140 Years of History
The Thomson's 140 Year History in the World of Auctioneering
In 1880, John Thomson, the great-grandfather of the present managing-director Sybelle Thomson, bought out the mainly livestock auction business of James McLean in Annan. John Thomson’s first auction was of the contents of a dwelling house in Port Street, Annan owned by a retired sea captain; the contents were taken to the Albert Hall in Port Street, Annan and sold from there. In 1886 John Thomson went on to persuade James Laurie, then an unhappy bank clerk, to join the firm and Thomson & Laurie was founded.
In 1892 Thomson & Laurie purchased a cattle mart in Dumfries and commenced holding livestock auctions there on the Whitesands. 1930 saw John Thomson's son, Matthew Thomson of Thomson & Laurie purchase the Nithsdale Auction company who had an auction mart at Thornhill which traded till the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2000. The Dumfries cattle mart moved premises to Huntington Road in 1946. In 1950 Henry Roddick joined the firm and the company became Thomson Roddick & Laurie.
The first specialist fine art antiques auction held by the firm was before World War II, in 1932, when they sold the magnificent contents of Springkell house, Eaglesfield. The sale, which lasted a period of four days, was a highly successful auction. During the subsequent war, many country houses were taken over for use by the troops and once returned to their owners there was little use for them and many of these houses were set to be demolished. Thomson & Laurie sold the contents and fittings of six such houses. Lots included everything built-in but removeable, from flooring, to doors and windows, architectural fittings and bookcases. John Thomson Snr. recalls auctioning an elegant set of double doors that reached a price of over £100 although most lots seemed to average around £5.
Up until the 1960’s Thomson Roddick and Laurie continued to hold farm sales or roups as they are known in Scotland. Such auctions would consist of auctioning livestock, machinery and finally the contents of the farmhouse. The majority of farm sales would conclude with the house contents being presented at the front door and auctioned from the front doorstep.
John D M Thomson launched the firm`s specialist furniture and fine art department in the 1970’s. In the South West of Scotland they held auctions at the Loreburn or Drill Hall in Dumfries, then-for many years huge two-day auctions were held at the Easterbrook Hall Dumfries. The present Auction Centre was opened in 2009.
The 1970`s and 1980`s was the era of country house sales held on the vendor`s own premises and Thomson Roddick certainly had their fair share of these across the Scottish Borders and Northern England, including a three-day sale of the contents of the palatial mansion of Kinmount, Dumfriesshire.
In Cumberland, the firm operated from Carlisle with massive antique and fine art sales held in the Crown and Mitre Hotel and fine Summer events at Naworth Castle. Subsequently the Coleridge House Saleroom was opened in Shaddongate, Carlisle before the move to the present Auction Centre.
In 1985 the business Richard Baker and Baker auctioneers in Birkenhead was purchased. Renamed Richard Baker and Thomson, they subsequently opened an office in Crosby, near Liverpool, run by Sybelle Thomson. They held regular fine antique sales at both Blundellsands and Heswall.
In 1990 the Merseyside business was sold to Robert I Heyes and Sybelle later returned to Scotland after a period abroad experiencing South American culture.
The firm still retains close contacts with the Merseyside and Lancashire area with a representative based in Liverpool and goods regularly consigned from that area.
In 1995 the firm opened an auction house in the Edinburgh area, firstly at Eskbank, Midlothian then, in 2008, at their present premises at Rosewell. Stephen Sharp married Sybelle Thomson and he joined the Scottish part of the firm in 2009 when it started trading as a separate company under the banner of Thomson Roddick Scottish Auctions and acquired the Dumfries Auction Centre.
In 2017 both the Cumbrian and Scottish auction houses reunited to trade together and are, once again, known as Thomson Roddick. In 2018 the Carlisle business moved to the Auction Centre, Marconi Road, Carlisle from where they continue to operate along with the auction rooms in Dumfries and Rosewell, near Edinburgh.
Over the last fifty years Thomson Roddick have been involved in many single vendor and prestige house sales have which included:
- The Residual Contents of Springkell House
- The Residual Contents of Kinmount House Annan
- Miss Caryles, Waterbeck
- The Property of the Late Vince Kelly, Wigton
- The Residual Contents of Yester House, Gifford
- The Residual Contents of Archbank House, Moffat on the instructions of Colin Stokes
- The Residual Contents of Cromlix House Hotel, Perthshire
- The Residual contents of Williamwood on the instructions of the executors of the Late Lord Monro of Langholm
- The Brasswell Museum of Transport, Dumfries
- Residual contents of Morton House on the instructions of Lady Elliott
- The Principal Contents of Quarrelwood House, Dumfries
- Little Dyke, Dalton on the instructions of the executors of the Late Lady Anne Jardine of Applegirth
- The Attic Contents of Capenoch House on the instructions of Robert Gladstone
- The Principal Contents of Whitecairn, St Mungos, Lockerbie on the instructions of Major and Mrs Arkwright.
With 140 years of history it is impossible to answer the question that we are always asked with absolute certainty. We believe that the highest price we have achieved for a single lot at auction is the £198,000 hammer price achieved by Thomson Roddick & Laurie for an incomplete set (37 of 40) of books titled The North American Indian 1907/1930 by EDWARD S CURTIS.
