Alma Tadema's, 'A Roman Scribe Writing Despatches', for 325 Guineas, in the company of Arthur Tooth, (of No's 5 and 6 Haymarket), and Thomas McClean, (No 7 Haymarket), in the auction room that day, both of whom had a more than passing interest in Tadema already. This was the beginning of a taste for L.A.Tadema's paintings that Sampson would continue to back at Christies well in to the next century, as well as Tadema's protege, John William Godward's works. 

Returning to A.C.R. Carter's book, 'Let Me Tell You', he talks of W.W arriving in London:- 

'When Sampson came to London in 1896 he opened a shop quite near Christie's, and showed his sure flair by purchasing a few flower pieces by Fantin-Latour, and exhibiting them in his shop window.'

He continues:-

'He afterwards turned them over at cost price, and, years later, he saw one of them bring nearly 2000 guineas. After the Agnews had ceased to deal largely in modern British art, Sampson became the chief operator in the Victorian market, especially when Birket Foster's delightful water-colour drawings came up. He must have bought many hundreds of them, and re-bought them.'

Around the turn of the century, proof of the links between William, and my Great Grandfather, Henry Ramus, begin to come up. When Henry married May Simmons on the 21st December 1899, their address was given as, 21 Mecklenburgh Square, Henry stated as being an Art Dealer.
In the 1901 census, William Walker Sampson, along with his wife and son, are now living at 21 Mecklenburgh Square, Williams occupation given as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’. This address is listed in the London Electoral Registers under the name of Henry Ramus from 1899-1905.
Living at that same address in the 1891 census, was Henry’s Uncle, Benjamin Ramus, whose, by then de facto wife, Rose(Solomons), was the mother of Henry’s wife, May. In the Post Office Directory of 1902, Henry Ramus is listed as, ‘Henry Ramus &Co, fine art dealers’, at 68 Wardour Street, whereas, in the 1898 Electoral Registers for London, William Walker Sampson is listed as living at 67 Wardour Street. To show further the strength of the bond between William and Henry, when Henry and May have their second child, he is named, Neville Walker Simon Ramus (4th Feb 1904), giving him Sampson's middle name.

'The Armstrong Picture Sale'

The Times, June 25 1910

'Messrs. Christie's, Manson, and Woods sold yesterday the collection of modern pictures and water-colour drawings removed from Craigside, Rothbury, and forming a portion of the Armstrong heirlooms, the sale being held by order of Lord Armstrong'

 A.C.R. Carter recalls the sale in his book, reminded of young William Walker Sampson's vow:-

'At length the opportunity came. In 1910 Lord Armstrong decided to disperse part of his collection. The Jephthah, accompanied by Millais' famous 'Chill October', duly appeared at Christie's. On the morning of the sale Sampson told Lockett Agnew that he intended to compete for both pictures. He revealed that he had an especial personal longing to win the Jephthah, without telling Lockett the reason for his hankering.  Agnew said to Sampson, "I, too, am very wishful to buy the Jephthah, because a very old friend of mine desires to have it".

Without saying to Agnew that he would not compete strongly against him Sampson did not make a bid beyond 1150 guineas. As the picture had fetched 3800 guineas in 1875 Sampson imagined that it would bring another high price, but Lockett Agnew won it at 1200 guineas, and it joined the collection of Agnew's friend, the well known authority on art, Fairfax Murray'.

So there you had it, despite having been proclaimed, 'The Champion of Modern Art' in the Daily Telegraph,  3rd Feb 1908, W.W still had some way to go before taking the true mantle. On a day when, 'the 102 lots of the Armstrong sale realized  the considerable total of £29,032.' as the following days Times had reported, Lockett Agnew had 27 lots knocked down to him at a total cost of £13,818. 6s.

(Using an online 'measuring worth over time' calculator, the amount Lockett Agnew spent that day would be equal to between 
£1,184,000.00 to £10,370,000.00, a big outlay by any standards.)

Clearly the heavyweight dealers still had pockets too deep for Sampson to seriously challenge, yet. His vow to own the Jephthah was back on hold.

In The Year's Art 1910, p.29,  W.W.Sampson and Henry Ramus' firm, 'The British Galleries' advertisement states that they have a specialty works "for reproduction." The list of twenty-one artists mentions Godward and W. Anstey Dollond as their only classical artists. It concludes with "Special Terms to the Trade." 

'For reproduction', meaning prints made from the paintings bought with copyright, would explain how the dealers could multiply their profits by selling these reproductions to the middle classes to decorate their houses. It's worth noting here that, 'Decorators', as advertised at this time, were often artists, who would come in and advise on the decor of the residence.


A Court Case 1911

Here are a few extracts of a court case reported in the Times, January 24 1911. Giving a glimpse into the art dealing world in which William Walker Sampson, and Henry Ramus inhabited, including possible evidence of collusion within the auction rooms by dealers-

'A Picture by Sir Luke Fildes'
Turner v Sampson
(Before Mr Justice Channell)

'In this case, Sir Montague Cornish Turner sued Mr W.W.Sampson, a fine art dealer, carrying on partnership with Mr Henry Ramus, at Air-street, Regent-street, for the recovery of a picture by Sir Luke Fildes, R.A, or its value, which the plaintiff alleged was wrongfully detained from him.'

The Evidence

Sir Montague Cornish Turner, examined by Mr Foote, said that he was chairman of the Chartered Bank of England and Australia. He began collecting pictures in 1903-04. He became acquainted with Wall at that time. His premises consisted of a small gallery and an office in Pall-Mall-place. Wall brought pictures to him for sale on behalf of clients. He bought about 50 or 60 pictures from Wall to the value of about £4000. He first heard of the picture in dispute in a letter from Wall. He went to Wall's gallery and saw the picture and bought it for £400. At that time he did not know that Wall owned the picture. It was sent to his house, and after nine or ten months he became dissatisfied with it and wished to sell it. Wall came to his house and removed it. He (Wall) said it ought to fetch £1000. He instructed Wall to acquaint him with any offers he might get for the picture. Wall had no authority to sell it until he had submitted any offers received, and he (the witness) had accepted it. That was in 1909. He never heard of any definite offer for the picture. He did not hear of the sale of the picture to the defendant until after Wall had disappeared. Wall wrote a letter saying he had accepted an appointment abroad.  He made enquiries as to where his pictures were, and found that the one in question was in the possession of the defendant. He wrote to the latter, claiming the picture, and was informed by the defendant that he had purchased it from Wall.
Mr Louis Edwards, examined by Mr Ricketts, said that he kept a boarding house at 5 Oxford terrace, and also bought pictures for customers on commission. He had a large number of clients, and, among others, his late Majesty. About October last he went to the defendants place of business and had a conversation about the picture. The defendant told him he had bought the picture outright direct from the owner, and he could do what he liked with it. He asked what was the lowest net price they would accept, and received a letter saying it was £600.

'The picture in question, which was called, 'Fair, Sweet, and Quiet Rest', was painted by Sir Luke Fildes some 20 or 30 years ago, and was purchased  from the artist for £871. In 1907 it was sold at Christies for £109, but on that occasion, counsel stated, the value of the picture was reduced owing to a combination between the dealers'

(This last sentence would appear to be early evidence of an alleged 'Ring', of which, later, or possibly already at this point, Sampson was believed to be at the head of.) It continues:-

'Subsequently the picture was bought by a Mr F.J.Wall for £280. He was a fine art dealer, and had a small gallery in Pall Mall. Wall had done business for the plaintiff for three or four years, and had been employed to buy and sell pictures for him on a commission basis.'  (The plaintiff being Sir Montague Cornish Turner.)

The case centered on whether Sampson had right of ownership, having, he believed, bought the picture from Wall in good faith. Turner asserting that he had not given Wall permission to make the sale. Other dealers were brought in to give evidence, Louis Edwards being one of these, who had dealt with Sampsons business partner, Henry Ramus. It goes on:-

'Mr H. Ramus, the partner of the last witness, (Sampson), gave corroborative evidence. He said he remembered having a conversation with the witness Edwards. He subsequently sent a letter to him saying that the lowest price for the picture was £350.'

Within his judgement, Justice Channell is stated as saying:-

'Upon the evidence, he was of the opinion that the defendant had acted in good faith in the matter. Pictures were notoriously things which one bought as cheaply as one could and got as much as one could for, and he could not hold that because a man paid £300 for a picture and asked £350 for it the purchase was not a bona fide one'

This last paragraph illuminates what art historian, Vern Grosvenor Swanson, captioned, 'The Wild West', when explaining to me the art dealing world of the Edwardian era, and the anything goes attitude to buying and selling.

Finalising, Justice Channell is stated as having declared:-

'For the reasons he had given he must hold that the present case came within the Factors Act, 1889, and there must be judgement for the defendant (Sampson) with costs'

However murky this world of art dealing may have been, they still had a legal framework which they could use as a cloak of security when being accused of allegedly sharp practices, which would seem to have occurred quite often.


While Sampson was married, he was having an affair with Simeta Sampson, (they weren’t related), at least thirteen years before he married her after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth. The two of them are on the 1911 census, staying at the Queens Hotel in Leicester Square, London. The hotel was run by Harry Prestons sister, Winifred, and her husband, Edward, (Teddy), Wrixon Bayley, and a certain Bernard Alfred Quaritch was also staying there at the time, a world renowned bibliophile and auction friend and rival to Dr Rosenbach, (whose role in this article I explain further on, as well as that of Harry Preston), but there can be no doubt that Sampson and Quaritch would have known each other from crossing paths at Sothebys and Christies, quite apart from the fact that Sampson had been doing business with the Rosenbachs for at least two years already.  

