Puritan Values Ltd, The Dome, Arts and Antiques
Arthur Lasenby Liberty


Liberty was an energetic salesman-come-shopkeeper with an eye for contemporary tastes and fashions. He was a man with practical ideas, investing in property and novelties that would benefit his current lifestyle. For example, his purchase of a country mansion accompanied by three thousand acres of land in Buckinghamshire, and the addition of a private road to the railway station at Great Missenden. His success did not ‘go to his head’ but in fact bought about ways to make his work and private life run a little smoother. In installing a marble bench at Marylebone station where he would await his evening train, he was able to feel, subtly, the elevation and achievements of his business, and bring about objects of desire.

The young Liberty wasn’t however born in to riches. At eighteen he began work as a floor-boy at Farmer & Roger’s Great Shawl and Cloak Emporium. The son of a country-town draper, meant his family had ties in the dealings of cloth, hence the logical first employment. In 1862, Liberty was on hand to unpack purchases from Rutherford Alcock’s Japanese display, at the London International Exhibition. He learnt his trade by pursuing the role of manager for their Oriental Warehouse in 1864. On gathering this first hand experience, his first ‘half-shop’ was opened in May of 1875 at 218A Regent Street.
On the premises, they sold coloured silks from the East, which Liberty had grown fond of through his training; these appealed to the likes of Morris, Rossetti and Burne-Jones, perfect fabric for their interior designs. His knowledge of tastes made for perfect timing as Japanese style was on the rise. The shop floor would be crowded with a collection of architects, painters and their wives, travellers and ladies.

1880 marked the year of expansion for Liberty’s, their imports coming from not just Japan now, but Cairo, India and China, not restricted to silks either. It was noted that the shop windows were decorated with Indian dhurries and Chinese bronzes; but the demand for these pieces was soon to outgrow their supply. Importing was no longer the practical way to meet the public, so in 1883 Liberty’s expanded into adjoining properties to set up what was to be the firm’s Furnishing and Decoration studio. He had manufacturer Ursin Fortier working for him, and H & J Cooper offered up a whole room in their premises to prove their efficient and effect manner of working too.

A popular design of the time was the Thebes Stool. Head of Liberty’s design studio, Leonard F. Wyburd, made the decision to corner the market with a collection of Liberty specific variants of the piece. This was a pre-existing design by J.G Grace in a drawing in possession of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Despite attempts to both adopt and adapt the original design, the furniture made in their workshops remained hybrids.

This idea of hybrids and multiples made way for a new kind of art, an accessible and affordable art that understandably, some designers weren’t too fond of. They did however have designers that created specifically for Liberty’s, like the silver and metalwork of Archibald Knox for example. Their marketing abilities could not be faulted, nor could their role of retailers for popular taste, nonetheless, designer Ashbee considered them as thieves for stealing his designs, and mimicking his produce. In the StudioLiberty’s were credited for their ‘skill and deftness’.

So to speak, this shopkeeper took every opportunity that arose; no occasion was missed, no celebration, nor time of year. Liberty’s stayed up to date with trends and the movements of the time.

Liberty employed over a thousand people by 1913, the year he received his knighthood. The establishment by this time had an international reputation, with businesses in London, Birmingham and Paris.

Researched and written by Tony Geering & Kristy Campbell.

Puritan Values Ltd, The Dome, St Edmunds Rd, Southwold, Suffolk, IP18 6BZ
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