Sotheby’s New York and Christie's King Street both withdrew furniture lots provenanced to dealers John and Carlton Hobbs from sale last week – casualties of the unfolding "fake" furniture scandal first exposed by The Sunday Times.
The eleventh-hour withdrawals follow two articles alleging that
London dealer John Hobbs had sold as genuine antiques, furniture
that was largely the creation of his restorer Dennis Buggins. The
dealer - who has denied any wrongdoing or ever having knowingly
sold a fake - recently resigned from the British Antique Dealers'
Association who had suspended his membership pending an
Lot 106 in Sotheby's New York sale of June 3 titled
Important French Furniture & Decorations, European Ceramics
and Carpets was catalogued as "a fine pair of German
neoclassical ormolu-mounted mahogany commodes c.1800". They had
represented something of a puzzle to Sotheby's specialists. A
catalogue footnote speculated that the commodes, estimated at
$200,000-300,000, might have been made in Berlin for the Russian
market by a cabinetmaker trained in one of the great London
However, in a claim made to The Sunday Times dated June
1, Mr Buggins, who has turned 'whistleblower' following a bitter
financial dispute with his former employer, said he had made them
between 1993 and 1994 for John Hobbs from old wardrobes and cedar
from a timber merchant. He provided a detailed worksheet to support
his claims. ATG had received an anonymous tip-off last month also
suggesting the commodes were Hobbs-Buggins creations.
When contacted by The Sunday Times, Sotheby's chose to
withdraw the lot from the sale. Alistair Clarke, the worldwide head
of English and Continental furniture at Sotheby's, told them: "They
are convincingly made and with an intention to deceive. They
incorporate elements that appeared to be period. I am now sceptical
about them and they have been withdrawn pending further
investigation." It is a view that ATG have since confirmed with
What evidently began as a financial dispute between a dealer and
his restorer now threatens to undermine confidence in the antiques
trade as a whole.
The fallout from the Buggins-Hobbs allegations was the subject
of a 2600-word article in The New York Times co-authored
by the writer of The Sunday Times piece, dated May 22, in
which a number of prominent interior decorators - all clients of Mr
Hobbs - voiced their concerns about the allegations.
In the article Mr Buggins, who says he was unaware that his
workshop creations were being offered for sale as genuine, claimed
that since 1992 his firm handled in the region of 1875 items for
John Hobbs' shop in Dove Walk off Pimlico Road. He says he is
considering setting up a website to make available surviving
records of every substantially altered or fabricated item that
passed through his workshop over the past 20 years. These records
do not just include work completed for Mr Hobbs.
The New York Times also published evidence confirming a
longstanding business relationship between Mr Buggins and Carlton
Hobbs, the New York dealer and estranged brother and former
business partner of John Hobbs.
Making reference to "concerns recently expressed in the London
antiques community about reproductions and replicas of historical
pieces alleged to have been misrepresented as authentic period
artefacts", Carlton Hobbs announced in a press release dated May 7
that the company will offer an independent and accredited expert
assessment, at no cost to their clients, of any item purchased from
the firm in the last 15 years. Should any item be found to have an
issue of authenticity or degree of restoration, it will become
eligible for Carlton Hobbs's longstanding policy for a full
The dealership say analysis of approximately 2100 objects sold
over the past 15 years suggests only one per cent merit further
review and the purchasers are being notified directly.
They also announced that henceforth each piece of Carlton Hobbs
furniture will be sold together with its provenance and "a
comprehensive narrative of any work performed on the specific
However, despite these assurances, five lots of furniture
acquired from the dealership in the 1990s, scheduled to sell in
Christie's King Street sale of Four British Collections including
Important Furniture on June 5, were pulled from sale. They included
a kingwood, simulated kingwood and parcel gilt centre table in the
manner of Marsh and Tatham after Henry Holland (estimate
£20,000-30,000) and an amboyna, mahogany and satinwood sofa table
in the manner of George Smith.
Christie's declined to comment on the withdrawals.
By Roland Arkell
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.