(Bernard Alfred Quaritch first met Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach aboard the White Star liner, 'Oceanic', as it crossed the Atlantic during March 1907, Dr Rosenbach's first trip to England. The Doctor plucked up the courage and introduced himself to this lion of the book dealing world, and even asked him if he would bid on his behalf at Sotheby's in London, for a sound copy of a Shakespeare First Folio at the Van Antwerp sale, which he had been commissioned to buy for Harry Widener, of the uber wealthy Philadelphia Widener family. Quaritch won the Folio at £3600 for the Dr, and they went on to become close friends.)

Simeta gives her profession as, ‘Actress’, in the census, her sisters had been, ‘Theatrical Choristers’ in the 1891 census, and it would seem she had followed them on to the stage, perhaps snagging William as a ‘Stage Door Johnny’, named so as a result of the large amount of relationships that sprang from the profession, actresses often going on stage precisely to bag a man of means, and likewise, the Stage Door Johnnies being mainly wealthy young men that hang around back stage, hoping to catch the eye of one of these theatrical beauties.

Simeta’s acting name was Simeta Marsden, taking her mothers maiden name. She was clearly a big name in her day, and there are quite a number of images of her available.To add to music hall/ art world connections, here is an extract of a story which ran over one hundred years ago involving Sampson, courtesy of an August 1913 newspaper clipping belonging to William's Great Grand Daughter, Gillian Harrison:-

Romantic find of a Morland
Discovery among stage 'property'
Art dealer's bargain at Drury Lane
A romantic discovery of an art treasure worth possibly some hundreds of pounds has been made on the stage of Drury Lane during the rehearsal of 'Sealed Orders'. The theatre possesses a large number of pictures which are used as 'properties', and amongst the collection has been discovered a genuine George Morland. It is a small canvas about 12" by 8", depicting a sailor in the costume of the period taking farewell of his sweetheart on the seashore, and is presumed to have been painted about 1790.
Mr Arthur Collins, interviewed yesterday, gave a 'Daily Chronicle' representative full particulars of the lucky 'find'. "One of our scenes", he said, "is an exact replica of the famous auction rooms at Christie's, and naturally we require to show many pictures. As I like to have everything as realistic as possible, I invited Mr W.W.Sampson, the well known art dealer of Air Street, to attend a rehearsal of the drama and give us a few hints."
"I noticed Mr Sampson's attention seemed to be riveted on one canvas in particular, and chaffingly I offered to do a deal with him. Much to my surprise he said, 'very well, I'll buy that picture'. I, of course, thought he was 'pulling my leg', as we have had our 'properties' in the theatre for years and never had a thought that they might be valuable. I accepted Mr Sampson's price on condition that the picture remained on the stage through the run of the play."
"Mr Sampson agreed to this if I would allow him to take the canvas to his gallery for a few days to have it cleaned and properly restored. And to-day he announces to me that his supicions have been confirmed and that the picture is genuine and a very fine example of George Morland. The picture, I understand, is worth a considerable sum of money, and the astute Mr Sampson has certainly scored over me, for the small profit I have made is as nothing compared to the profit he must eventually secure. The picture is now kept in my office at Drury Lane, but it will be exhibited in the Christie scene at every performance of 'Sealed Orders'. "

Simeta Marsden in The Sketch, April 11, 1906. Her singing, My Soldier Boy, from the musical, The Flood, playing at the London Hippodrome.

Simeta Marsden, actress

Simeta Victoria Sampson was born on the 28th September 1879 at 34 St Thomas road, Islington, to Simeon Sampson, and Rosa Jordan Sampson, nee Marsden. Simeon was an auctioneer, of Jewish descent, born in Manchester to Levi and Sarah Sampson,he and Levi had both been warehousemen at various times, dealing in fent and cloths. It appears though, that Simeon had other talents, as mentioned in the Manchester Courier on Tuesday 17th December 1867, under the heading, 'Amateur Entertainment at Cheetham'. The event was held at Cheetham Town Hall, the article says of him,-
 'The greatest triumphs of the evening, however, were reserved for Mr Simeon Sampson in his reading of the trial scene from Pickwick. Mr Sampson's powers of mimicry, his elocution, and perfect appreciation of the role he had to undertake, won for him loud and well deserved applause. He was equally successful in other recitations.- At the conclusion of the performance, a vote of thanks to the ladies and gentlemen who had taken part therein was proposed by Mr W. Horsfall, seconded by Mr Councillor Ashton, and carried amid general acclamation. Mr Sampson acknowledged the compliment; and after the singing of the National Anthem, the proceedings terminated.'
Simeon passed away at 60 Waldemar Avenue, Fulham, on the 30th September 1889, when Simeta was just ten years old, leaving Rosa to bring up the six daughters still at home. Five years later, at just 15, and Simeta gets her first mention in the theatrical press, in 'The Era', Sat 15th December 1894, for a 'minor role' at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London, in 'Claude Duval', a special Christmas edition musical piece.
Having been nominated for election to the Actors Association on Tuesday 2nd March 1897, Simeta is elected a week later on the 9th, which is mentioned in the theatrical newspaper, The Era, on the Saturday, 13th March.
By Saturday 27th November, 1897, the Cheshire Observer reports of Simeta playing the title role of Mademoiselle Julie Bon-Bon, in  'The Gay Parisienne', at the Royalty, Chester. The article states:-
'As 'The Gay Parisienne', otherwise Mdlle Julie Bon-Bon, Miss Simeta Marsden is a most fascinating and vivacious actress, whose impersonation of the flighty daughter of 'Paree', in a great measure is responsible for the unbounded success of the piece.'
This was just the beginning of a career which rapidly took off, seeing Simeta tour all over Britain and Ireland, playing lead roles at the biggest venues in all the great cities as a musical comedienne, in many other plays such as, 'Gentleman Joe', 'Floradora', 'The Skirt Dancer', 'The Girl From Kays', 'The Girls From Gottenberg', as well as pantomimes, 'Dick Whittington', and 'Cinderella'. Like many actresses of her stature, Simeta soon became a familiar sight on postcards and cigarette card collections, as well as a newspaper celebrity.

The Case of a Bankrupt Dealer

HENRY THOMAS JOHN JONES, Deception > bankrupcy, 22nd July 1907.

The courts in the early 1900's seem to have had a good amount of their time taken up settling disputes between dealers, commission agents, and buyers, of art works, which has thrown up valuable evidence  describing the goings on of the art dealing world. In July 1907, Henry Thomas John Jones, alias Henry Thomas Girling, was up before the Old Bailey for carrying on business while an undischarged bankrupt, in conjunction with his son, Robert Henry Girling


During the case, which brings to the dock, artists, dealers, patrons, and commission agents, as witnesses. Joseph Farquharson A.R.A, Frank Markham Skipworth, and Henry Bowser Wimbush were the artists brought to give evidence against H.T.Girling, as they had known him, all having supplied pictures to him on account, only to for him to abscond without paying. But it is the evidence of Girling and son which shines a light on the fly by night nature of art dealers of the time, William Walker Sampson, and Nathan Mitchell, the two main players of the alleged auction ring, are cited in the defendants evidence.


Under cross examination, Girling gives this account:-


(Friday, July 26.)


'When I became bankrupt I was trading as the Southall Brick, Lime and Cement Company. Four of my customers went bankrupt before the time was due for payment I was in that business about a year, in conjunction with another firm. My son was not connected with me there. In 1904 I believe my son was at Chelsea in an oil and colour or provision business. My son suggested starting in the picture business; he was out of business at the time. I believe he had some money; I do not know how much. I was to look after the business till he got in the running; then I would leave him to it. About £80 was laid out on the shop; his money. He also stocked it; from Winsor and Newton among others. I had nothing to do with the stocking. The shop was opened last Christmas. Between September, 1904, and then I was helping Mr. W.W. Sampson in Air Street, Piccadilly. I was to be paid 25 per cent. of the profits of my son's business. There was no agreement in writing. I had been living since Christmas at 28, Chestnut Gardens, Acton. My son was living close to the shop. He kept books, and my commission account would be in them, but I do not know where they are. Probably I have been paid about £10 by my son since Christmas. I drew £25 from Mr. Sampson, and I have lived on that, with the help of my wife's income. She has about £200 a year when the property is all let. The pictures that were bought were sold in the ordinary way, sometimes by my son when I was away.'

'I have sold "Green Leaves," Mr. Farquharson's picture, to Mr. N. Mitchell, a dealer, in Copthall Avenue; I believe for £130, part pictures and part cash. I could not tell you exactly; it may have been £20 or £30 cash. That money was laid out in other pictures. The pictures from Mr. Mitchell we exchanged for others. It is a recognised thing in the fine art trade that we do not sell for cash. Another picture which I bought from Mr. Farquharson for £16 I sold to Mr. Mitchell for £30 cash. I gave £10 to my son, the rest I kept. That was my own picture, which I had paid for. The one I bought for £45, "The Forest of Glenquoich," I did a deal with Mr. Sampson; no cash, but all pictures. The £16 picture was bought in July, 1906. Between November, 1904, and January, 1905, I went to Mr. Sampson's, buying for him on commission. When Mr. Sampson had sufficient pictures I was done with him. I had only a certain number to buy. Then I went on my own and afterwards joined my son. With regard to the small picture I sold to Mr. Mitchell, he sent me to Mr. Farquharson to see if I could buy one, and gave me the £16. I do not know much about the bankruptcy law. I did not know the meaning of the word at that time about not getting credit. I had no idea of getting credit again. Two of the pictures from Mr. Skipworth we have got now. They were at 64, Fore Street up to a week or two ago, at Mr. George Knight's, whom I was partner with once. I do not know where the pictures are now. The ones you are asking about have been paid for. The ones not paid for were sold by me for £20 to Mr. Barnsley, of Sheffield. I used the money to buy pictures and fresh stock. Mr. Sampson could corroborate that. He is not here. I did not think it was necessary. I have paid Mr. Sampson over £30,000 in his time.'

