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John Sparks, sea captain and dealer in Japanese and Chinese art

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Liz Hancock


The various businesses in London and New York which were run by the Sparks family and sold Japanese and Chinese art are described, focussing on the career of the founder John Sparks (1854-1914). The earliest business, called the Japanese Fine Art Depot, at Duke Street, Manchester Square, operated from 1890 until 1901, when the name was changed to the Oriental Art Gallery. In 1906 it was renamed John Sparks Ltd. The firm opened an additional gallery in New York, called John Sparks of London, from c.1915-1919. In 1927 the London shop moved to 128 Mount Street in Mayfair. After Peter Sparks’ death in 1970, the firm was run by Michael Gillingham and was finally wound up in 1992.1

The company John Sparks Ltd is best known as one of the longest established and most respected London dealers in Chinese art. From 1906 until its closure in 1992, Sparks advised buyers and supplied ceramics, bronzes, jades and paintings to a wide clientele, including H.M. Queen Mary2, a keen collector, W.H. Lever, the first Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925) 3, and Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). 4 It was in the unusual position of importing goods directly from China through a representative, based in Shanghai, and a network of dealers and agents in China, Paris and London. 5 Regular exhibitions were held in the premises in Duke Street and later Mount Street, St. James’s, and loans were made to major Royal Academy and British Association of Dealers and Auctioneers shows, as well as promotional selling exhibitions outside London.

The subject of this paper is John Sparks (1854-1914), the founder of the business (see Fig.1). Key sources have been business and family papers which survive in the company archive. 6 These include sale ledgers from 1901, cash books, stock books, company minutes, press cuttings and photograph albums.

Family background

John Sparks’ father, also called John (c.1821–c.1889), was born in the City of London and brought up in Clapton. He trained as an assistant to T.K.K. Marson, chemist, of 19 Southampton Row, Bloomsbury. By 1851 he was living in Bombay, employed as a chemist, and in October of that year he married Jane Dyke (1826-1907), also a resident of Bombay. 7 Their first child, Mary, was born two years later. The family returned to Europe via Paris in 1854, where John was born on 28 April, at 43 rue de L’Oratoire du Roule. 8 They moved to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire9 and by 1858 had settled at 12 Westbourne Terrace in Islington, north London. In the 1861 census, John Sparks and his wife were listed with a household of six children, two nurses, a cook and a housemaid. 10 Sparks was described as an East India Agent and may have worked in the shipping trade in the City or in one of the offices in the docks.

John was sent to Bath House Academy in Margate, run by Mr and the Misses Stanley. His neatly-written letters record the school’s travel arrangements for pupils returning home for holidays, when ‘Mr and Miss Stanley will accompany the young gentlemen to town by train’. 11 A group of pencil and pen and ink sketches drawn when he was between the ages of 12 and 18 show a general interest in sport; they include boys playing cricket, bowling, rowing, fishing and skating, and are inscribed ‘Done by John Sparks for his Mamma August 3rd 1866’.

Merchant Service

His school days in Margate and access through his father’s profession to the world of busy shipping lanes and the excitement of tea clippers and steamships may have inspired him to seek adventure in far away places. He joined the foreign trade sector of the merchant service, probably at the age of 16, qualifying as Second Mate in London in 1875. 12

Although his early experience was on sailing ships, from 1881 to 1887 he was on steamships of the Monarch Line. The Monarch Line was founded in 1870, with ships on the Mediterranean and Far Eastern routes. 13 The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 had halved the length of journeys to the East by steamship to between six and eight weeks and brought about the eventual replacement of the fast square-rigged sailing ships by steamships. In 1880 the company introduced regular London to New York sailings, with five new Monarch steamships built between 1880 and 1882. Sparks served as Chief Officer on the Lydian Monarch and Assyrian Monarch, being promoted to Master of the Assyrian Monarch for the last two voyages in 1886. 14

On 5 November 1884 he married Mary Waldock (b.1858) of St Ives, Huntingdon, daughter of William P. Waldock, ironfounder, in the Parish Church of All Saints, Saint Ives. The marriage certificate cites John Sparks’ address as the Parish of Poplar, Middlesex. Poplar lies north of the Thames and includes the East and West India docks, Millwall docks, and the Isle of Dogs. It seems from the graphic description of the loading of the famous elephant, Jumbo, onto the Assyrian Monarch in 1882, that the Monarch line loaded their cargo for New York bound ships at Millwall Dock. 15 As Sparks was working for the Monarch Line at the time, his address may have been given as care of the company offices. Alternatively, during his periods of leave, he may have lodged in one of the merchant seamen’s homes, for instance the Poplar Sailors’ Home or the Trinity Chapel Sailors’ Home, East India Road, both near the docks at Millwall.