A competitor for that accolade is a group of SAMUEL SCOTT watercolours unearthed in 2008 which collectively realised £316,500 but these formed 16 lots so arguably do not qualify for the title of 'top lot'.
In recent more recent years stand out lots include:
- A cannon from HMS BOUNTY was the highlight the June 2018 Dumfries auction. The hammer fell at £17,000.
- The medals and jambiya of the desert explorer BERTRAM SIDNEY THOMAS OBE CMG (1892-1950) sold for £29,000 at the Edinburgh branch in May 2015.
- Two gold Scottish Championship football medals awarded to Scottish football great LAURIE REILLY (1928-2013) of Hibernian and "Famous Five" fame sold for a hammer price of £12,000 in August 2019 by the Edinburgh branch.
- A book containing 39 samples of cut bark cloth sold for a hammer price of £42,000 in May 2016 at the Edinburgh branch. What was quite so special about this was that the cloth was collected from the South Seas islands on Captain Cook's voyages to the southern hemisphere.
- Two years later and £42,000 was again the top hammer price. This time it was for a first edition of CHARLES DARWIN'S On The Origin of Species which was offered for sale in June 2018 by the Carlisle auction room.
- The Edinburgh branch in October 2020 saw the sale of four works by JACK VETTRIANO, the greatest of which, titled 'Girl on Promenade', realised £25,000.
- A Thomas Chippendale breakfast table was our top selling lot of 2019 at the Edinburgh branch with a hammer price of £22,000 in January that year.
- The Carlisle book auctions have a habit of turning up some high prices and in recent times a first edition of James Bond's Casino Royale by Ian Fleming took a hammer price of £22,500 in June 2017 and a group of 17th century tracts and pamphlets pertaining to the Civil War, Restoration & English Revolution Period realised £23,500 in March 2019.
- The hammer price of £12,600 was achieved, and is our record for a single coin, for a gold five guineas dating to 1688 from the reign of James II.
- The Dumfries March 2013 auction saw £12,000 for a Theodore Alexander Robert Jupe patent table with provenance from Cromlix House but sadly without its cabinet of additional leaves.
- January 2017 saw the sale of a death mask reputed to be of Francois Benjamin Courvoisier, murderer of Lord William Russell of which realised £20,000 hammer price. It was one of a collection of fourteen plaster death mask found in a local garage by the Carlisle branch.
- In the same January 2017 auction at the Carlisle auction room a pair of oil paintings of Port Mahon by ANTON CHRANZ realised £20,000.
- A Chinese carved rhino horn libation cup realised a hammer price of £38,000 in the Edinburgh auction in May 2011.
- Two years later, in August 2013 another piece of rhino horn was discovered by the Edinburgh branch. This time it took the form of a perfume stick and realised £10,000 hammer price.
- The Collector's auction in Edinburgh in August 2017 saw a single vendor consignment of WWII era binoculars which totalled close to £25,000 with the highlights being £8,000 for a pair of Nazi German Carl Zeiss naval binoculars and £7,600 for a Japanese Fuji Meibo pair.
- A 14cm x 9cm watercolour sketch depicting Napoleon on his deathbed by DENZIL O IBBETSON realised £10,500 in the Edinburgh auction in March 2015.
- The Edinburgh branch's Militaria auction in August 2015 saw a single vendor collection of 30 regimental shoulder belt plates realise a combined total over £14,000, with an oval example for the Ross and Cromarty Volunteers realising £1,300 and a 42nd Regiment of Foot (latterly The Black Watch) example realised £1,700.
- In May 2009 the Edinburgh branch put EDWARD ATKINSON HORNEL'S 'The Butterfly' under the hammer. The result was £11,800 hammer price.
- An impressive Chinese silver tea service complete with tray was the highlight of the May 2015 auction in Edinburgh. The hammer fell at £12,000.
- Our last antique auction before the Covid-19 lockdown was held in February at the Edinburgh branch where a violin bearing a label dated 1773 and the name 'Laurentius Storioni' sold for a hammer price of £16,000.
- A pointer dog called 'Pan' was the highlight of the Carlisle March auction. The oil on canvas painted by MATTHEW ELLIS NUTTER was knocked down at £14,600.
- The July 2015 auction in Carlisle saw three five figure lots. The first of which was the £22,500 hammer price achieved for a work by MONTAGUE DAWSON MRSA FRSA. £12,500 was the hammer price for and oil of the setting sun on Ben Venue by ALFRED DE BREANSKI SNR and an oil of a gypsy encampment by HEYWOOD HARDY took £10,000. The £9,200 for an oil of cows by FEDERICO DEL CAMPO just didn't quite make the five figure hammer.
- A fine example of an Irish wake table sold for a hammer price of £14,400 in the Carlisle auction room in March 2016.
- Top of the pile of results from the silver department is the £13,800 hammer price achieved for a William IV silver soup tureen modelled upon the Warwick vase by ROBERT HENNEL, this result achieved in May 2014 by the Carlisle branch.
- The top result from the house sale of the contents of Whitecairn, Dumfriesshire in June 2013 was an oil of a hawking party by JAN WYCK selling for £13,000.