Girlings son, giving evidence:-

'ROBERT HENRY THOMAS GIRLING , Hurst Street, Horne Hill. I am After my father's (the prisoner's) bankruptcy in 1904, I proposed to him that I should go into business for myself, and that he should assist me with his advice as manager. I am an artist, but not a buyer. I started business first at my father's residence at Ealing. Later on I took 88, Haverstock Hill, and stocked it from Messrs. Winsor and Newton. My father simply advised me as to what I should do, and gave me his opinion as to buying the pictures. I wrote the letters to Mr. Farquharson. My father might have written one on my behalf. The two pictures, "Green Leaves" and "The Forest of Glenquoich", came into my possession. In regard to Mr. Skipworth, there were several little pictures bought for cash. I went to Mr. Wimbush personally, bringing away 12 pictures, which came to my shop, and were for sale in my business. With regard to the pictures bought from Mr. Morton, they were for me. I have not disputed and do not dispute my debts to these people. The letter to Mr. Morton giving three references is signed by me. When I started the shop I had about £200. I have lost that and £150 besides.


 I have not yet paid any money to the four gentlemen from whom the pictures had been obtained; I have not been pressed or asked for it yet. I have not disposed of all these pictures; I cannot say how many, for a minute. Those I have left are at 11, Hurst Street, Horne Hill; some of them are Mr. Wimbush's. I could not say how many of these pictures altogether I have left. The books of the business were mislaid; left in the office at Haverstock Hill, and I do not know what became of them. The shop was closed because it did not pay. There was no rent owing. I was allowed so much for doing the shop up, and that covered the cost of the rent while I was there. The people upstairs (my lodgers) knew my address when I left. They might be there still. The first picture bought from Mr. Farquharson was for £120; I did not sell it at the time. When it was sold I think part was taken in cash, and part went off an account that was owing. I think it was sold to Mr. Sampson—Sampson or Mitchell. I think we got £80 for it; I forget now; there was a debt owing, which was covered by the balance. There was a debt due both to Mr. Sampson and to Mr. Mitchell. My father collected the money for me, and gave it me in cash—coin. There may have been two or three £5 notes. He gave it me at one time. I think there was another picture in it as well, of Mr. Farquharson's. The money was spent in buying other pictures and necessaries. I cannot remember now whether Mr. Farquharson's picture was sold for £30 and the balance in pictures. If my father said so, he might have done so. Before I was in this business I was an artist, and I was also in partnership in an oil and colour business in Chelsea. I got £75 for that business; my father got half. That was five years ago. The £200 which I had when I started this last business I got by my painting. I owed Mr. Skipworth £17. I did not pay him, because he was to paint another picture and did not. I gave him a bill for £40, which my father got from Mr. Knight. I do not know who drew the bill, and do not remember what my father had to do with it, bar giving it to Mr. Skipworth. My father showed me the bill, and said he had asked Knight for it. The writing on the bill (produced) is similar to my fathers. The signature is "H. T. Girling." I have not taken any steps to see that the bill was paid I told Mr. Skipworth I would pay him as soon as I could. The pictures of Mr. Skipworth that were not returned were sold; I think at the same price as they were bought for, £17. I do not remember to whom. I left it to my father to sell them; and he gave me the balance. Some of Mr. Wimbush's pictures were sold. I got some of the money and spent it. I did not pay him because he made a muddle over the transaction. The agreement was that part payment was to be made. I bought 18 old masters from Mr. Morton. I could not sell any of them, and I have some of them at home. I swear that Mr. Morton's pictures are there; also some of Mr. Wimbush's; none of Mr. Farquharson's, nor Mr. Skipworth's. Some of Mr. Morton's pictures did go into a sale £a broker's sale, to pay the taxes at Haverstock Hill. They went at about 1s. 6d. each. I do not know what sale room they were in. I sold a few of them myself, but I do not remember how many, nor for how much. I should object to a police officer going to my house and taking the pictures.

Re-examined. The result of all these transactions has not been at all profitable. My father would know most of the details of the buying and selling. I left it mostly to him.

Verdict, Guilty. Sentence, Four months' imprisonment, second division.

Henry Ramus' grave inscription


Henry Joseph Ramus
 (14 June 1872 – 20 July 1911)

Henry was the second son born to Joseph and Harriet Ramus, (after Alfred 1870), in Waterford, Ireland, his father named as a ‘Comedian’ on the birth certificate, he would later progress to Theatre Manager by the birth of their daughter, Louisa Martha in 1874. By the time of the 1881 census, Joseph and his family were back in England, living in Manchester, with Joseph's profession given as, ‘Picture Dealer’, they had moved close to where the Manchester Regional College of Art building was, which dates back to 1880, with art dealing already synonomous with the Ramus name, and more so in the following years. On the 1891 Scottish census, the family are now living at 137 Renfrew street, Glasgow, just along the road from the Glasgow School of Art at 167 Renfrew street. On the census report, Joseph’s ‘profession or occupation’, is given as, ‘Picture Dealer’, as is Alfred’s, while Henry is listed as, ‘Artist (painting)’. Louisa Martha has by now flown the coop, and living at 136 Sauchiehall street, Glasgow, married at the tender age of 16, to Sigmund Stern, a ‘Working Jeweller’ born 1863 Austria. Their eldest daughter, Sophie, was born 1893 in Scotland, and their next eldest, Doris, born four years laters in Manchester, so I assume Louisa Martha followed her Father, Joseph, away from Glasgow sometime between ’93 and ’97.

This record from the London Gazette tells us where and what Henry was up to by 1894:-


“NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned,
Henry Ramus and Alfred Ramus, carrying on business
as Carvers, Gilders, and Picture Frame Makers and
Dealers, at 5, Withy-grove, Manchester, in the county
of Lancaster, under the style or firm of Ramus Bros.,
has been dissolved, by mutual consent, as and from the
31st December. 1893. All debts due to and owing by
the said late firm will be received and paid by the said
Henry Ramus, who will in future carry on the business
under the above “style.—Dated this 2nd day of January,

In the 1895 Kelly’s Directory of Manchester , Henry is listed as a, ‘Picture Frame Maker’, at 51 Hyde Grove, Chorlton on Medlock, then in 1899 he married May Simmons, step daughter of his Uncle, Benjamin Ramus, their address on the certificate given as ’21 Mecklenburgh Square’, and his occupation now, ‘Fine Art Dealer’. Benjamin, and his de facto wife, Rose Simmons (nee Solomon), had been living at 21 Mecklenburgh Square on the 1891 census, in which he was listed as, 'Retired Feather Merchant' at 43 years old, yet in the 1901 census, living at 180 Shootup Hill, he is listed as being a, 'Dealer in Works of Art'. Rose was listed in both census's as a Feather Dealer/Manufacturer- Employer, carrying on her first husband, Isaac Simmons, business.

With William Walker Sampson and his wife and son living at 21 Mecklenburgh Square in 1901, his occupation given as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, for the first time on the census, it might be fair to guess it wasn’t far from this time that he and Henry formed their partnership. With the connections of other dealers and family members to Manchester, Harrogate, Newcastle, and Scotland, I can’t help but think maybe William and Henry could quite likely have met sometime earlier. Certainly Henry’s upbringing appeared the more art oriented of the two, and with many other wider family members involved in the art dealing business, you could hazard a guess that Henry was the one with the greater art dealing connections, (early on at least), while William, with his legal work experience may perhaps have been the numbers man, certainly a front man, with his name being front and centre on all their business transactions, that I have unearthed so far at least. 

When Henry died at the young age of 39, he left his wife, May, £8,317, 8 shillings, 8 pence. Using an online, ‘measuring worth’ calculator, it estimates that this amount could be worth between £692,700 and £5,631,000, today, depending which criteria are used, not at all bad in such a relatively short time, even more so when you consider the money that would also come from the auction of assets.


There were two sales at Christies as a result of Henry’s death, here, courtesy of Vern G Swanson:- “Christie’s London auction sold the first portion of the stock of W. W. Sampson owing to the death of Henry Ramus ( -1911), a partner in the Firm, occurred on Saturday November 18th and Monday November 20th, 1911. No Godward’s were among the group sold. “

Just six months after Henry died, his sons, Reginald and Neville, were enrolled at Brighton College, in Eastern road, Brighton, on January 12th, 1912, as boarders in the 'Junior House', for the 'Junior School'. On their entry forms, it asks, 'on whose nomination?', to which, 'Dealer in works of art (no name given)', is written. Next to, 'Parent or Guardian', is written, 'W.W. Sampson, 13 Air Street, London W'. So clearly William Walker Sampson and Henry Ramus were a much closer partnership than just business colleagues. When William dies on 31st Oct 1929, he was at 122 Kings road, Brighton, so I'd say it's a reasonable possibility that Reg and Nev could have been visiting him on occasion throughout their tenure at the college, a bit like an adopted Uncle. 


There was another auction two years later, held at Capes, Dunn, and Co, on October 21st 1913, at 12 o’clock at The Gallery, No 8 Clarence street, Albert Square, Manchester. The advert in the Manchester Courier reads:- ” On View. The Gallery. Sale of a valuable collection of oil paintings and water colour drawings, being the last portion of the stock of Mr W.W.Sampson, of 13 Air Street, London, W, owing to the death of Mr Henry Ramus, a partner in the firm, and comprising examples of the highest importance by leading deceased and living members of the Royal Academy and other distinguished painters of the English school”


Below are pictures of the gravestone for Henry Ramus, at Hoop Lane Cemetery, Golders Green, London, on which was inscribed:-
'Sacred to the memory -of- Henry Ramus, who departed this life July 20th 1911 Tamuz 24th 5671 In his 39th year To the everlasting sorrow of his widow, sons, relatives, and very dear friends'

It looks like a double plot, with the space left for his wife May unused, unfortunately she died 45 years later, at Brighton, and had been suffering from dementia, so I guess the plot had been long forgotten, which is quite sad really.