The widespread depression of prices and profits in the shipping industry in the mid 1880s led to the liquidation of the Monarch Line in 1886 and the sale of its ships to the Allan and Wilson Lines the following year. 16 John Sparks left the company with a letter of recommendation, stating: ‘we have always found him sober, energetic and trustworthy’. 17 He seems to have secured employment with another line, working as a merchant mariner until 1890, by which time he was thirty six years old. 18

Details of his voyages have not been found. The family tradition, upheld by his son Peter, was that ‘John Sparks was an old sea captain who had spent nearly all his life in the East, and who knew the China Seas well’. 19 The lack of any evidence of his voyages in Lloyd’s Captains’ Registers may be because details were not sent to Lloyd’s by the Monarch Line or subsequent employers. 20

Settling in Stamford Hill

John and Mary Sparks’ first child, John Bertram21, was born in St Ives, Huntingdon, in 1886. By 1890 the family had moved into north London, to 19 West Bank, Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, where two more sons, William Henry (born 1890) and Ernest (born 1894, known as Peter from c.1919) were born. 22 Mary Sparks ran a Ladies’ School in the house and at 20 West Bank. 23

Land in this part of Hackney, on the slope west of Stamford Hill high road, became valuable for building development from 1876 with the construction of tramways and the Great Eastern Railway’s Enfield branch line. West Bank, a long terraced street built by W.J. and F. Collins in 1884, runs parallel to the railway line and is close to Stamford Hill station. 24 New shops on the adjoining Dunsmure Road and also on the high street were part of the building development, encouraging middle class settlement of the area.

A dealer in Japanese Arts

In 1890 John Sparks embarked on a new career as a dealer in Japanese Arts, at 15 Duke Street, Manchester Square. 25 It seems that he took over an existing business and premises from George Elliott. Elliott, previously trading as Elliott & Nobbs, had operated as a dealer in fine art and Japanese art at this address in the late 1880s. 26

This part of Duke Street, that continues north from Oxford Street across Wigmore Street and on into Manchester Square, was occupied by small tradesmen in the 1880s and 1890s. 27 The area was a modest hub for fine art picture dealers, importers and auctioneers. 28Although several of the late eighteenth century terraced houses north of Wigmore Street have survived, the building of Selfridge’s Oxford Street store on the west side of Duke Street (1909, completed 1928) and reconstruction after the second world war, have resulted in the loss of most of the original buildings in the block between Wigmore Street and Oxford Street. Surviving examples are brick-built, four-storey, three-bay terraced houses (see Fig.2). Number 15, where Sparks started in business, was either the corner site on Wigmore Street and Duke Street , or the next one along on Duke Street. 29 Sparks shared the building with Mme C. Pearman, a dressmaker.

Describing himself as a professional Japanese merchant, Sparks’ business was listed as a Japanese Fine Art Depot by 1899, and had moved to 17 Duke Street (see Fig. 3). 30

By 1901 the business and the family were occupying the entire house. 31 Early entries in the sale ledgers, which date from 1901, and in cash books and stock books, indicate an established network of clients and dealers, and the expansion of the business into both modern and antique Japanese and Chinese works of art. This shift of emphasis and ambition is reflected in a new name, Oriental Art Gallery, and the placing of an advertisement in The Connoisseur referring to contacts in Tientsin (Tianjin), Yokohama and Kobe (Fig. 4).

Although his career in the merchant navy may have provided opportunities to establish contacts with dealers of ‘China Goods’, it seems more probable that Sparks developed his business directly with one or more China and Japan merchants and importers of goods in London, with warehouses in and around Camomile Street. 32 It is possible that he may have been acting as an agent or partner in one of their businesses, before setting out on his own.

