As ever, and being brutally realistic about it, such a closure can however be an opportunity for the auction trade. Local saleroom Mallams – itself an Oxford veteran with a history stretching way back to 1788 – will be offering items from ‘Duckers’.
And as such a prestigious and long-standing firm, one of the very few traditional hand-sewn shoemakers outside the West End of London, Ducker & Son attracted many notable customers over the decades, such as JRR Tolkien and Evelyn Waugh.
Mallams’ February 8 auction has a fascinating lot detailing many of those illustrious names: the well-known customer ledgers which visitors will remember displayed on the shelves at the back of the store.
The traditional surroundings of ‘Duckers’ were almost unchanged since the Edwardian era and these 12 x 9in (30.5 x 23cm) leather-bound volumes cover the years 1910-58, a time when it was still possible to tell a gentleman ‘by his shoes’.
The ledgers are numbered 4 to 14 (the first three volumes have long been missing). Copperplate writing details the names, addresses and indeed sartorial style of thousands of those customers, both ‘town and gown’.
They range from little-known Oxford academics and wealthy undergraduates with a taste in bespoke footwear to local luminaries such as Tolkien, Waugh and publisher Sir Basil Blackwell – who insisted his shoes were always rubber-soled.
An entry from 1913 records Tolkien’s purchase of black football boots for 14s 6d and a pair of porpoise laces for 10d.
Other notables include the Red Baron aka German First World War flying ace Manfred von Richtofen, European aristocratic family figures and several maharajahs.
More recent patrons feature names such as Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent, comedian Rowan Atkinson, former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson and Formula One boss Eddie Jordan.
Mallams’ Benjamin Lloyd, a senior director who has worked as an auctioneer in Oxford since 1970, described the archive as “a unique social history of the city and its environs from the early to the mid 20th century”. He expects local institutional interest in the ledgers, which are estimated at £4000-6000.
Ducker & Son owners Bob and Isobel Avery closed the store when they were unable to find someone to take over the business. Local paper the Oxford Mail reported on December 23 that the premises – owned by Lincoln College – were set to become a wine shop.
If you are an Evelyn Waugh fan, don’t forget that on March 30, at The Westbury Hotel in central London, Forum Auctions is offering his plated copper English-made telescopic ear trumpet, estimated at £1000-1500. It was owned by a now deceased collector and was consigned with a collection of other Waugh (1903-1966) first editions and letters.