2018 Conference blogs: Eighteenth–Century Upholders as Appraisers and Brokers

Steve Sanders, Oxford Brookes University

Eighteenth–Century Upholders as Appraisers and Brokers

Campbell and T. Waller’s apprenticeship advice books, both published in 1747, recognized that appraisers and brokers of household goods were generally associated with upholders. Because they took an oath to do justice between each party, they were called ‘sworn’ appraisers and brokers.[1] Upholders were providers of the goods needed to ‘fit out’ a residential interior. They were upholsterers and furniture-makers, and they manufactured and assembled much of what they sold. After 1760, many upholders changed their business model by adding service-oriented business lines. These new businesses included appraising and brokering used household goods.

It might be assumed that used household goods were not in high demand, but there were vibrant markets for used furniture and household goods.[2] For example, purchasing second-hand furniture was an alternative to purchasing new and fashionable furniture from the expensive West End dealers, the less costly East End manufacturers, or from the dishonourable trade.[3] For example, the replacement of walnut and older oak furniture by new and fashionable mahogany furniture created a surplus of used furniture. Subsequent changes in style and fashion further increased the supply of used furniture.[4]

Where did the demand come from? The ‘middling sort’ could be practical in their consumption. If a family needed a table, for instance, it could have been a utility purchase, rather than a conspicuous or fashionable purchase. By purchasing second-hand furniture, a consumer could save money, obtain quality, and, sometimes, have an item that could be sold later for nearly the same price.[5]

Brokers were legally regulated through Parliament from 1603, when an act gave the City of London oversight of brokers.[6] Parliament passed additional acts regulating brokers at the turn of the eighteenth century. The number of brokers was limited to a maximum of 100, with twelve additional licenses allowed for those unable to take up a City freedom.[7] In 1708, the City authorized the issue of twelve additional broker licenses for Protestant refugees. A rule was established that licensed brokers had to provide a £500 bond, along with a £250 surety from a second party.[8] The initial capital outlay for the £500 broker bond was a sizeable amount, about £1.5 million in value today.[9] Brokers were issued a numbered medal with their name on it, which could be sold and transferred for between £800 and 1,500.[10] The fact that medals sold for a premium in the secondary market indicated that being a broker could be a lucrative business. Wearing a broker medal may have been a status indicator.

Although Campbell indicated that sworn appraisers and sworn brokers were the essentially the same, there were differences.[11] Brokers were paid on a commission basis for their services. Appraisers were paid according to established fees, rather than on a commission basis. Their sworn duty was to give a fair value of stock in trade or merchandise, usually stating it on a gross amount basis, rather than on an item-by-item basis. Upholders who were appraisers were qualified to value household goods, both new and used. Death and debt were primary reasons for requiring an appraisal, along with the purchase of property insurance. However, the valuations appraisers gave were often skewed lower because they could be compelled by the owner to purchase items at their appraised value.[12]

Upholders wanting to participate in the appraising and brokering businesses on a large scale were financially dependant on the ability to afford the sworn broker bond and associated costs, but it is naïve to believe that unlicensed general upholders did not occasionally sell items on consignment. The Index to Brokers’ Bonds and the Broker Sureties held at London Metropolitan Archives lists sixty-two upholders who posted a broker bond and/or a broker surety in the eighteenth century.[13]  An analysis of these upholders found the majority of them were admitted as sworn brokers during the last four decades of the century.

Many London upholders sought out new opportunities to make more money by entering non-traditional business lines after 1760, including the appraising and brokering of household goods. One characteristic of London’s eighteenth–century consumers was that they wanted choices in how to spend their money. Upholding was one trade that met this demand.


[1] R. Campbell, The London Tradesman (London: T. Gardner, 1747), 175; T. Waller, A general description of all trades, digested in alphabetical order: by which parents, guardians, and trustees, may make choice of trades agreeable to the capacity, education, inclination, strength, and fortune of the youth (London: Printed at Crown and Mitre, 1747), 4-5.

[2] Jon Stobart and Illia Van Damme, “Introduction” in Modernity and the Second-Hand Trade: European Consumption Cultures and Practices, 17001900, Jon Stobart and Ilja Van Damme, eds. (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 4–6.

[3] J.L Oliver, The Development and Structure of the Furniture Industry (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1966), 4. Pat Kirkham, The London Furniture Trade 1700–1870 (Leeds: Furniture History Society, 1988), 76–8.

[4] Michael Snodin and John Styles, Design & the Decorative Arts: Georgian Britain 1714–1837 (London: V&A Publications, 2004), 44–53, 78–9, 145.

[5] Clive Edwards and Margaret Ponsonby, “Polarization of the Second-Hand Market for Furniture in the Nineteenth Century” in Modernity and the Second-Hand Trade, 93–5.

[6] John Raithby, ed. The Statues at Large of England and of GreatBritain: From Magna Carta to the Union of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Eyre and Strahan, 1811) Vol. IV, 612-15.

[7] Danny Pickering, The Statutes at Large from the Eighth Year of King William III to the Second Year of Queen Anne (London: Joseph Benthan, 1864) Vol. X, 112.

[8] London Metropolitan Archives, Sworn Broker Archives.

[9] This calculation is based on the economic status value method and estimates the value of £500 from 1708 (when Parliament established the bond requirement) to 2016. Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1270 to Present,” MeasuringWorth, 2016. https://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/index.php (accessed 3 June 2016).

[10] Joshua Montefiore, A Commercial Dictionary: Containing the Present State of Mercantile Law, Practice, and Custom (London: for the author, 1803), BRO.

[11] Campbell, The London Tradesman, 175.

[12] Montefiore, A Commercial Dictionary, APP.

[13] London Metropolitan Archives, City of London. Reference Code: COL/BR/02/074-075. Index to Brokers’ Bonds A-H and I-Z and COL/BR05. Broker Sureties 1752-1813.

Steve Sanders is a late-stage PhD student at Oxford Brookes University. The title of his research is ‘The Upholder During the Age of Thomas Chippendale’. Among his British eighteenth-century research interests are livery companies, furniture and decorative art, and retailing and distribution practices.


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