A Beginning


The following quotes are taken from Vernon Grosvenor Swansons, ‘Eclipse of Classicism’ article at ArtRenewal.com
“As early as 1905 another London dealer, William Walker Sampson (1864- October 1929) then in partnership with Henry Ramus, began to advertise and offer J. W. Godward prints and originals.”

“Working almost exclusively with the auction market, Messrs. W. W. Sampson was called “champion of British Art at auction” in his obituary. He had been bidding on Godward paintings at Christie’s since 1905.”

” ‘Bill’ Sampson, as he was called, was eulogized profusely in The Daily Telegraph as the great savior of British art during difficult times. In fact nearly half of all late 19th century paintings auctioned in London during this period were acquired by Sampson!”


It was a marriage certificate for Sampson, to his second wife, Simeta Sampson, on the 3rd July 1924, that led me to the names of Harry Preston, and Philip Rosenbach, they were named as witnesses. Researching their names brought up, firstly, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, of Philadelphia, who checked, then confirmed, that they had records of transactions between Sampson and the Rosenbachs. They also informed me of a biography, long since out of print, for Philips brother, A.S.W. Rosenbach, in which was the name, W.W.Sampson, the link was proved beyond doubt, and now I had reference books with which to research deeper into the world that W.W inhabited. Soon after, I went to the Brighton History Centre, at the Royal Pavilion  and discovered that Harry Preston had also written a couple of books of his memories, and sure enough, W.W. Sampson is there too.

W.W.Sampson's marriage certificate to Simeta Sampson


When I received copies of the transactions between Sampson and the Rosenbachs, they were on headed note paper, showing for the first time, the names of W.W.Sampson, and Henry Ramus, under the banner of ‘The British Galleries’, earliest date, 1909. On one of these dockets, a certain, ‘J.W. Godward’, was one of the artists named on the transaction, the very painter that Vern Swanson had written so extensively about, which resulted in me finding out about my Great Grandfathers business partner in the first place. Unfortunately the record didn’t mention the name of the Godward painting that the Rosenbachs had bought from William and Henry, but the transaction slips did detail a great deal of other prominent artists of the time, whose works they were sending across the Atlantic, among them, Sir Edward John Poynter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Mc Neil Whistler, Sir Edward Burne Jones, to name but a few, and most of them either Pre Raphaelite, or loosely associated with. Virtually all the artists named seem to be of the classic school.


A transaction copy showing for the first time, the names of W.W.Sampson, and Henry Ramus, under the banner of ‘The British Galleries’


There were two other names as witness to William’s marriage, Charles Stone, (he and his brother Isadore Stone were money lenders), and Luigi Naintre. It took a while to locate Stone, although there is a mention in the Rosenbach biography, talking of Dr Rosenbachs visit to London in 1921, page 144, which reads:-

‘He hobnobbed with old friends of Philip, (Rosenbach), Bill Sampson and the Stones, London Jews in the furniture business and on the fringe of the entertainment world’. (The biographers were mistaken regarding Sampson being a Jew).

Luigi Naintre, however, turned up in Sir Harry’s biography, he was an Italian with a flair for the restaurant and entertainment business, or as Harry tells it:-(written 1936)

‘Luigi had been at Ciro’s Club, and there started a new era in fashionable entertaining. Ciro’s was in fact the forerunner of the night-life places of to-day. It provided a place where ladies could dine and dance with their men folk without being considered Bohemian and daring. The Prince of Wales and his brothers; Lord Louis Mountbatten and the beautiful Miss Edwina Ashley, whom he married; society beauties like the Hon. Mrs. Milford Haven and Lady Zia Wernher; the Marquis and marchioness of Carisbrooke; Lady Patricia Ramsey, Lady Mary Cambridge (now the Duchess of Beaufort) all these dined and danced at Ciro’s, and made it; and also inaugurated a new pleasure life era in town.
Luigi went on to the Criterion, which Solly Joel had bought, and Ciro’s declined. A remarkable man, Luigi Naintre. He began his career in England as a butlers assistant in a private house in Hampstead at a wage of 6 shillings a week. Then he went as apprentice waiter, or “commis” as it is called in hotel parlance, to the Savoy. From there he went to Romano’s. It was the best place for him to acquire the knowledge of human nature which later was so useful to him at Ciro’s and the Embassy.
After two years at the Embassy he sold control to a syndicate for, I believe, £42,000, and remained as managing director at a large salary. He had also a separate wine and cigar business, very thriving, which he started with a £1,000 note given to him as a tip by a maharajah pleased with his lunch’.

This passage was worth putting in here, as I believe the clubs around Piccadilly played quite a part in this story, with most, if not all, of the characters involved being members of, Ciro’s, Embassy, Criterion, and the Eccentric. These clubs all get a mention in Sir Harry Preston’s biography

The Criterion restaurant today

The Other Godward Dealers

As a result of the new found information from the Rosenbach Museum and Library, (which I sent along to Mr Swanson, having spotted the name of Godward), he kindly sent me back his record of the paintings by Godward, which Sampson had bought or sold at Christies. There were 48 Godward paintings in total.  I also noticed the names of the other dealers coming up more than once, Nathan MitchellFrancis Michael Evans, Henry Joseph Mullen, and William Lawson Peacock. After a quick search, it turns out that Henry Jospeh Mullen, like William Walker Sampson,  grew up in Tynemouth, in the North East of England, no more than a couple of miles apart, they were also both employed as, ‘Stationers’, and ‘Commercial Clerks’, on their early census reports. They were even married at the same parish church of Jesmond, Newcastle, just one year apart, although Mullen is 9 years senior. Henry Joseph Mullen married Isabella Jane Carr on the 3rd June 1886, the daughter of Peter Carr, of 'Carr and Co, Law and General Stationers', at 17 Royal Arcade, Newcastle Upon Tyne. Possibly Henry and W.W.Sampson both worked for the same employer, Carr & Co?

By 1891, I find W.W.Sampson living in South Park road, Harrogate, listed as a, ‘Solicitor’, staying with John and Fanny Potts, son and daughter of John Potts, a ‘Coal Owner’, from Wallsend, (which is within a couple of miles of where Sampson and Mullen grew up), and by coincidence, he happens to be just a five minute walk from Francis Michael Evans, who has his, ‘Art Galleries’, at 68 Parliament Street. (I wondered at this point, whether the Potts might be financial backers for this potential Ring)

Henry Joseph Mullen and his wife, Isabella, have a child, Arnold, in August 1896 at Whitley Bay, Tynemouth, and Henry gives his occupation on the certificate as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’.

When I check further in time on Mullen, he has also set up inHarrogate by at least 1916, listed in the phone book as, ‘Fine Art Dealer, 44 Parliament Street’. After a further bit of delving, I find that Henry Ramus’ cousin, Jacob Alfred Ramus, has moved up to Harrogate now, first at 23 Park Drive in the 1911 census, (occupation- Fine Art Dealer), and then at James Street, which spurs off Parliament Street, listed in the 1916 phone book as, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, continuing from his fathers business, Isaac Ramus, which had operated out of 87 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, trading as, ‘Ramus brothers, Dealers in Works of Art’, just around the corner from Sampsons ‘British Galleries’ in Air street, and opposite the Royal Academy. When you consider the geographical differences of Tynemouth, Newcastle, Harrogate, and London, it stretches the imagination somewhat to consider these facts as one big coincidence, but that in itself is not concrete proof of some conspiracy, however, if as is more than plausible, Sampson were running an auction Ring, these characters must be prime suspects for membership.

                                                  Nathan Mitchell

As a potential member of William Walker Sampson's art 'Ring', Nathan Mitchell is a virtual nailed on cert, but perhaps the most significant fact could be that his family were Jews, coming from the same poverty stricken area of Whitechapel, and Aldgate, East London as all of Henry Ramus' extended family had, at the same time, from at least the 1840's, probably much earlier. They had also all moved to upmarket Hampstead by the 1900's. The Ashkenazi, Mitchell, and Sephardim, Ramus families were related by marriage with the Sephardim, Mendoza family, so that in itself should tell us quite a bit. Henry's uncle, Louis Ramus, (1856-1906), in 1877, married Hannah (Annie) Barnett, (1860-1903). Hannah was the daughter of Julia Elhazar Mendoza, (1821-1880), and Barnett Barnett, (1818-1888). Julia Elhazar Mendoza had a brother, Michael Elhazar Mendoza, (1809-1880), who with his wife, Ann, (1807-1883), had a son, Mordecai Mendoza, (1851-1923), who in 1871, married Dinah Mitchell, (1849-1933). Dinah was Nathan Mitchell's aunt. 


 Nathan Mitchell was born in 1862, to Moses and Rosetta (nee Moss), the family emigrated to Australia aboard the Mediator, in November 1864. While in New South Wales, Rose died while giving birth in 1866, and shortly after that, Moses got into financial difficulties. He was caught trying to abscond on board the 'Dover Castle', September 10, 1869, and charged with obtaining goods on false pretences. In May 1869, Nathan and his sister, Sarah, left for England on the Lincolnshire, from Melbourne to London. On their return, they were taken in by their uncle, Michael Mitchell and his wife Leah (nee Valentine), living at 30 Gravel Lane, Whitechapel. Michael's occupation was, 'Dealer in Oil Paintings'.

