Rare ‘mouseman’ carvings go under hammer in Dales

A private collection of furniture and rare carvings by the Kilburn craftsman Robert Thompson, whose “mouseman” trademark is a design classic, will go under the hammer in the Yorkshire Dales in March.

Diane Sinnott at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn with a Mouseman carving. Picture: Tony Johnson
Diane Sinnott at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn with a Mouseman carving. Picture: Tony Johnson

The hoard, amassed since the 1970s by an unnamed female collector, includes oak figures of Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows and a “mouse craftsman” wearing a cap and apron, and with tools in his hand.

Diane Sinnott, 20th century design specialist at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn, said Thompson made only a few of the foot-high animal carvings and each could fetch up to £3,000.

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“Tennants have sold many mouseman carvings over the years, but we have never sold examples of these figures before,” she said.

Diane Sinnott at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn with a Mouseman carving. Picture: Tony Johnson

“Mouseman carvings have become more and more collectable in recent years as buyers have begun to appreciate the extraordinary level of skill it takes to capture such fine detail in hard English oak and the many hours they take to make.”

Other unusual pieces in the collection include a money box shaped like a wedge of cheese, surrounded by three carved mice and valued at up to £600, and a monk’s chair decorated on each side with a Yorkshire Rose and thought to have come from the Horlicks malted milk factory in Slough, which Thompson furnished in the 1930s.

The son of a local stonemason, he was inspired to create his own oak furniture by the medieval carvings at Ripon Cathedral, and devised his enduring trademark both as a symbol of “industry in quiet places” and from a conversation with a fellow carver about being as poor as church mice.

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