Mr. Frank E. Partridge

Frank Partridge (1875 - 1953), 42, was a British citizen and an art dealer and interior decorator with offices at 26 King Street, London, SW1, England, United Kingdom and 741 Fifth Avenue, New York City, New York, United States. He was traveling in a party of nine that included Edgar Gorer, Gerald Letts, and Martin Van Straaten. Partridge survived the Lusitania sinking but his companions did not. His wife and children were waiting for him in London.
  1. Youth and apprenticeship
  2. American dreams
  3. A business of his own
  4. Lusitania
  5. The war market
  6. Lady Lever Art Gallery
  7. Power plays
  8. Later years
  9. Links of interest

Youth and apprenticeship

Frank Partridge was born in Hertford, England, United Kingdom, the son of Robert and Eliza Partridge. Frank was the ninth of ten children. Robert Partridge was a boot-maker with a reputation for excellent craftsmanship, but he died when Frank was six. Frank's eldest brother, also named Robert and 21 years of age at the time, continued the shoe business. After two years, Robert decided to go to Australia. Emily, the eldest sister, continued the business. Emily also expanded the business to include small antique china and jewelery next to the boots and shoes in the storefront window. At the age of 8, Frank left his small private school. In 1883, Frank's mother Eliza sent Frank to the London Orphans' Academy in Watford. He stayed there for 6 years until he was 14. The impression that his education left upon him was that theoretical knowledge, as he had been taught, was useless without practice. Frank's oldest brother Robert returned from Australia in 1889, 6 years after leaving for the southern continent. He had tried many jobs but did not find anything satisfactory. Robert married Doris Cohen, the daughter of two London antique dealers. As Doris had grown up in the environment of the antique business, Doris set up a successful shop on Great Portland Street with Robert. Frank joined them around 1891 - 1892. During that time Frank gained much hands on experience on how to understand antiques.

American dreams

The youngest brother, Leonard, joined Robert and Doris' business, freeing Frank to become a young antique dealer himself. In 1893, Frank was offered a job by an American dealer from Chicago, the city of the Columbian Exposition. The American offered ten dollars a week and free board, which Robert encouraged Frank to accept. Frank was not paid as promised, and he left the job. Trying to survive, Frank tried a variety of jobs, including polishing furniture for an Italian and performing as "England's Leading Comedian" for one night in a local theater. His luck started to turn when he gained the confidence of a German antiques dealer by cleaning the German's horses. Frank worked at the German's shop for a while, but when his sister Emily sent Frank money to return to England, he returned to England. Frank resumed his old job with Robert and Doris, but he wanted to start his own antique dealing business someday.

A business of his own

When he was 19, Frank met Minnie, and they married in 1894. Their eldest son, born soon after, was named Leo. Frank and Minnie continued to work for Robert and Doris until Leo turned 6. In 1900, Frank and Minnie decided to go into business on their own. They set up a small shop on 4 King Street, St. James, London, near Christie's auction house. As they were a new business, to make their store more impressive, Frank and Minnie put some of their own furniture in the store. Frank and Minnie were risking everything. Two days after opening came their first customer, William Lever, later Lord Leverhulme. Partridge asked Lever if Lever could be his partner and provide the funds to compliment his knowledge and experience in antique dealing. Lever declined to be partner, on the grounds that such an arrangement would not win the confidence of customers, who would assume that Lever would get first pick of the goods. Still, Lever offered financial assistance, for which Frank was grateful. Lever referred Frank's store to his friends, and with new-found success, Frank Partridge was able to expand his business and eventually move to 26 King Street in 1912. Partridge's business dealings built up Lever's reputation of being a celebrity collector of Chinese Art. It was about this time that Partridge became acquainted with Edgar Gorer, who was well known in antique dealing circles in the United States. Lever at times had turned down antiques from Partridge for goods from Gorer and Richard Bennett. Partridge's ability to secure for Lever an oviform jar from the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1662 - 1722) in 1914 cemented the relationship between the two men. Business was good, and Partridge opened up an office in the United States at 741 Fifth Avenue, New York City.