His family links to the art trade continue through his Aunt, Sarah Mitchell's marriage to Michael Nathan (1834-1908), whose father, Samuel Nathan (1803-69), was a picture dealer in the 1851 census at 73 Ellison street, Aldgate. Having married in 1854, Michael and Sarah were living with Samuel by the 1861 census, both, (Michael and Samuel), listed as 'Artists', and by the 1871 census they were living at 315 Mile End Road, Michael listed as a 'Picture Dealer',  Samuel had died two years earlier. Two of Michael and Sarah's boys, Benjamin(1854), and Asher(1857), were also listed as Picture Dealers in this census. Michaels brother, (Nathan Mitchell's Uncle by marriage), Joseph Nathan (1838), was also a picture dealer, going on to be 'Proprietor of Burlington Gallery' by the 1891 census.
By the 1881 census, Michael and Sarah had moved out of Aldgate, and were now living at 21 Bedford Square, about a mile North West of the Drury Lane Theatre Royal. Sarah's parents and nephew, Nathan Mitchell are living with them, and this is the first recording of Nathan as a 'Picture Dealer', aged 19. Michael and Sarah's son, Asher, 24, is also listed in this census as a Picture Dealer.
After marrying Eva Isaacs (1869), in 1887, Nathan was living at 15 Rochester Terrace, St Pancras, now a 'Fine Art Dealer'. On the electoral roles for London 1898, he is listed as occupier of 52 Copthall Avenue, and 18 Regents Park Road, so it would be fair to say Nathan was already making a success of his art dealing business. I have found no record for him on the 1901 census, but by 1911, he and Eva are now at 175 Sutherland Avenue, Maida Vale, a 3 minute walk from the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation Synagogue in Lauderdale road. Nathan is listed as a, 'Fine Art Dealer', in  this census.

Although Mitchell had bought Godward paintings, it wasn't until I sifted through the Art Price Current catalogues of Christies sales from 1907 - 1916, that I came to see a striking pattern. Mitchell, Sampson, Evans, and Mullen were nearly always bidding at the same time, with Sampson and Mitchell accounting for the majority of the sales. Other candidates for ring members are Cooling, Gooden & Fox, and Louis Woolf. I'm in the early stages of unravelling this potential revelation, but I'd stick my neck out to say Sampson, Mitchell, Mullen, and Evans are definitely in league together, as well as Jacob Alfred Ramus, and Albert Isaac Ramus, cousins of Henry Ramus, Sampsons business partner. I strongly suspect Sampson and Mitchell to be the main players, with Mullen, Evans and Jacob Alfred Ramus, based in Harrogate, a prime place to move on the auction room acquisitions, as the second tier in this cartel, and Albert Isaac Ramus, based down in Eastbourne, a seaside resort popular with well heeled elderly residents, equally useful for punting on works of art in High Street galleries.

 Nathan's Uncle, Michael Mitchell, was a Picture Dealer too, and his Grandfather, Hyam, had been a General Dealer, coming out of Whitechapel, Aldgate, Mile End, and St George in the East, the same areas that the Ramus family had come through, and at the same period of time, as well as the families following the same occupations. Given the geographic, occupational, and Jewish connections, I think it's fair to say the Ramus, and Mitchell families would at the very least have been aware of each other, and given the Christies sales records evidence, quite plausible to believe Nathan, Henry, and William, were major players in any potential Auction Ring.
While most of the auction ring descriptions describe a 'Ring Leader', doing most of the bidding, and dividing up the spoils later, I believe it highly possible that this happened pre-auction, and not post. With the auction catalogues giving all the lots in advance, surely it made more sense to decide who would bid for what prior to the sale, thus making it less likely for any collusion to be detected.


William Lawson Peacock is less obvious as a potential member, but he is not without a coincidence or two himself, turning up atParadise road, DundeeAngus in the 1901 census, the same town that Henry Joseph Mullen and his family were living during the 1861 census. Henry’s Uncle, Joseph Rowell Mullen living there from at least 1861-71, before removing to Chorlton Upon Medlock by the 1881 census, (occupation- Engraver), around the corner from Joseph Ramus, another Picture Dealer, and also Henry Ramus’ father.

Peacock was born, (1852), and raised in his early years, (1861 and 1871 census),at Melville street, and North Bridge, Edinburgh, strangely enough, not a million miles from William Sampsons mother in law, who lived in Edinburgh between the 1871 and 1881 census, latterly in the Canongate district, the same district in which William Lawson Peacocks sister, Helen Elizabeth Peacock is living at the time. W.L. Peacock has an art gallery at 130 Princes street, Edinburgh, (as well as being a partner of the French Galleries at 120 Pall Mall, London), throughout this period. He also travels regularly to Montreal, Canada, on business, as do a good few of the extensive Ramus family, but that’s most likely just another coincidence, mind you, who really knows?.


Francis Michael Evans

Francis was born on the 29th September 1854, son of Walter Swift Evans, an engraver at this time, and Sophia Spilsbury. Walter had been at various times, a ‘Church Furniture maker, Engraver, and Gilder, employing men and apprentices. Francis was one of eleven children to Walter and Sophia, many of whom inherited their fathers natural artistic talents, going on to be artists, engravers, art dealers, publishers, and photographers.


By the 1871 census, Francis was working as a Church Furniture Maker, the same as his father on this census, by the time of his first marriage, in Bath, Somerset, 1880 to Sarah Wadham, (herself an art student according to the 1871 census), Francis’ occupation on the marriage certificate was, ‘Fine Art Dealer’, his address given as, ’20 Trevor Square, Knightsbridge, Middlesex’.


{His brother, Ernest Francis Evans, and Sarah’s sister, Mary Ann Wadham, were witnesses on the certificate, and they went on to marry each other three years later, also in Bath, April 1883. On the 1901, and 1911, census reports, Ernest was a Fine Art Dealer, living around the corner from Henry Ramus during this ten year period, both just a five minute walk from Finchley station in West Hampstead, London. I think it would be quite fair to assume, that as Henry and Ernest were both Fine Art Dealers, added to the connection of J W Godward between Henry’s business partner, W.W. Sampson, and Ernests brother, Francis Michael, they would have most likely known each other well, and indeed may well have shared many train journeys into Piccadilly and the heart of the art dealing world at that time. It might also be fair to assume that Ernest would at the very least have been aware of any art ring which Sampson was running, and not unreasonable to speculate that he may have played a part in the business. On the 1891 census, Ernests occupation was, ‘Dealer in Wines and Spirits’, so, as with many other of the characters in this story, it appears as if he may have jumped on the bandwagon which was the world of fine art dealing.}


Francis’ new wife gave birth to their daughter, Frances Mary Evans, on the 11th March 1881, at 32 Sherbrooke road, Fulham, but it would seem her birth came at the cost of her mothers life, who died within the month of giving birth. By 1886 Francis has remarried, to Isabella Helen Wiseman, at St Mary Magdalens church, Brighton, his home address given as, 32 Parliament Street, Harrogate, while Isabella’s address is, 2 Russell Street, Brighton.


By the 1891 census, Francis Michael is now living at 68 Parliament street, Harrogate, occupation, Fine Art Dealer, and it is about this time that I believe he may have first come into contact with William Walker Sampson, who was staying with John and Fanny Potts at Bedford Lodge, South Park Road, Harrogate, no more than a ten minute walk away. As I have mentioned earlier in this article, John and Fanny were children of John Potts, Coal Owner, and his wife, Sarah Ann, from Wallsend, Northumberland, which is next door to Tynemouth, Sampsons place of birth.


Francis’ eldest brother, Bernard Walter Evans, was a highly prominent artist, he studied painting in Birmingham from the age of 7 years under the direction of Samuel Lines, William Wallis, and Edward Watson.


Bernard Walter Evans self portrait

Bernard married Mary Ann Eliza Hollyer at St Luke’s, Kentish Town in London on 2 August 1870. His wife was the daughter of Samuel and Mary Ann Eliza Hollyer; her father was an engraver, and her brother, Frederick Hollyer, was a pioneer in the field of photography. Bernard and Mary Ann lived in London, and Harrogate, as well as spending several winters during the late 1890′s on the French Riviera. From the time I began researching this story, this is the earliest link with any of the players, to Harrogate, here is a part of his obituary:-


‘For years he lived at Harrogate, his residence, which contained a splendid studio, being 20 Park Parade. Our readers will perhaps better identify the house when we say it was long known as “The Old Parsonage”, later as a club. Many winters Bernard Evans spent on the Riveria, where he obtained numerous subjects for his drawings.
He was for a long time a prominent member of the Savage Club, and many other artistic organisations. He spent much of his summer in sketching points of interest in various parts of the country, but he remained consistently faithful for many years to Yorkshire. He was a great colourist, and has often been likened to Turner in his strength and method. His pictures will be found in important galleries and municipal buildings all over the world. He had a sunny disposition and a strong sense of fellowship.
It is now some years since his wife, who inherited the artistic nature and talent, died, and if we mistake not, she was buried at Harlow Cemetery where Bernard Evans was interred on Thursday. When this artist left Harrogate the town lost a great feature of interest because his studio was always open to visitors, and he had interesting works besides his own.’


‘Bernard exhibited his art many times throughout the British Isles and abroad. His first works were shown in 1864 at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists. Examples of his work can be viewed in our Gallery of Works and his major exhibition pieces are listed in the Exhibits pages.’


‘In 1880, whilst still living in London Bernard Evans was the driving force behind the creation of the City of London Society of Artists and in 1881 he was elected a member of the Savage Club. He was also a member of the Society of Artists which met at Langham Chambers, where groups of artists produced “Langham Club” Sketches.’


Bernards wife, Mary Ann, also came from a family rich in artistic abilities, not least of which, her brother Frederick Hollyer, a pioneer in photography, specialising in reproducing the paintings and drawings of prominent artists of the time, notably, Edward Burne Jones, D G Rossetti, and G F Watts, among many others. Frederick also took portrait photographs at his Pembroke Square studio in Kensington, including artists, writers, and actresses of the day. While I doubt that Frederick, or his brother in law, Bernard Evans, had anything to do with Sampsons ‘Ring’, it’s hard to imagine they didn’t know each other, and I wonder whether, as the so called, ‘Champion of British Art at Auction’, as Sampson was referred to in his obituary, he may not have been one of Frederick Hollyers subjects for portraiture.