A series of connections with Glasgow City Museums suggest Sparks was promoting his business outside London through contacts with public institutions and private collectors. There was already a keen enthusiasm in Glasgow for Chinese and Japanese art, indicated by Alexander Reid’s exhibition of works by Hokusai in 1889, and J.B. Bennett’s exhibition of ceramics in 1890. 33 Sparks’ contact with Glasgow City Museums began with the sale in 1896 of four silver koros, two gourd Ninsei bottles and two ‘Kingoyan’ pots. 34 Then, in 1905, as Captain John Sparks, he lent fifteen ivory and cloisonné enamel objects to the exhibition of Japanese Industrial and Pictorial Art, held at the Green Branch Museum (People’s Palace). 35 This large exhibition celebrated increasing British-Japanese political and cultural relations and can be seen within the context of well-established trade and industrial links between Glasgow and Japan, particularly with regard to shipbuilding and naval architecture. 36 In the catalogue introduction, Arthur Kay, one of the major lenders, emphasised the timely significance of the exhibition, held in the same year as the 2nd Anglo-Japanese Alliance of August 1905. While most of the 1,141 exhibits came from Glasgow Corporation’s Art Galleries and Museums, the Board of Education, Victoria and Albert Museum lent four cases of pottery, lacquer work, ivories, bronzes and embroideries. The London art dealer, S. Gorer & Son of 170 New Bond Street, lent sixteen bronzes. Edgar Gorer, the proprietor, was at this time promoting himself as a leading specialist in Chinese and Japanese art, and may have seen this loan as part of his marketing strategy. 37 Local private collectors lent items, namely J. MacNaught Campbell, William Campbell, Rocke Cotterell, R.C. Crawford, the family of the late James Donald, Mrs Gray, William Heggie, Arthur Kay, J.A. Kirk, W. Faulds Martin, Samuel Warnock, Mrs Wylie, the composer and avid collector of Chinese and Japanese art, Granville Bantock (of Birmingham) 38 and the dealer George Edward & Sons of Buchanan Street, Glasgow.

Further loans by Sparks in 1906 were followed by the purchase from the newly-named company, John Sparks Ltd (Chinese and Japanese Works of Art), of fifty-nine Chinese objects, including those originally on loan to the Museum, in 1907. 39 These were jade ornaments and Kangxi period (1662-1722) blue and white and famille verte porcelains, typical of late nineteenth and early twentieth century fashionable taste in Europe and North America (Figs 5-8).

John Sparks Ltd

In 1906 the firm was established as a limited company, holding the first Board meeting on 18 July that year; the minutes record John Sparks as Managing Director and Frederick James Abbott as Secretary. Debentures in the company totalling five thousand pounds were pledged by a group of associates, including Sidney Ernest Kennedy, a collector of Chinese porcelain, Solomon Mark Franck and Julius Spier, Franck’s business manager. 40 S.M. Franck was a well-established and influential wholesale ‘Oriental’ importer, supplying both museums and dealers, whose warehouse in Camomile Street was close to the East India Docks. 41

The financial pledges in the limited company indicate confidence in the growing business and suggest that the participants were already well acquainted with Sparks through the trade. Recent research shows the close relationship between wholesale importers, particularly Franck, and the dealers operating in the prestigious Bond Street area, including Gorer, Sparks, Partridge and Bluett. 42

Some transfer of debentures to John Sparks took place in 1909, indicating that the business was thriving. Liquidation of the company and disposal of its property in 1910 43 preceded the establishment of a new business, with John Sparks’ youngest son Ernest (later known as Peter) joining the firm at the age of sixteen. 44 By May 1911 both the family and the business had moved along the street to Nos.37a (gallery) and 37b Duke Street, a corner position nearer Oxford Street. 45 Duke Street was a busy thoroughfare, made more so by the opening of Selfridges Department Store on Oxford Street on 15 March 1909.

A Marylebone guardian

John Sparks was actively involved in civil parish activities within the borough, serving as a member of the St Marylebone Board of Guardians, which ran the St Marylebone Workhouse, chairman of the Southall Poor-Law Schools Committee, a representative of the Portman Ward on Marylebone Borough Council, chairman of the Rating & Valuation Committee and member of the Electric Supply Committee. In 1909 he was appointed a magistrate for the City of London. He was a Master of the Temple Lodge of Freemasons, supported the Church of St Thomas’, Orchard Street, and was a member of the Royal Botanic Society. 46

In civilian life he was normally referred to as Captain Sparks. He maintained an association with the navy through his service as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. Reserves were recruited from among merchant seamen and fishermen and could be called upon for service in the Royal Navy in times of emergency.

