The inro and pipe case collection of Dr. Henry Potter Stevens (1875-1965) - lots 1-59

Fine Japanese Art
6 Nov 2012
London, New Bond Street

According to his family, Henry made his first purchases of Japanese inro in 1944, embarking on what would become an eighteen-year passion for collecting, right up to the very last years before his death.

His enthusiasm for the subject matter was not diminished by the scarcity of collections in major museums, or even by the lack of published information on a subject which was merely considered then as an oriental curio. He even contributed noteworthy and pioneering articles on Japanese inro which were published in the magazine 'Oriental Art' in 1955 and 1957. Making good use of his scientific background and training, one article even went so far as to analyse the physical construction of inro.

Henry was born in Park Lane, London in 1875, the son of a veterinary surgeon. He went up to Oxford to read Chemistry where he gained a First in 1896. This was immediately followed by a PHD from Heidelberg University in Germany in 1899. He excelled in his profession and soon became a prominent chemist for the rubber industry and published two academic books 'The Paper Mill Chemist' in 1908 and 'Rubber' in 1915 and was a consultant to the Rubber Growers Association for over thirty years up to the start of WWII. Successful career aside, he was also a talented painter and his watercolours were so widely-acclaimed that this hobby culminated in an exhibition of a few of his paintings at the Royal Academy.

Within the context of Oriental art collecting, he belonged to the so-called second generation of great English collectors, joining the distinguished ranks of the handful of collectors of the time such as M. T. Hindson, G. G. Davies, T. N. Davey and Frederick Meinertzhagen, all of whom relished the abundance of affordable works of art which this relative ignorance ensured. Their purchases were almost all sourced from existing English or European collections or purchased at Glendinning's (in the same Woodstock Street saleroom where Bonhams will now re-offer them many decades later) or at Sotheby's as are indicated by the provenances of several of the pieces offered in this sale.

He was an indefatigable collector who was driven by scholarly endeavour and aesthetic pleasure in equal measure. The pieces are demonstrably wide-ranging in date, material and subject matter. Although his collection is of a much smaller scale, his Darwinian system of scientific classification and intellectual approach to collecting anticipates that of the renowned Wrangham collection formed a generation later - and some of the Wrangham inro even continued to be associated with Henry's meticulous notes! Henry was a rigorous record-keeper and kept hand-written notes, often recording when, where and for how much an item was acquired; some of these notes are kept intact inside the inro offered for sale here. Such notes provide a valuable insight to the collection, revealing Henry's personal observations and appreciation of the art form.

Henry was a remarkable collector with wide ranging interests and tastes as is amply demonstrated by these inro as well as by his collections of Chinese art, scientific instruments and gentleman's accessories, the former dispersed in a posthumous sale at Sotheby's in 1966. Many of his Chinese pieces, like his Japanese inro, also not surprisingly, have an illustrious history going back to other famous collections such as Cunliffe, Soame Jenyns, Beurdeley, Eumorfopoulos and Winkworth.


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  1. Suzannah Yip
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
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