Harrogate is a spa town in North Yorkshire, England, the town is a tourist destination and its visitor attractions include its spa waters and RHS Harlow Carr gardens. The town became known as ‘The English Spa’ in the Georgian Era, after its waters were discovered in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries the ‘chalybeate’ waters (i.e. containing iron) were a popular health treatment, and the influx of rich, and often sickly visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of the town. One of the results of this situation, was an opportunity for ‘art dealers’, ‘fine art dealers’, or ‘dealers in items of virtu’, to exploit these well heeled tourists, setting up art gallery shops around Parliament street, and surrounding roads, and bringing up their auction acquisitions from the London auction houses, possibly especially chosen for this elite clientelle.


Here, courtesy of Vernon Grosvenor Swanson, are records of the provenance of two J.W.Godward paintings that involve Sampson, Peacock, and Evans together:-


On the Terrace

The Pet


oil on canvas, 20″ x 30″ (50.9 x 76.2 cm)

signed and dated lower, “J. W. Godward 1906″

Prov: Messrs. Francis Michael Evans, “Art Galleries” Harrogate, 24 May 1906; Sir Charles C. Wakefield, sold Christie’s London, 18 Jun 1909 (136) for £110 5s; bt. Messrs. Francis Michael Evans, “Art Galleries,” Harrogate, Yorkshire; Messrs. W. W. Sampson, The British Galleries, London, sold in Mar of 1911; bt. Messrs. W. L. Peacock, London, sold in Apr 1911; bt. Mr. Mungall-Creiff; The Leger Galleries, London, by May 1973; sold Phillips London, Jun 1996 (private treaty); sold to Frederick C. and Sherry Ross, Essex Fells New Jersey; sold Sotheby’s New York, 12 Feb 1997 (82) for $277,500; bt. Jerome and Susan Davis, to the present.

'A Quiet Pet', by J.W.Godward


by Jul 1905

oil on canvas, 27-3/4″ x 23-1/2″ (70.5 x 59.7 cm)

signed and dated

Prov: Messrs. Francis Michael Evans “Art Galleries”, Harrogate, 31 Jul 1905; Charles C. Wakefield, sold Christie’s London, 18 Jun 1909 (137) for £89 5s; bt. Messrs. W. W. Sampson, The British Galleries, London, sold 24 Jun 1909; bt. French Gallery, London, sold 1910; bt. Messrs. Bennett Brothers, Montreal Canada, sold 13 Mar 1911; bt. Messrs. William Lawson Peacock, London, sold Mar 1911; bt. Messrs. W. W. Sampson, London; present location unknown.
So, not only did these characters coincidentally choose the same vocation, locations, and train stations, but they also appear to share an appreciation for the same artist.

Some Vernon Grosvenor Swanson notes
from his, ‘Eclipse of Classicism:-


3. Christie’s London auction sold the first portion of the stock of W. W. Sampson owing to the death of Henry Ramus ( -1911), a partner in the Firm, occurred on Saturday November 18th and Monday November 20th, 1911. No Godward’s were among the group sold.

4. The Year’s Art 1910, p.29. The advertisement states that they have a specialty works “for reproduction.” The list of twenty-one artists mentions Godward and W. Anstey Dollond as their only classical artists. It concludes with “Special Terms to the Trade.” Who’s Who in Art 1927 p.203 notes that he began in the trade in 1887. It also notes that he was a member of three clubs in London; Embassy, Ciro’s and the Eccentric.

5. The Year’s Art 1930, pp.299-300. He was succeeded in business by his son Jack Sampson.

6. The Daily Telegraph (2 Nov 1929) He died on the 31st of October, according to David Mason and John Williams, drunk in his bath-tub. 

7. James Mason and John Williams explains that the, now illegal, “Ring” was controlled by W. W. Sampson.

The picture below is of W.W.Sampson (wearing the flat cap), Captain Jack Sampson, and Joan Elizabeth Ann Sampson. Father, son, and Grand daughter, photo courtesy of Gillian Harrison, William's Great Grand daughter.

William Walker Sampson, Jack Sampson, and Joan Elizabeth Ann Sampson, circa 1922


Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach


Researching the Rosenbach brothers, Philip, and Abraham, has given this article an important view into the auction rooms of the time, and the world that these auction room bidders occupied, as well as the people behind them, the money men that have the financial wherewithal, but not the time to spend it themselves.

With the books written by, and about, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, as well as the online archives of immigration and census reports, I soon built up a picture of events surrounding Abraham, (Abe to his friends), and his brother, Philip. The earliest trip across to England for Philip, that I have a record for, is in 1903, when he sailed to England with Clarence Bement, (a shareholder in the newly formed Rosenbach Company), to, “establish lines of Credit”. Abraham’s first trip was in April 1907, between them, they shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic numerous times over a thirty, odd, year period, attending major auction room sales. Abraham came for rare books, folios, and manuscripts, while Philip came to London for art, and the high life, (although in fairness his younger brother later came to out do Philip in the high living stakes).

When in London, Abe had bids in his pocket from the industrial might of America, the likes of Henry E Huntington, a railway magnate, J. P. Morgan, financier and banker, Henry C Folger, an oil business man, among many others. In those heady days of stock market fluctuation, coupled with the emergence of America as the new financial heavyweight of global affairs, rare books, or ‘Incunabula’, were not just an expensive hobby for these extremely rich men, these books also represented a safe haven for their money, apparently unaffected by the markets ebbs and flows, and Dr Rosenbach had an almost unparalleled knowledge of these old books. From 1907 to 1930, the Rosenbach’s sailed between Europe and America relentlessly, gradually transferring the balance of literary power to the newly forming American libraries, paid for by the new business elite. These same men of industry, were also building art collections, seemingly competing with each other in their bid to later achieve immortality by their beneficence to the New Worlds institutions as they sought to create some meaning for their existence.


It was on the Doctor's first trip across the Atlantic on the White Star Line's 'Oceanic' to England in 1907, holding a substantial commission from the Wideners, to secure a Shakespeare First Folio at Sotheby's sale of William C Antwerp's collection, that he introduced himself to Bernard Alfred Quaritch, the recognised king of book sellers at that time. In one of his literary offerings, 'Books and Bidders', the Doctor recalls how he managed to get Quaritch to do his bidding for him, pages 85/5:-

'I crossed on the Oceanic with Alfred Quaritch, who occupied a commanding position in the book world. I was but one of the small fry, out of college only a few years. Quaritch and I had been drawn to each other by the magnet of books. On the way over we talked of the sale, and I dwelt with especial emphasis on the fine first folio of Shakespeare in Van's collection. In a way I was sounding out Quaritch, for I knew instinctively that it would be useless to bid against this giant of the auction room if he wanted the folio himself. I grew very nervous as we sat in the smoking room one evening when we were five days out. I decided I had hemmed and hawed long enough. 

Finally I worked up the courage to ask him to execute a bid for me on the folio. He seemed surprised, and did not answer for some moments. Then he asked me, "How much do you intend to bid? I warn you, if it's too low I'll buy it myself." I answered weakly, "Five thousand pounds."  He opened his eyes wide. "That is a bid," he said, "and I'll get it for you."

Good as his word, Quaritch won the folio for Rosy, bidding up to £3,600 at the Sotheby's auction room. In Books and Bidders (p85), the Dr writes:-

"I recall, too, Harry Elkins Widener's pleasure when this folio finally passed into his possession. I think of all the books of his fine collection, he valued this one the most"

Art writer, A.C.R. Carter, was also there that day, he recalls in 'Let Me Tell You' (p156)

'in the Van Antwerp sale, 1907, Dr Rosenbach, making his debut at Sotheby's, persuaded Alfred Quaritch to bid on his behalf for the folio which had once belonged to that dear dilettante, Frederick Locker-Lampson. Winning it at £3600, Quaritch passed it to Rosenbach, who desiring to make himself known to me handed his card inscribed Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia.'

With this being Sampson's most prolific year yet at the auction room, and that two years hence, he was doing steady business with the Rosenbach's, I would think it quite possible that the pair would have made each others acquaintance at this time, especially given that Philip Rosenbach had made his first trip to set up lines of credit in 1903. With the Ramus, and Rosenbach, families both having Sephardim roots, (indeed their ancestors left the shores of Amsterdam within a couple of years of each other in the 1790's), it's quite possible the link had been made before A.S.W. Rosenbach arrived in England.

Cartoon of A.S.W.Rosenbach


In January 1922, the Doctor came to London for the Britwell Library sale, a collection of rare books the like of which seldom come to auction. Over the five days of the sale, bringing £80,259, the Doctor had paid £64,697 for his lots, £16,618 was for himself, the rest on behalf of his wealthy book hound customers in the U.S. To give some idea of the amounts being bid by todays values, using a price comparison calculator, the £64,697 that the Doctor bid, would be worth between £3,190,000, and £21,200,000 now.

Here is an excerpt from Edwin Wolf, and John Fleming’s biography of A.S.W. Rosenbach, which gives a little flavour of the time, (as well as giving a contemporary description of William Walker Sampson), pages 155/6/7:-

‘At the end of February, 1922, just before Dr. Rosenbach left for home, he gave a victory dinner at the Carlton. The small but distinguished company included E.V.Lucas, Arnold Bennett, Hugh Walpole, John Drinkwater, and William Sampson, the Doctors London crony.’

Further on it says:-

‘With one important sale following after another in London with such frequency, the Rosenbach brothers literally shuttled across the Atlantic. No sooner did Dr Rosenbach reach home than preparations had to be made for Philip’s trip over. It had been announced that the fine First Folios which had belonged to the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, in her day the richest heiress of England, were to be sold at Christies. While he was still in London, the Doctor had suggested to Folger that they might be bought by private treaty if he were willing to offer a high enough price for them. Dr. R got back his answer in three cables spaced a day apart: “£12000 FOR TWO FOLIOS SEEMS EXCESSIVE,” “IF NECESSARY PAY £12000 USE SECOND MESSAGE IF DESIRABLE,” and “WISH FOLIOS.” The heirs of the baroness-banker felt that the disappearance of the two principle items would hurt the sale and decided to take their chance under the hammer.

