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Liberty opened to the public on May 15th 1875, when the founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, purchased the lease on a half-shop in Regent Street to which he gave the grand name 'East India House'. Earlier, when he was manager of Farmer and Rogers Oriental Warehouse, he told his artist friends that if only he had a shop of his own he would change the whole look of fashion in dress and decoration. This he was to achieve, for as the architect Richard Norman Shaw wrote to him: "Yes, you have put your mark on our time... You found things, most of them beastly, and you leave them glorious in colour and full of interest."



But along with their innovatory and trend-setting stock, from the beginning Liberty also imported a wide range of antiques. As early as 1877-78 the South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then known) purchased antique embroideries and rugs from Liberty. A Liberty catalogue of Eastern Art Manufactures, dating from 1880, includes antique Chinese and Japanese bronzes, enamels, jade and ceramics, and embroideries and rugs from the Near and Far East. A slightly later catalogue of Eastern Antiquities included Japanese sword guards and some European arms and armour. In addition, Arthur also organised special exhibitions of antique embroideries from all over the world, one of ancient lace, and another of antique prayer rugs from Eastern palaces.


The new 'Tudor' building of 1927 prompted a change in the focus of antiques, featuring examples of Stuart, Jacobean and earlier oak furniture with some Georgian pieces. In recent decades it was the pioneering products of Liberty, that appealed to the artistic tastes of the day, that have become the antiques. The Arts & Crafts furniture, in solid oak, or mahogany inlaid with coloured woods and mother-of-pearl; the Cymric silver and Tudric pewter designed by Archibald Knox and others; the jewellery and buckles of Knox and Jessie M King; the Clutha glass and Cordofan candlesticks designed by Christopher Dresser; and the ceramics of William Moorcroft and CH Brannam that are eagerly sought by collectors and museums at home and abroad.

Barbara Morris Author of Liberty Design 1874-1914.




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