Partridge writes in his memoirs, "The return I expected to be a lonely journey, so it was with pleasure that I accepted the invitation of eight dealer friends I met in New York, who asked me to make up a party with them on the ship they were taking back to England. It seemed as if the voyage would be more entertaining than I had originally thought." Among the eight antique dealer friends who had invited him was Edgar Gorer, and the ship that they chose to sail aboard was Lusitania, on her final voyage. Partridge's ticket aboard Lusitania was 46058. His cabin on board was A-31. The night before sailing, he began to feel apprehensive about his trip on the Lusitania and became afraid that the ship would be torpedoed. In talking to Henry Duveen, senior member of the art firm of Duveen Brothers, Partridge said that he was going to sit on deck each night with a life preserver around his waist in case the worst happened. The worst did happen. Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on 7 May 1915, and Partridge was the only one of his party of nine that survived. Partridge described his own survival as a miracle. On 12 May 1915, five days after the sinking, Partridge wrote to Lever, "While I thank God for having spared me my heart aches for those dear souls that have gone down." With Edgar Gorer's death from the Lusitania disaster, Partridge took Gorer's place in the Chinese art market and became a regular dealer of Chinese art to Sir William Lever.

The war market

Partridge was able to find bargains on Chinese objects for Lever in August 1915 and March 1916. The prices of Chinese objects increased in 1916, but the quality of the objects for sale also improved. With Partridge's expertise, Lever was able to increase the scope of his collection at good prices. In summer 1916, Partridge entered into a rivalry with John Sparks, a rival London art dealer. Partridge, having Lever's confidence, had the negotiating power to be a powerful dealer with the ability to blacklist Sparks who challenged his position in the china market.

Lady Lever Art Gallery

In 1914, Lever decided to build the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, dedicated to the memory of his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1913. Frank Partridge recommended John H. Gardner of Witham, Essex, for the position of the gallery's curator. Lever declined the recommendation, deciding that his obligation to the gallery had become too much of a compulsion and had to distance himself from adding to his collection for some time. The Lady Lever Art Gallery opened on 18 December 1922, and Partridge was one of the guests to the occasion. Partridge expressed admiration for Lever's accomplishment and felt a sense of pride for having collaborated with Lever to form the collection that is now on display. However, as it was a busy day for Lever, the two did not meet that day despite being in the same place. Partridge exchanged pleasantries with many of Lever's guests, and as a result the Queen had asked Partridge to help her in her choice of furniture.

Power plays

In March 1923, a Chinese Australian merchant, William Yinson Lee, wanted to sell his collection to Lever. Partridge, not liking to see his monopoly in dealing with collectors threatened, wrote to Lever that Lee's collection was comprised of "all very inferior pieces." Lever was surprised by such an appraisal. Lee's collection is now in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. Partridge offered to sell to Lever a pair of puzzle teapots from the Tongying Collection to which Lever replied, "Not of interest to me." While Lever was worried that Partridge's dealing with Americans meant that the English lord would be shut out of the antiquities market, Partridge assured Lever that this was not the case, and the friendship between the two men remained strong. Lever died on 7 May 1925.

Later years

Partridge lent his collection to the 1935-36 International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy. During World War II, when the Germans bombed London in 1944, Partridge's company had to relocate. His business relocated to 144-146 New Bond Street. The company is now located at 7 Thurloe Square, London SW7. The company is now in its fourth generation of business of dealing in antiques, furniture, and objets d'art.

Links of interest

Frank Partridge and William Hesketh Lever - Lady Lever Art Gallery Frank Partridge Antiques
Contributors Dr. Yupin Chung Judith Tavares References Chung, Yupin. "Dealers and collectors: Compiled and edited by Dr Yupin Chung, Department of History of Art, University of Glasgow. Page 2 - CS Holberton to John Sparks" Lady Lever Art Gallery. Liverpool Museums. Web. 9 July 2011. <>. Chung, Yupin. "Frank Partridge and William Hesketh Lever." Lady Lever Art Gallery. Liverpool Museums. Web. 9 July 2011. <>. "The tragedy of the Lusitania; embracing authentic stories by the survivors and eye-witnesses of the disaster, including atrocities on land and sea, in the air, etc." Internet Archive. Web. 9 July 2011. <>.

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