Abstract: Arthur Tooth: A London Art Dealer in the Spotlight, 1870-1871

Thomas M. Bayer


This paper contributes to the current research into the history of the art business by examining the behavior of an art dealer in Mid-Victorian London to determine the extent and manner his business dealings shaped the arts environment of nineteenth-century Britain. To explore this topic from a new direction, the study employs quantitative methods borrowed from the fields of economics and accounting to expand beyond the socio-historical analyses of other investigations into this topic. Detailed analyses of the 1870-1871 inventory records of the London art dealing firm of Arthur Tooth reveal widespread trade cooperation. This collaboration maximized the influx of new artists and optimized the opportunities for sale to the public of their works as well as other paintings by well-established artists. The data show that in addition to functioning as arbitrageurs, art dealers also performed the role of market-makers to ends similar to those of stock specialists in modern stock markets. The paper argues that these functions are the necessary tools of a fixed-location retail trade to facilitate growth and maintain stability of a mature market in luxury goods with an added speculative commodity character. The modus operandi of this dealer network signaled artists to produce more and increasingly diversified works. As a result, the very system of art dealing that came into being during this period contributed to a far greater extent to the subsequent, and still ongoing, explosion of styles than hitherto recognized.