For fuller information about buying from auction houses see here.

Pitt-Rivers bought from many auction houses throughout his collecting career. The auction houses he is known to have acquired objects from include:

Founding collection:


Davitt (or Darritt) and Co.

Last of Shrewsbury

Second collection:

Frank K. Blanchard


Debenham Storr & Johnson Dymond



However, the two principal auction houses he dealt with were Sotheby's and Christie's, both based in London and still famous today.

Bowden quotes Harold St George Gray, one of Pitt-Rivers's assistants, account of buying in London saler-rooms:

[Gray recalled that he had] with my old chief had much experience in buying in the London sale-rooms and elsewhere. By arrangement, on some occasions, the General, myself, and a friendly dealer were apparently bidding against each other and opposing, at times, Sir [Augustus] Wollaston Franks and Sir Hercules Read, who were buying for the British Museum, and Canon Greenwell: these, I can assure you, were exciting times. (Grey papers) [Bowden, 1991: 144]

He did not always buy directly but sometimes commissioned other dealers, staff or acquaintances to buy on his behalf. A letter from the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum Pitt-Rivers papers makes it clear that one of his agents at auctions was William Talbot Ready, a 'conservator' and member of British Museum staff, who was the source of many objects in the second collection:

55 Rathbone Place / London W / Dec'r 11th 1885

Dear Sir
I sent you enclosed by this post the only lot I was able to get for you from Dr Neligan's sale
Lot 91 bought £18.0.0
Lot 92 bought 14.0.0
Lot 93 bought 8.0.0
(the one sent) Lot 94 bought 8.0.0
Lot 95 bought 9.9.0
Lot 96 bought 9.0.0
Lot 97 bought 5.10.0
I carried up most of the lots above your commission but someone had unlimited commission. They [insert] (the gold ones) [end insert] were remarkable as being very light (for weight). Lot 92 was the best of the two first lots but was not quite so long. Lot 93 was in some points the most remarkable. it was very thin and [insert] to me [end insert] undoubtedly funereal - that is, specially manufactured for funereal purposes. Lot 94 the one I have got for you is by far the most curious of all - the shape & form are quite unique. I feel uncertain as to its use. It might be either an armilla-torque or head-ornament.
About the so-called Douglas thing, the fudge was so very apparent to me that as you had not seen it & left the matter to my discretion I would not carry it beyond £3. the outside value.There was no proof in the vessel of its history and to call it a reliquary was I think christening it with a vengeance. It was probably a scent case. The “description attached” was from Dr Neligan’s pen & historically inventive.
Trusting to have the favour of an acknowledgement & your approval I am Sir

Yours obediently
W. Ready [L179 Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum Pitt-Rivers papers]

This is Add.9455vol2_p181 /9.

AP, May 2011.

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