Mouseman

If you’re looking for a piece of furniture that combines function and character, plus something that will stand the test of time, Mouseman is a great option.

Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson English oak table

A Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson English oak table from the 1940s-50s – £6500 at Tennants in July 2020.

The name ‘Mouseman’ comes from the maker of this type of furniture – the English craftsman Robert Thompson (1876-1955) whose trademark or ‘signature’ was a mouse that he carved into almost all of his pieces.

Based in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, Thompson was inspired by the British vernacular tradition and oak was his primary material. The pieces he produced included tables, chairs, dressers, desks, cupboards, wardrobes, benches, stools and even cheeseboards and paper trays, and you’ll find examples offered at auctions on thesaleroom.com on a regular basis.

Carved mouse trademark of Robert Thompson

The carved mouse trademark of Robert Thompson to the front-left leg of the oak table sold at Tennants in July 2020.

Background

Thompson was born in Kilburn in North Yorkshire in 1876, the son of the village's jobbing carpenter and stonemason. But he had ambition for the family business.

He began experimenting with his own ideas for producing furniture without using the modern tools developed during the industrial revolution. Instead his hand-crafted pieces were shaped and smoothed with an adze (an axe-like tool) to give his furniture its distinctive rippled appearance.

Thompson accepted his first major commission in 1919 from Ampleforth College and here in the early 1920s he would hit upon his trademark.

"The origin of the mouse as my mark was almost in the way of being an accident,” he said. “I and another carver were carving a huge cornice for a screen and he happened to say something about being as poor as a church mouse. I said I will carve a mouse here and did so, and then it struck me, what a lovely trademark."

Robert Thompson continued to run the business through the 1920s to the 1950s. He died in 1955 but items are still being made at the Robert Thompson workshop in Kilburn.

Date and Price

Pieces of Mouseman at auction will normally be catalogued as ‘Robert 'Mouseman' Thompson’. They can range in price from the many thousands of pounds for signature works and known commissions from the 1920s and 30s, down to under £50 for replica pieces and small items like oak ashtrays.

Date is probably the most important factor in the prices fetched by pieces of Mouseman at auction. In simple terms, the earlier the piece, the closer it will be to the original design and the more buyers will be prepared to pay for it.

Many collectors want pieces dating from the Robert Thompson era which is up until 1955.

However, items from the late 1950s and 60s are also an attractive and more affordable option. Many designs are also no longer in general production so they can only be acquired on the secondary market, for example at auctions.

Mouseman oak dining table

A Mouseman oak refectory style dining table with a carved mouse to one leg, sold together with a set of four oak dining chairs for £3600 at Silverwoods in July 2020.

New pieces are still being made at the Robert Thompson workshop in Kilburn but, as a general rule, post-1955 Mouseman at auction will cost you roughly half the price of a newly manufactured piece.

Replicas

In the 1930s Thompson had 30 men working for him and the first of the ‘critters’ – the Mouseman imitators – had emerged.

Due to the success of the furniture he was producing in Kilburn, workshops making imitation pieces sprang up in the surrounding villages as former employees set up shop on their own, many choosing to use another small creature or motif as a signature. From rabbits to beavers, some 30 'critters' have been identified, of which roughly half were former workers.

Gnomeman oak coffee table

A Gnomeman oak circular coffee table with carved top that sold for £240 at Hawley’s in March 2020.

Two names in particular produced works of comparable quality – Tom 'Gnomeman' Whittaker of Littlebeck, near Whitby, and 'Kingpost', an enigmatic figure whose work lacks a signature but sometimes carries an ivorine plaque.

As a general rule, their work costs roughly half the price of the real thing.

Visit the Antiques Trade Gazette website for a more detailed guide to Mouseman furniture.

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find Mouseman coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction and see how much different clocks items sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guides to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

Send feedback on this article