Rifle shooting was a particular interest and Sparks was closely associated with the formation of the Marylebone Rifle Club, founded in 1905, one of the many civilian clubs established after the Boer War under the Lord Roberts scheme. The original purpose of the clubs was to encourage rifle practice and train civilians in order to be ready in the event of a national emergency. Initially the Marylebone club used ranges at the local swimming baths and Grammar School but in 1907 new accommodation was found next to the goods yard of the Great Central Railway at St Marylebone, due to the support of Sir Samuel Scott, the Club President and MP for St Marylebone. 47 The new range and headquarters was opened by the Duke of Fife. 48 Through the club and his son William, a pupil at Mercers’ School, Sparks became involved with Bisley schools’ shooting competitions.

John Sparks suffered from a heart condition, and resigned from public life in 1913. 49 He died on 22 April 1914 at St Leonards in Sussex and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

John Sparks of London in New York

Peter Sparks (1894-1970) took over the running of the firm after his father’s death. Just as the London dealers Edgar Gorer and Frank Partridge50 had each successfully developed a client base in New York, Peter Sparks sailed from Liverpool on the Saint Paul in October 1915, arriving in New York on 24 October, intent on expanding the business. 51 He leased a gallery space in a prestigious area for art dealers, at 707 Fifth Avenue at 55th Street and held exhibitions there until 1923. 52 The gallery, known as ‘John Sparks of London’ was on the second-floor above the Ehrich Galleries, which sold old master paintings. Other firms occupying adjacent buildings were the D.G. Kelekian Gallery, specialising in antiquities, and Jacques Seligmann Galleries, exhibiting tapestries, furniture and paintings (see Figs. 9 and 10).

By the end of the First World War business in London was again thriving. The firm’s Minute Book for 14 February 1918 names the trustees as Mrs Mary Sparks, Ernest Sparks (Peter) and William Sparks. 53 F.J. Abbott, Secretary of the firm, became the principal representative in China, staying for at least six months every year from the early 1920s, and sending goods back to London. The Shanghai shop address at 103 Chiao Tung Road, in the International Settlement, was included in advertisements in loan exhibition catalogues. 54 Shanghai was said to offer ‘the richest stocks of curios to be found in the country.’ 55 A Sales Book for 1926-1954, thought to be linked to the Shanghai shop, lists numerous suppliers of stock, including F.C. Chang, Lee Van Ching, E.T. Chow, William Collins, Zie Soey Koo, Jackson Lao, and Tonying & Co.,(NewYork) 56 (Fig.15).

Mount Street, Mayfair: ‘a paradise of pink terracotta’57

In 1927 the firm moved to larger, more prestigious premises at 128 Mount Street, referred to as ‘that great drawing room of a shop’58 (see Figs 11-13). The following year Sparks took part in the Exhibition of Art Treasures at the Grafton Galleries, the first of the major exhibitions organised by the British Antique Dealers’ Association. In 1932 a second one was held at Messrs Christie, Manson & Woods premises at 8 King Street. The success of these two exhibitions led to the establishment of the annual Antique Dealers’ Fair, held at Grosvenor House.

In June 1930 a show at Annan’s Gallery in Glasgow included stock sold on behalf of a network of dealers and agents. 59 An image in Sparks’ photo album shows the range of goods on offer and methods of display (Fig. 15). The Sales Book includes agents whose goods were sold, including Captain Collins, Pao Wah & Co., Tonying (New York), Woo, and Zie Soey Koo (Fig.16).

A joint enterprise with the dealer C.T. Loo of Paris was an exhibition in 1936, for which a gouache, now in the Burrell Collection (35_628), featured in an advertisement in Connoisseur. 60 During the Second World War exhibitions continued to be held outside London, including one at Temple Newsam, Leeds, in 1940 and another in Harrogate in August 1941. 61