The sale included portraits and relics as well as books. Sensing that publicly shown Rosenbach interest in anything might raise prices, the Doctor advised Henry Folger, who was determined to get the folios in competition which he had failed to buy privately, that he would play an unusual, unobtrusive role. The portraits would not be bought under the Rosenbach name, but under that of friend Bill Sampson, a major buyer at Christie’s, which would eliminate his competition and keep Rosenbach’s name out of the limelight:’

Rosie at Sothebys

It is a telling comment in the Rosenbach biography, “friend Bill Sampson, a major buyer at Christie’s, which would eliminate his competition”, as strong an indication as I’ve seen so far to back up the theory that Sampson may indeed have been at the head of a dealers ring, otherwise by what method might he be able to eliminate opposition in the auction room?

E.V.Lucas, Arnold Bennett, Hugh Walpole, John Drinkwater, were all renowned writers of the time, and it can fairly be stated that they were all part of a familiar circle of friends, which along with Sampson, included many of the most eminent names in art, literature, sport, invention, and business.

Being a bibliomaniac may sound like a bit of a yawn, but nothing could be further from the truth in the Doc's case, interviewed by the Daily Express, he states,-
"the thrill of knocking a man down in the ring is nothing compared to the thrill of knocking a man down over a book. Book buying at auction sales is the greatest sport in the world. It beats hunting and is far more intoxicating than drink".  

A lesser advertised aspect of Doctor Rosenbach, were his nocturnal activities. In his biography, Wolf and Fleming mention his taste for whiskey, unabated during the prohibition years, and a penchant for ladies of the night, for which he was renowned by those that knew him best, often for that very reason did they seek him out. In May 1925, having returned from book buying in Europe, Rosy met up with the author, E.V.Lucas, who had been enjoying the Doctor's hospitality at the Rosenbach residence in Madison Avenue. E.V knew all about Rosy's parties, and was keen to get involved in some of that action in New York, Wolf and Fleming write in, 'Rosenbach', (page 231):-

'When Dr Rosenbach got back to New York, it was time for Lucas to sail, but the trip had been so phenomenally successful and Abe Rosenbach was in such high good humour that they agreed to have a party to celebrate. It was to be just the two of them- and girls. Arrangements were made; the Doctor had innumerable contacts who could supply the talent for such a night. 
The girls arrived and they all drank lustily. At the critical moment, the Doctor withdrew into his room, taking his lady of the evening along with him and leaving Lucas to do the same. This was the culmination of the party which Lucas had looked forward to. 
After a befitting period of dalliance and rest, the young lady arose, dressed, and with the customary politeness of her profession inquired if she had not given great pleasure. Upon being assured that she had, indeed, she asked Lucas for some "remembrance" of the occasion. With alacrity Lucas jumped out of bed, went to his suitcase, and, rummaging around, came up with a copy of his latest book, which he signed, "With love to--." "Pardon me, my dear", he asked, "what is your name?". The girl looked at him amazed, and then understanding what kind of a remembrance Lucas had in  mind stormed out of the room, barged into the Doctor's, and shouted, "What the hell's going on here Doc? I ask your friend to pay me, and he's going to give me a book".
Doctor Rosenbach, bibliophile though he was to the core, supplied a twenty dollar bill in lieu of a signed Lucas first edition. It was one of the marvels of the Doctors many faceted personality that he could thoroughly enjoy such an evening, and the next day behave as though he and Lucas had not just partaken in an orgy like a pair of sex starved collegians.'
Edward Verral Lucas, being very much part of the crowd, gained mentions in Harry Preston's, A.C.R.Carter's, and Rosenbach's biographies, as had Arnold Bennett, another leading author of the time. Strange to relate that on the first page that Bennett is mentioned in the Rosenbach bio, there is another description of the Doctors fast living, courtesy of a comment by a friend following Rosy's first book being published, ('Rosenbach', page 105):-
'In 1917 copies of 'The Unpublishable Memoirs' were sent far and wide with the author's compliments. Satisfying letters of thanks came back to reward him. John Haney recalled that Abe had read him a number of the sketches at his home some while back. A close, unnamed crony wondered when his hard-living friend had found time to write, "between 1320 Walnut street and those dinners with Frank Kind and those poker games and receptions Sunday, and then nights up at Brogans with the, 'ladies'."  "I have my suspicion", he concluded, "it must be while you were getting the massage and between 9.30 A.M. and when you got to the store at 12 noon".

When Dr. Rosenbach sailed for home aboard the Majestic from Southampton on the 23rd May 1928, (with the prized original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland, just won at auction, in his possession), William Walker Sampson, and his wife, Simeta, were both aboard too. It is on this ships passenger lists that we get a description of William, 5’7″ tall, with fair complexion, dark hair, and blue eyes.  W.W names Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, 1320 Chestnut street, Philadelphia, as the friend he would be staying with, the Book King, and the Lord of the Ring.


'The world of art dealing has few names writ so large as that of 'Duveen', and while they played no part as far as I can gather, in the art ring which Sampson is supposed to have led, there is a story which helps explain the concept of the 'knockout', and another showing how the dealers were in fact perceived by at least one of the most significant collectors, Henry Huntington.
In 'The Rise of the House of Duveen', by James Henry Duveen, (1873-1964-nephew of Lord Duveen as he became), a lot of it comes across like some Roman intrigue, with metaphorical knives in the back all over the place, while at the same time, J.H gives a great account of fine art dealing from many different angles. His cousin, Joe, (1869-1939), who went on to be Lord Duveen of Millbank, does not come out of it too well. 
There are two mentions of the 'knockout' in the book, and as these are the only first hand actual accounts I have come across so far, I thought it worth repeating the most relevant one of them here in his own words, circa 1895, page 99:-
'at an auction at 'Four Crosses' near Welshpool. There were some beautiful things there; amongst them the most exquisite Chippendale drawing-room table I have seen. It was oblong and measured about three feet six inches by two feet six inches. The shape was serpentine, and the carving was of the highest quality. The slender cabriole legs were most graceful and the cross which united and strengthened these legs was crowned in the centre by a lovely small flower-basket filled with roses, with everything carved in the finest San Domingo mahogany. A charming gallery of carved fretwork surrounded the top, but one side of this fretwork had been almost entirely destroyed by ivy.'
He explains how his errant cousin, Charley Duveen, also happened to be there;
'There were many second-rate dealers present, mostly Londoners. One of these came up to us and asked whether we would join the knock-out. I refused, but my cousin took me aside to explain that he was no more in the firm, but that he was doing business on his own - mostly with the dealers. He did not want to quarrel with them, and asked me to join. I agreed, and a number of lots were bough under this arrangement; but I was chiefly interested in the small Chippendale table. I had already told my cousin I was going to get that table, but he was not greatly interested. The bidding for it began at ten shillings by a member of the 'K.O'. I bid against him as I wanted to make sure of having it in my own name. The other dealers were annoyed with me at this, but I persisted. In the end it was knocked down to me at £35. Shortly after four the auction was ended, and we adjourned to the local inn. There the auction began again, and with a leading London furniture dealer acting as auctioneer. When the table was put up again I became the final owner at £75.'
My main reason to get this book was because of the links between Duveen and Rosenbach, via their rich as Croesus clients, and a hope that it might lead me back to the London art world which W.W. Sampson operated in, but when I read the knock-out description, I knew it had to go in here. In the Rosenbach biography, it mentions how Joe Duveen and Abraham Rosenbach had been called in to see the railway magnate, Henry Huntington, at his bedside in hospital, both keenly aware that their shared Golden Goose of a customer might possibly peg it should something go wrong. 
Huntington knows only too well where the power really lays, and puts a conundrum to the two dealers, "who do I remind you of, laying here?", to which they are both caught twitching like naughty schoolboys up before the headmaster,  mumbling nervously, "I don't know", while wondering what game he is playing. Eventually, this industrial giant of the new world explains to them, that he reminds himself of the situation Christ found himself to be in, hanging on the cross, between the two thieves. This brought a weak smile from each of them, but also let them know he was well aware of all their machinations, and their mark ups. 
The basic principle of art dealing seems to simply be, get it as cheap as possible, and then try to squeeze the absolute maximum return, or more accurately, whatever they can convince their rich clients to cough up. A good knowledge of their subject is the weapon they use to make these magnates part with their readies, and a cunning ploy whereby they always tell the customer they will buy back the item at a later date at the same rate. Knowing that your client is actually trying to build a legacy gives these dealers the advantage, they want the best, and have the money to buy it, whatever the cost. It's all going to end up in a museum or library with their names attached, so their names live on as historical benefactors of great institutions.

Harry Preston's first car

Sir Harry Preston

While for this article, it may be stretching things a bit to include Sir Harry, I believe there are enough links to convince the reader he has a place in the story. When Harry first came to Brighton around 1900, he was running a hotel in Bournemouth while at the same time trying to reverse the fortunes of the Royal York Hotel on Brighton seafront. Prior to Bournemouth, he had worked as a shipping clerk in London, before turning his hand to run pubs in Holborn, Hackney, and Lambeth.


I first came across the name of Harry Preston as he was one of the witnesses at W.W. Sampsons wedding to Simeta Sampson in 1924, so I began investigating his life too, and was fortunate to find he had written two autobiographical books, both of which mention William Walker Sampson. It is only after having read his biography, as well as having traced his life through ancestry records, that the links make him part of the story. He also mentions a Loving Cup, and a commemorative silver salver, which were presented to him by close friends, Sampsons name being inscribed on both, handily, there is a picture of the salver in his, ‘Leaves from My Unwritten Diary’, which has many eminent names of the day, not least of which, a certain ‘Edward’, Prince of Wales. You can see,  ’W.W.Sampson’,  just below the date, 1927, and, ‘Edward’, just above the word, ‘presented’.

