Robert 'Mouseman' Furniture bought as a wedding present in 1955 comes up for auction
14th Feb 2024 by Hugo Lemon
For a select group of Robert Thompson furniture collectors, there can never be enough mice in the house.
Robert Thompson handcrafted English oak furniture, each piece signed since the 1920s with a tiny carved church mouse, has its style rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement. Its combination of beauty and functionality ensure its enduring appeal.
A unique, family collection of 1950s Robert 'Mousie' Thompson furniture comes to auction at Bourne End Auction House on 6 March 2014. Comprising a full set of dining furniture: 6 ft table, 6 chairs, 2 carvers, sideboard, corner cupboard and octagonal coffee table, with the original bill of sale dated 1955, these were produced towards the end of Robert Thompson's life and are, therefore, especially sought after and collectible pieces.
Other pieces from the family collection, purchased in the 1970s and early 80s, with receipts included, form part of the sale. These include a lattice back rocking chair, a pair of matching bookshelves, a nest of tables and an octagonal cheeseboard.
This collection has heartwarming provenance. The dining furniture was chosen as a wedding gift by Derbyshire Mill Manager, Tom Smith and his wife Hilda, for their daughter Patricia and her fiancé, John McMullan. Living in Glossop, Tom Smith, an amateur woodcarver himself, knew Thompson's celebrated craftsmanship from local churches and homes and he loved the drive through Peak District countryside to Robert Thompson's home and workshop in Kilburn, Yorkshire.
Two black and white photographs show Tom Smith enjoying Robert Thompson's company - they stand side by side in the sunshine and Tom looks on attentively as Robert Thompson points out an architectural detail of his half-timbered home.
These two photographs are included in the sale.
Commissioned and no doubt entered into the Mouseman's 'Black Book' of orders, a letter from a delighted Patricia to her by then husband, John, confirms the furniture's delivery on 19 October 1955. She
"The furniture arrived yesterday afternoon & is absolutely gorgeous. Mousie's grandson brought it, along with a foreman & they said that I had there the antiques of the future & a good investment.
Judging by the solidity & the workmanship, I think they are right.
I keep peeping in to stand & admire."
Pat and John went on to add to their collection over the years and it remained with them as they moved first to London and then to three different homes in Amersham, Bucks. Generations of family and friends, their children and grandchildren as well, remember being encouraged to "count the mice". Children excelled at this since it was best achieved by crawling through the chair legs and reaching up high to glimpse the more shy mice on the corner of the cheeseboard or recessed into a bookshelf.
Amersham, Bucks Once they moved into a half-timbered, double-fronted property in Whielden Street with traditional red tiled floors, Pat and John's furniture found a natural home. The dining room had been a general store in previous times and had retained the old painted wood display cupboards and shelves; a bow window let in light and housed a shop window display area. This is where their grandchildren remember the 'mouse furniture'.
With a new baby born into Pat and John's family this Christmas Day, the fifth generation will inherit this special story. The family hopes others will now enjoy making Mousie a part of their own lives and stories.