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The only way is oak: Two furniture makers that will make you money


Nothing is quite as British as oak. It’s a national symbol of Blighty’s strength, power and resilience. Tree-climbing children forever love its low branches, 18th-century ship builders demanded it for its hardiness and furniture makers as far back as the 14th century sculpted long-lasting homewares with it. Thanks to its remarkable durability, many of the latter are still around today.

From antique oak dressers to hardwood flooring, oak is a timeless investment. Its classic aesthetic and incredible sturdiness mean it will always stay in style. But not all oak furniture is made equal. As with every antique, certain makers are more sought-after than others.

Here are two animal-carving, oak furniture legends to look out for - both, coincidentally, from Yorkshire.

  • Robert Thompson of Kilburn: The Mouseman

Following a conversation in 1919 about being “as poor as a church mouse”, oak furniture maker Robert Thompson began carving a mouse into almost every piece he produced. This became his trademark - one which soared in popularity and passes hands for hundreds to thousands today.

A Mouseman pedestal dining table, featuring ‘first-generation’ mice with whiskers and front paws, fetched £31,000 at auction in November 2018. Yorkshire locals are strong collectors, but Thompson’s oak treasures have a growing fan base in North America and the Far East. From his grand antique oak chests for sale to his characterful ash trays, fans covet his work for its Arts and Crafts ethos. The earlier a piece is, the more desirable it will be.

  • Derek Slater: The Lizardman

Mousey Thompson inspired other craftsmen of the time, who began finishing their pieces with small carved critters. Many of them were apprentices in Thompson’s workshops and included Colin ‘Beaverman’ Almack, Albert ‘Eagleman’ Jeffray, Peter ‘Rabbitman’ Heap and Wilf ‘Squirrelman’ Hutchinson. Derek Slater was the Lizardman, working exclusively in oak and carving a little lizard into all of his furniture. A collection of his - including an antique oak bureau, sideboard, octagonal dining table and eight chairs - can fetch more than £2,000 today.

How to restore oak furniture antique pieces

Oak is a product of Mother Nature, so will naturally mellow in colour and develop a patina with waxing and polishing over time. When customers come to us asking how to clean antique oak furniture, we advise them to polish with a quality traditional wax polish, such as Liberon Black Bison clear fine paste wax. Give it about half an hour and then buff with a clean cotton cloth or furniture brush - repeating as required (dependent on the level of restoration needed). The tops of antique oak dressers, tables, sideboards and coffee tables can be treated with a Ronseal varnish when needed.

Where to buy antique oak dressers and other furniture

Browse our range of antique oak dressers, find a bargain antique oak bureau, or take a peek inside our antique oak chests for sale. Hemswell Antiques Centres are packed with pieces running the gamut from the 1600s to the mid-century, covering Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods, as well as Art Deco eras.

We’re constantly bringing new top quality antiques to our centres, which must be explored in person to see the astonishing scope of furniture we have for sale. You never know - you might spot a Mousey Thompson or a Lizard Man on your treasure trawl. It’s all in the thrill of the hunt.

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