The recently launched project, conducted by an academic team led by Dr Mark Westgarth of Leeds University, is keen for contributions from existing members of the trade as well as anyone who has memories, documents or images that could shed light on individual dealers, companies or other relevant activity for the period.
One of the objectives is to highlight the impact of the trade on Britain's economy.
The project, which is the first of its kind, will take place over 30 months and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It already has the support of leading figures in the trade, such as Martin Levy of Blairman & Sons and Georgina Gough of the family firm of Ronald A Lee Fine Arts, who is also Clerk to the Company of Arts Scholars.
"We envisage the project to be the start of a new research area into the history of the antique trade more generally," said Dr Westgarth who, a former dealer himself, has already produced a number of books on the history of the antique and curiosity trade in the 19th century.
The project team also includes Dr Eleanor Quince of Southampton University and Elizabeth Jamieson, a Research Fellow at Leeds University.
"It is hoped that by directing attention to the often displaced and marginalised history of the commercial trade in antiques, the project will radically reposition the significance of the trade in the history of collecting, further highlighting the relationships between the history of the commercial antiques trade and the development of decorative art history and public museum collections."
The project team plan to carry out detailed case studies of prominent dealerships operating at the top of the trade as well as mapping the development of the trade more generally - with mass data collection of the names/trading dates and the changing locations of dealers in Britain. This will result in a large database of dealers, with mini biographies, which will be publicly accessible via an interactive project website.
The team will also map the trajectories of the objects that passed through the hands of major dealers, tracking their relationships to significant collectors and museums.
One of the most ambitious aims is to assemble an oral history archive (to be lodged at the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds) of interviews with existing, retired and semi-retired prominent members of the British trade.
Towards the end of the project the team will host an academic conference on the subject of the 20th century antique trade at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, while a series of public workshops and talks at museum venues will highlight the history of museum objects and their relationships to the antiques trade.
ATG have already offered support to the project and will bring readers updates as it progresses.