John Sparks and Sir William Burrell, 1910-1954

John Sparks, Frank Partridge and Bluett62 were the principal advisors and agents for Chinese art for William Burrell. He bought regularly from Sparks from 1910 to 1954, recording his purchases in exercise books, referred to as his Purchase Books. 63 The earliest details of Burrell’s purchases are a Ming 15th century dish (38_490, bought by Sparks from the Tonying Company in 1913), 64 a bull’s head cup (38_512, no source listed) and a pair of Kangxi famille verte plates (38_949-950, no source listed), bought in April 1918. Sparks’ Day Book and Stock Book itemise transit of goods and occasionally name agents in China, for instance Zie Soey Koo, the source of a Song iron figure (20_49) 65 in 1926 and a bronze wine vessel from the Zhou dynasty (8_20) in 1929. 66 The firm bought half-shares in some items, for instance a Han bronze pole finial (8_81) from Woo in 1935. 67 This is probably T.T. Woo, Sparks’ agent in China in the 1930s. 68 Objects listed by Sparks in the 1930s as unspecified ‘China purchases’ include a famille verte saucer dish bought in 1926 (38_936), a Ching-Pai (“bluish-white”) incense burner (38_219) in 1935-1936 and a Zhou dynasty bronze dish (8_46), brought from the Far East to London on the S.S. Hector of the Blue Funnel Line in 1938.

Interestingly, Burrell bought five objects from Sparks which were said to have been excavated in China in the mid 1940s. These were from Changsha (jade girdle pendant 22_53, bought from Peter Thompson, and bronze silk iron 8_165, the latter sold by Sydney L. Moss), Honan (model of a well 38-52, no source listed), Ling Pao Hahein, near Shensi, Shaanxi Province (model of a granary 38_98), and the Longmen Grottoes (relief sculpture 38_115, bought from Leigh Ashton).

Recent research shows a close relationship with numerous other dealers and agents, including Franck, Partridge, Gorer and Tonying. The firm was buying from and selling to other dealers, for instance H.R.N. Norton, Bluett , Fransella , T.W. Kennion, Sydney L. Moss, W. Weinburger and Rosenfeld.

Burrell’s purchase records show how Sparks was buying at major sales of collectors from 1905, starting with the famous Louis Huth sale at Christie’s. In the late 1920s and 1930s Burrell acquired pieces with notable provenances, including Alfred Chester Beatty (1929), Henry Hirsch (Christie’s 1931), Oppenheim (Christie’s 1933) and Stephen Winkworth (Sotheby’s 1933, 1938 and 1947). The firm was particularly active at notable Sotheby’s sales during and immediately after the War, acquiring objects on commission for Burrell from the collections of George Eumorfopoulos (1940), N.S. Brown (1944), Lionel Edwards (1945), Mrs Joshua (1945), Lindley Scott (1945), Harry Manfield (1945), Seligman (1945), Henry Brown (1947) and Radcliffe (1947). 69

Further analysis of museum, dealer and auction house archives will enhance our understanding of the complex networks that stimulated and supported the Chinese art market in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The exploration of relationships between agents, dealers and collectors is a particularly fruitful area for research.


1. Philippa Fraser & Frederic Grunfeld, ‘London Art Dealers: The Top Twenty’, Connoisseur, May 1984 p.101.

2. The company was awarded the Royal Warrant of Antiquary of Chinese Art to Queen Mary in 1926.

3. See Lady Lever Art Gallery online catalogue and Yupin Chung, ‘Dealers and Collectors’ essay: (accessed 17.10.2011)

4. For details see entries and essays by Nick Pearce, ‘Sir William Burrell’ and ‘From Collector to Connoisseur: Sir William Burrell and Chinese Art, 1911-57’, on the Chinese Art Research into Provenance (CARP) site: (accessed 17.10.2011)

5. S.W. Bushell in 1907 referred to Sparks sourcing objects in Peking, see ‘Chinese Figure of Kuan Yin painted with coloured enamels of the K’ang Hsi period’, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 56 (Nov 1907), p.101; also Nick Pearce, ‘A Group of Chinese Stoneware Buddhist Sculptures Reunited’, Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, Vol. 58, 1993-94, pp.37-50.

6. The John Sparks Archive was acquired by the Percival David Foundation and is housed in the Library’s Special Collections, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; hereafter cited as John Sparks Archive.

7. Marriage Certificate of John and Jane Sparks, 28 October 1851 at St Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay: John Sparks Archive

8. Birth Certificate, John Sparks, stating his father’s profession as a merchant, which may suggest a position within a trading company, possibly a Bombay-based or London-based East India Company: John Sparks Archive.

9. Baptism Certificate, John Sparks, 23 August 1854: John Sparks Archive.

10. 1861 Census. The 1871 Census shows that the family had moved around the corner into 37 Arundel Square, Islington. Three more children had been born and Jane’s widowed mother, 85 and blind, and her sister were living with them. The only son included on the census record is William, aged 2, suggesting the other 3 boys had either left home, in the case of John Jnr, aged 16, or were away at school (Arthur 13, Henry 10). John Sparks Snr had changed his profession to publisher and bookseller, which he was to continue after the family’s move to 16 Upperton Gardens, Eastbourne by 1881. By 1887 they had moved along the street to Arundel House, 31 Upperton Gardens, where both parents died.

