In the film Craftsman of Kilburn (1948) about Robert Thompson and his team, filmmakers Betty and Cyril Ramsden comment: ‘Here, skill and oak blend, producing the antiques of tomorrow.’ How right they were. The record price for a Mouseman piece is $70,000 (£40,460) for a cupboard, c1923, sold at Sotheby’s in New York.
‘Prices start at around £120 for an ashtray,’ says Holly. ‘In contrast, an early desk or sideboard could be as much as £33,000.’
‘Over the last four years, the market’s really risen,’ continues Holly. ‘Mouseman always holds its money. It’s all so beautifully made and the quality is so high. The oak was seasoned for five to eight years before it was even touched.’
Holly and husband Ben started out buying 1930s and 1940s examples. ‘We could find wonderful early pieces like dining sets fairly easily in the beginning, but it’s much harder now as there are more collectors around,’ she says. ‘Nowadays, we deal in the later pieces too, from the 1950s and 1960s.’
Holly has sold pieces to famous names such as Woody Allen and Marco Pierre White, who has furnished his hotel, The Rudloe Arms, with beautiful Mouseman furniture. ‘While today, many collectors are wealthy clients or “kings of industry”, when the furniture was first made, it was often sold to local farmers, who used it for bartering.’
If the mouse is stuck on rather than carved, it’s a fake. ‘As prices go up, copies could become a bit more of an issue,’ says Holly. ‘If the mouse is on the board rather than the handle, it means it’s 1940s or earlier,’ she continues. ‘There are lots of other ways of dating pieces, but you have to really know Mouseman furniture in order to get a feel for it.’
On 1930s pieces, the mouse has quite a narrow neck, but the ears were prone to being knocked off, so later designs feature a slightly chubbier mouse with a broader neck and flatter ears. Some collectors are only interested in pre-1955 pieces that were made under the tutelage of Thompson, but later pieces are also highly sought after now.