The Silver Salver presented to Harry Preston, "by a few friends", a couple of whom were, W.W.Sampson, and Edward, Prince of Wales


Harry was known firstly as an Hotelier, a huge sports fan, especially boxing, also as an art patron, as well as a major organiser of charitable events to raise money for Brighton hospitals.  Mainly though, as Sampson is the focus of this article, their friendship, and shared friends, make the inclusion of Harry Preston an important factor in explaining the time they lived in.

Harry Preston in the papers after the dinner where he received the silver salver


Born John Henry Preston, on the 19th February 1860, the son of John Lovesey Preston, a solicitors general clerk, according to his fathers wishes, young Harry started his working life as a teacher, but soon decided this was not the life for him, and he made his way to the docks of London, finding employment as a shipping clerk. From there he went on to become a publican, on occasion having to use his beloved art of pugilism to handle certain punters, and even organising illicit bouts under cover of night along the banks of the Thames, eventually crossing over to the hotel business, setting up in Bournemouth, and later, around 1900, in Brighton, with the Royal York, then the Royal Albion, hotels.


Part of his game plan for Brighton, was to restore the publics faith in the town, which, to this end, included convincing the local council to cover Madeira Drive, next to the Palace Pier, in the latest road surfacing of the time, ‘Tarmac’, in order to hold the first speed trials there in 1905. Among the many drivers that gathered that July for this ground breaking event, was Dorothy Levitt, a former secretary at the engineering company, Napier and sons, in Vine street, Lambeth. She was convinced by Selwyn Edge to race for Napier Cars, which Edge owned, and soon made her name in the motor racing world, setting the Ladies World Land speed record at Brighton in 1905.


Dorothy Levitt, driving for Napier Motors at Madeira Drive, Brighton, in 1905

Napier and sons was owned by Montague Stanley Napier, an engineering pioneer who would go on to design not just motor cars, but aeroplane engines too. Napier also happens to be found on the provenance of two J.W. Godward paintings, Dolce Far Niente(1908), and Pharoahs Favourite (1920). Given that Harry Preston was the driving force behind the speed trials held at Brighton, I think it highly unlikely that he wouldn’t know Montague S Napier, indeed, having read Harry’s biography, I would expect him to have actively sought him out, such was his interest in all things to do with this new world of mechanical engineering. The Napier company also designed and built motor boats, another passion of Sir Harry Preston. In fact, given all the ties that the various characters in this article have to Brighton, I can well imagine a large majority of them being at Madeira Drive on the 19th to 22nd July 1905 for what was a world event at the time, Francis Michael Evans daughter, Frances Mary, was married in the town only a week earlier.

Next up we have Sir Charles Cheers Wakefield, another pioneer, this time in the world of lubricating oils for the ever advancing machines and engines that were being invented for use on land, water, and air. He coined the product name of ‘Castrol’, based on the fact the early engine oils had a large proportion of castor oil in them. Sir Charles is on the provenance for two of Godwards paintings, ‘In the Land of Dreams’, (18 June 1909), and ‘A Quiet Pet’, (18 June 1909). I think it’s fair to assume that plenty of the cars racing at the 1905 speed trials at Madeira Drive would have been using Sir Charles revolutionary oil lubricants, and just as likely that he would have been there to see it, quite possibly enjoying Harry Prestons hospitality at the Royal York Hotel too. He went on to develop oils for the evolving air industry too, so Wakefield and Napier would doubtless have been working on several projects together as a matter of necessity.


Sir Merton Russell Cotes, very much an art patron in his time, is on the provenance of at least three Godward paintings, two of which he sold at auction on the 11th March 1905, ‘A Priestess’, and ‘Dolce Far Niente’, while, ‘Portrait of Miss Ethel Warwick’, he bought on the 1st June 1917. He also happened to be an hotelier in Bournemouth, running the Bath Hotel, renaming it as the, ‘Royal Bath Hotel’, during the same period that a certain Harry Preston was also running a hotel in that town, and had been chairman of the Bournemouth Hotels Association.

Harry Preston and Edward Prince of Wales at the Albert Hall, March 30th 1927, watching the boxing

While I accept that Sir Harry Prestons link to any art ring is tenuous at best, I believe it’s fair to say he would have known a great deal of the players in such a ring, although, having read his biography, there don’t seem to be many people of note he didn’t have an acquaintance with. Certainly he was a close friend of William Walker Sampson, and he talks of attending auctions in his book, and was a member of the same clubs around Piccadilly that Sampson was. 

William Walker Sampson in the grounds of his Putney Hill residence
This is the back of the photograph of William Walker Sampson

Before William died on the 31st October 1929, it would seem his business must already have been suffering, as he only left ten pounds in his will, although he may have had properties. Given the time though, just two days after the, ‘Black Tuesday’, stock market crash of Wall Street, as well as the movement in the art world away from the classic style,  to Modernism, it’s possible to see that for someone that had spent the majority of his art dealing career collecting the work of classic style artists, this two pronged attack would have been difficult to take. His death certificate states that he died of a heart attack, although the symptoms of this attack can apparently often be the result of heavy drinking.  Although A.C.R. Carter's book suggests this would be unlikely, as Carter writes of W.W:-

"Stories of his boundless hospitality are still remembered. At the beginning of the Great War, however, he made another vow- not to touch alcohol until peace was declared. He not only adhered to this adamantine resolution, but kept it right up to his death in 1929. When peace was declared he invited over one hundred friends to dine with him. It was a feast worthy of Lucullus. Everybody expected the host to join them in a glass of wine. He sat resolutely throughout, supported only by a little ginger ale. He explained that one of the thrills of life was to sit through a dinner where the wine was unstinted, and to watch the effects on the various members of the company. He said the, during the war, he had seen so many funny sights, as ther only truly sober member of a convivial company, that he intended to continue this particular form of pleasure for the rest of his life.'

Returning to A.C.R. Carter's chapter on Sampson, he concludes:-

'The sad part of the story is that this resolute man and bold speculator in the art market could not quench the temptation to gamble on the race-course. In the end therefore, it fell about that his losses on the Turf outweighed his gains in art dealing. It is doubtful indeed whether he could have composed his affairs, and his sudden death at Brighton on October 31, 1929, at the age of sixty-five, caused many of his old admirers to reflect that he was felix opportunitate mortis. As one affectionate cynic put it: "perhaps Bill Sampson had reached the point when we had not ceased to love him, but could no longer quite look up to him"

In the end, it was changing fashions as much as anything else which brought the curtain down on the whole, 'Imperial Brits in Togas' style of subject painting, by which time Tadema, Godward, and the rest of the classicists, had, as Carter writes, fallen 'under a cloud of cubism'(p39).

Talking of Edwin Long, he explains:-

'Indeed Nemesis came to Long's art when his studio remainders were sold in 1908 after the death of his widow. Just before Long died in 1891 he had completed his maximum opus, 'The Parable of the Sower', on a canvas 17 feet long and nearly 9 feet high, showing Christ preaching on the shores of Galilee.'

'Long had refused 5000 guineas for it, and so the picture remained on his widows hands. Mark the sequel. After a contest lasting exactly thirty-five seconds the late W.W.Sampson, then known as the champion of British art, won it at 125 guineas.'

This was just one early example of prices plummeting, so many others would follow as a tidal wave of modernism was sweeping away the old guard.

Jack Sampson

Born John Sampson, 29th September 1890, in Newcastle, Jack, as William and Elizabeth called him, had both a privileged, and heart breaking life. By the time he was ten years old, William, in business with Henry Ramus, as 'The British Galleries', was establishing himself in the art dealing capital of the world. By the time Jack was 20, he was a Fine Art Dealer himself, probably working for William and Henry from 13 Air Street. 

A few years after the death of Henry Ramus in July 1911, William renamed the company, W.W.Sampson and Son, and as his obituary states, 'the occasion was celebrated by a splendid banquet, to which nearly every London picture dealer was invited'. Jack married Dorothy Bourjeaurd in June 1915, and they had a daughter, Joan, the following year. It's difficult to imagine what Jack's relationship would have been with William's mistress, Simeta, but when his mother, Elizabeth, died in 1924, and William married Simeta the following month, I expect his focus would have been sharpened somewhat. Fast forward to 1929, and William's death, leaving Jack to clear up the mess of debts left behind, and then the death of his wife in 1930, and a fourteen year old daughter to raise alone now. In the 1931&32 London phone books, Jack is listed as an Art Dealer at 30A Bury street, S.W.1, but....

In a letter, (facsimile supplied by the Rosenbach Museum and Library), from Simeta Sampson to Philip Rosenbach, dated May 4, 1932, clearly William's death, and financial problems, are still having repurcussions, it reads:-

22 Warwick Sq

'My Dear Phil,
a thousand thanks for your great generosity. I am looking for a place where I can save some of my home and as soon as I find it I will give Charlie my address, if you come over he will be able to tell you.

You know of course Bury street is finished but, Jack and his daughter are provided for by his Great Aunt Mary (Wills Aunt). I know how you are making a great sacrifice in helping me. I cannot tell you how much it is appreciated.

Give my love to all, Nettie, Abe, Carrie
All my kindest thoughts,


So the pot wasn't empty when William died, it appears to have been filled with I.O.U's, leaving his wife, Simeta, to beg the Rosenbachs for financial support, and his son, Jack, to move in with his Great Aunt Mary, (Mary Ann Walker), having finally lost everything.

 Nettie, Abe, and Carrie, were, Nettie Raines, Philip's young girlfriend, 38 years his junior, Abe Rosenbach, and his long time partner, Carrie Price.

The correspondence between Simeta and the Rosenbachs continued until 1946, through pretty harrowing times, not least of which being the second world war. I may start another page for these letters, as they tell quite a story. This letter was written on headed note paper, giving the address she shared with William, 25 Putney Hill, London.S.W.15, the address crossed out now.

A copy of the letter from Simeta Sampson to Philip Rosenbach, written May 4th 1932

The second part of the letter

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