11. Letter, John Sparks to his parents, 9 December 1862: John Sparks Archive.

12. National Archive: BT 122 Register of Certificates of Competency, Masters & Mates, Foreign Trade (1845-1906), Certificate No. 99553: Second Mate 19 April 1875; IM [First Mate] 22 November 1881; OC [Chief Officer] 7 May 1884.

13. Letterhead, ‘Monarch’ Line of Steamers, John Patton, Jnr & Co., Fenchurch Avenue, London: John Sparks Archive.

14. Letter of recommendation, Monarch Line of Steamers, 15 January 1887. S/S Lydian Monarch, built 1881 at Dumbarton by A. McMillan & Son, and S/S Assyrian Monarch, built 1880 at Hull by Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Source:, accessed 14.09.2011; two drawings by John Sparks of the Assyrian Monarch, dated 1883 and 1884: John Sparks Archive.

15. Illustrated London News, 1 April 1882: Jumbo, an African elephant, left the Zoological Society of London’s Regent’s Park Gardens, bound for New York.

16., accessed 14.09.2011.

17. Letter of recommendation, Monarch Line of Steamers, 15 January 1887: John Sparks Archive.

18. Birth certificate, William Henry Sparks, born 11 January 1890, gives his father’s profession as master mariner: John Sparks Archive. Notes on Lloyd’s Captains’ Registers (National Archive) state that the term master mariner was sometimes used loosely and not everyone who was called a master mariner held a master’s certificate.

19. ‘Personalities of the World of Art and Antiques: Mr Peter Sparks’, Antique Collector, Vol. VI, No. 12, January 1936, p.368.

20. In notes on Lloyd’s Captains’ Registers (National Archive), several other reasons are given to explain the absence of any record of voyages for a mariner in the Registers. In Sparks’ case, it suggests either that he did not go to sea as a Captain or Mate, or he served on a foreign-owned ship..

21. Finsbury Technical College, Old Students’ Magazine, n.d., after 1912. J.B. Sparks went on to study Electrical Engineering at Finsbury Technical College, 1902-04, and became a member of Dr H.F. Parshall’s staff. He worked in Baghdad, investigating a proposed electric light, tramway and power installation project, and in Norway and Sweden, reporting on the manufacture of artificial fertilisers by the electrical fixation of atmospheric nitrogen, and the electric smelting on iron ores. In 1912 Parshall was chairman of the Central London Railway and J.B. Sparks was working on railway electrification – see The Times, 3 July 1912, p.23.

22. Birth Certificate, William Henry, 11 January 1890: John Sparks Archive.

23. London Post Office Trades Directory: Northern Suburbs Commercial, 1892, p.459

24. T.F.T. Baker (ed.), A History of the County of Middlesex, Victoria County History, Volume 10, 1995, pp.38-44.

25. London Post Office Street Directory, 1890, p.302, Commercial Directory, p.1343

26. London Post Office Street Directory, 1889, p.299; Street Directory, 1888, p.299.

27. The 1896 Post Office street directory records a butcher, tea dealer, fruiterer, dairyman, fishmonger, blind maker, surgical instrument maker, saddler, watchmaker, boot and shoe maker, carver and gilder, Italian warehouseman, two hairdressers and two dressmakers. North of Wigmore Street, leading into Manchester Square, trades and professions were of a higher social standing, including court dressmakers and physicians.

28. Information from Patricia de-Montfort, University of Glasgow, Exhibition Culture in London 1878-1908,, accessed 14.09.2011.

29. The site of Sparks’ shop is now occupied by a large Portland stone 8-storey corner office block, on the east side of the street, with shops at ground level. The numbering of the street has been reversed, with No.15 (now Elle, entered from Wigmore Street), and Nos. 17-19 (now Tiles & Baths direct) occupying the site of five or six of the original houses. The corner block dwarves the next four houses in the row, Nos. 21-29, which have retained the original proportions, in particular No. 27.

30. Ernest Spark’s birth certificate, 28 July 1894, Stamford Hill, District of Hackney, London; printed letterhead dated 31 July 1899: John Sparks Archive.

