Marvellous Mouseman: what to look for and where to find it27 February 2020 Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson (1876-1955) was an English craftsman inspired by the British vernacular tradition, and his highly sought-after furniture is often marked by a small carved mouse.
A variety of oak furniture and associated works of art from various stages of his career and his later workshop are available to bid for and buy on thesaleroom.com.
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. 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."
This Mouseman oak bedside cupboard, c.1935-40, has a short raised back and octagonal turned legs carved in relief with a mouse. It has an estimate of £2000-2500 at Morphets of Harrogate on March 5.
Robert Thompson era
Date is the key to the pricing structure. The earlier the piece, the closer it will be to the original design and the better its colour and patination.
Many collectors want pieces dating from the Robert Thompson era (pre-1955). There's no guarantee that they will have been his handiwork, but they were made under his tutelage.
This Mouseman oak wastepaper bin, c.1920s or ‘30s – a rare form that will be of interest to serious collectors – has a mouse in low relief and finger grips to two opposing sides. It goes under the hammer at Morphets of Harrogate on March 5 with an estimate of £1500-2000.
The right date
A good clue to the date is the signature - the earliest mice have front paws that were prone to breaking. You will see them on domestic furniture from the 1920s into the 30s before a cuter little chap, without paws, makes his debut in the 1930s. This Mouseman hall table from the 1930s features a rectangular top and is decorated with carved mouse tails and features the carved mouse trademark. Tennants of Leyburn offer it in its February 29 sale where it has an estimate of £2500-3500.
However, items from the late 1950s and 60s are starting to acquire pleasing signs of age, and there are attractive forms from this period that are no longer in general production.
Something to look out for in certain cases is the position of the mouse. Earlier cheeseboards feature a mouse on the board. From the 1960s the mouse was repositioned on the handle to provide more strength. A mouse in the centre of a fruit bowl suggests it was made after the 1960s. Before then the rodent sat on the side of the bowl. This example made c.2010 is offered at Tennants of Leyburn on February 29 with an estimate £500-700.
It is doubtless down to the success of Robert Thompson that Yorkshire's North Riding has become something of a centre for handmade furniture. Workshops sprang up in surrounding villages as former employees set up shop on their own, many choosing to use another small creature or motif as a signature.
A couple of the so-called ‘critters’ offer comparable quality including Tom 'Gnomeman' Whittaker of Littlebeck. This English oak cupboard with the carved gnome trademark is offered with an estimate of £500-700 at Tennants on February 29.