31. 1901 census entry, Public Record Office, Reference: RG 13/108, listing John Sparks as the head of the household, with his wife, three sons, invalid mother-in-law Mary Waldock, her nurse, and two female servants. James Fitzgerald, retired Indian Civil Servant, and his household, shared no. 19 with Frederick Askew and his son, both naturalists. On the other side, at no.15, were the two Blandy sisters, living on their means with two servants.

32. London Post Office Street Directory, 1896, p.247

33. Frances Fowle, ‘Alexander Reid in Context: Collecting & Dealing in Scotland in the 19th and early 20th Centuries’, unpublished PhD, University of Edinburgh, 1993, p.112

34. Information from Pat Allan, Glasgow Museums. Accession numbers 1896.40.a-h.

35. Corporation of Glasgow, Art Galleries and Museums, Catalogue of Exhibition of Japanese Industrial and Pictorial Art, Glasgow: Robert Anderson, 1905.

36. Glasgow University Library, Special Collections e159, collection of Japanese prints donated by Professor Percy Archibald Hillhouse in 1935; Glasgow University Archives,, accessed 14.09.2011.

37. See Nick Pearce, ‘Gorer v Lever: Edgar Gorer and William Hesketh Lever’ at

38. Myrrha Bantock, Granville Bantock - a Personal Portrait, JM Dent & Sons, London 1972.

39. Information from Pat Allan and Yupin Chung, Glasgow Museums. Accession numbers 1896.40.a-h, 1907.119.a-as.

40. Minute Book 1906-19, 10 August 1906, Board Meeting, applications for debentures in the company were reported from S.E. Kennedy, 22 Austin Friars, E.C. (£1,000), Julius Spier, 25 Camomile Street, E.C. (£1,000), Michael Tomkinson (£1,000), Richard Pfungst (£800), Henry Joseph Pfungst (£500), Mrs Amy Foster (£400), Miss Louisa Elliott (£100) and S.M. Franck, 25 Camomile Street, E.C. (£200): John Sparks Archive.

41. For a discussion of S.M. Franck’s significance, see Nick Pearce, ‘CARP-ON: Further Thoughts on Chinese Art Provenance Research’, in Collectors, Collections and Collecting the Arts of China: Histories and Challenges, ed. Jason Steuber and Guolong Lai, (University of Florida Press/Harn Museum of Art, forthcoming, 2011).

42. See entries and essays on the Chinese Art Research into Provenance (CARP) site: and Chinese Collection Catalogue site:

43. The London Gazette, 7 June 1910, p.35

44. ‘Personalities of the World of Art and Antiques: Mr Peter Sparks’, Antique Collector, Vol. VI, No. 12, January 1936, p.368. For evidence of Ernest’s change of name to Peter, see Minute Book 1906-19, 3 December 1918 and 14 January 1919: John Sparks Archive.

45. Letter, Howard Oviatt of 165 Victoria Street, London SW, 15 May 1911 to Capt John Sparks concerning the purchase of shares relating to the manufacture of iron and steel: John Sparks Archive; 37 Duke Street is now a 5-storey commercial block, on the corner opposite the Henry Holland pub.

46. For details about his civilian life, see: Daily Telegraph, 28 December 1909; The West London Gazette, April 25 1914, p.5, obituaries: ‘Death of Captain Sparks’; The Marylebone Record & West London News, May 9 1914, No. 1, p.1 & p.5., and May 16 1914, p.5, ‘Captain Sparks and his Guardians’.

47. Marylebone Rifle & Pistol Club, accessed 14.09.2011.

48. Sparks, as Chairman of the Club, was presented with an illuminated certificate, dated 9 April 1908, commemorating his contribution to the club: John Sparks Archive.

49. By 1913 he and his wife had moved to 27 Mowbray Road, Brondesbury, London N6.

50. See Yupin Chung, ‘Frank Partridge and William Hesketh Lever’ at

51. Ellis Island Passenger Arrivals, accessed 14.09.2011. He is recorded as Ernest Sparks. A second record, also under the name Ernest Sparks, shows him sailing on the Aquitania from Southampton, arriving on 9 October 1920.

52. Burlington Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 239 (February 1923), front matter, advertisement.

53. ‘Owing to the continued prosperity of the business’, Peter’s commission was increased to make his income for the year ended 31 December 1917 total £500. It was agreed that Mrs Mary Sparks would take an active part in management, at a salary of £750 per annum. The three female members of staff Mrs Blagdon, Miss Martell and Miss Elliott, received increases to their salaries as from 1 January 1919, in addition to bonuses. Business continued to increase and in March 1919 William Sparks was invited to join the business in an active role: Minute Book 1906-1919: John Sparks Archive.

54. Advertisement in exhibition catalogue, Berlin, 1919

55. Carl Crow, Handbook for China, Hong Kong, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1984, p.153.

56. This gives monthly sums paid or due to agents. Other names listed include King Koo Chai, Joey Koo, Kuran, Tonosuke, Pao Wah & Co., T.T. Woo, and H.S. Yie: John Sparks Archive. For Tonying see Nick Pearce, ‘Ton-Ying & Co.’ on

57. Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 6, Westminster, New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2003, p.540

58. Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1992, Art Sales.

59. Glasgow Herald, 2 June 1930, p.13, advertisement in the Entertainments, etc., Fine Arts section for ‘John Sparks of London, Chinese Works of Art at Annan’s Gallery, 518 Sauchiehall Street’. The advertisement featured in each daily edition up to 14 June 1930, the last day.

60. Connoisseur, January 1936, No. Cdxiii, as ‘The Morning Toilet’, exhibition 7-25 January 1936.

61. ‘Chinese Art at Harrogate’, Burlington Magazine, Vol 79, No.461 (August 1941), pp.61 & 65.

62. See Dominic Jellinek, ‘Bluett’, on

63. See Nick Pearce, ‘From Collector to Connoisseur’. Burrell’s Purchase Books, kept from 1911 to 1957, are held in the Burrell Collection Archive, Glasgow Museums.

64. John Sparks Stock Book November 1913, stock no.5363: John Sparks Archive.

65. John Sparks Ltd., Day Book 1925 p.463, 30 March 1925, stock*: John Sparks Archive.

66. John Sparks Ltd., Stock Book 1929 p.79, September 1929, stock no.1777: John Sparks Archive.

67. John Sparks Ltd., Stock Book 1935 p.228, February 1935, stock no.5036/W3502. John Sparks Archive.

68. See Nick Pearce, ‘From Collector to Connoisseur’.

69. See their entries on

List of Figures

Fig. 1. John Sparks Portrait

Fig. 2. 27 Duke Street

Fig. 3. Letterhead for John Sparks’ Japanese Fine Art Depot

Fig. 4. Advertisement for the Oriental Art Gallery

Fig. 5. Jade Hairpin, early 19th century

Fig. 6. Brush pot

Fig. 7. Figure holding a fly whisk

Fig. 8. Bowl, painted in underglaze blue

Fig. 9. ‘John Sparks of London’ premises

Fig. 10. John Sparks London showroom

Fig. 11. The Mount Street premises

Fig. 12. John Sparks Sign board

Fig. 13. Queen Mary with Peter Sparks, at John Sparks

Fig. 14. Promotional flyer for Christmas gifts at John Sparks

Fig. 15. John Sparks ‘Chinese Works of Art’, Exhibition at Annan’s Gallery, Glasgow

Fig. 16. Sparks’ Sales Book 1923-1953

John Sparks Portrait
John Sparks Portrait

John Sparks London showroom
John Sparks London showroom

The Mount Street premises
The Mount Street premises

John Sparks Sign board
John Sparks Sign board

Queen Mary with Peter Sparks, at John Sparks
Queen Mary with Peter Sparks, at John Sparks

Promotional flyer for Christmas gifts at John Sparks
Promotional flyer for Christmas gifts at John Sparks

John Sparks ‘Chinese Works of Art’, Exhibition at Annan’s Gallery, Glasgow
John Sparks ‘Chinese Works of Art’, Exhibition at Annan’s Gallery, Glasgow

Sparks’ Sales Book 1926-1953
Sparks’ Sales Book 1926-1953

27 Duke Street
27 Duke Street

Letterhead for John Sparks’ Japanese Fine Art Depot
Letterhead for John Sparks’ Japanese Fine Art Depot

Advertisement for the Oriental Art Gallery
Advertisement for the Oriental Art Gallery

Jade hairpin, early 19th century
Jade hairpin, early 19th century

Brush pot
Brush pot

Figure holding a fly whisk
Figure holding a fly whisk

Bowl, painted in underglaze blue
Bowl, painted in underglaze blue

‘John Sparks of London’ premises
‘John Sparks of London’ premises

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