A Smile and a Shoeshine: Eric Shrubsole and the Antiques Business

Timothy Martin, S. J. Shrubsole

Tuesday, June 10, 2014Mini-exhibit: 7:30pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Silver askos-­form wine jug, Kirk & Sons

Silver askos-­form wine jug, Kirk & Sons, Baltimore, MD, ca. 1840

Eric Shrubsole and Jane Wyman

Eric Shrubsole and Jane Wyman

Tim Martin is the president of S.J. Shrubsole, specializing in the sale of antique American and British silver from the 19th century and earlier. Tim’s step­grandfather, Sydney James Shrubsole, founded the company in London in 1912.

Tim’s stepfather, Eric Shrubsole, opened the New York branch, in 1936 — not an auspicious year for retailing luxury goods. The undaunted, and charming, Eric Shrubsole drove to virtually every major American city in a black Packard loaded with antique silver and letters of introduction. Patronage by legendary American collectors, including H.F. duPont, Judge Irwin Untermyer and William Randolph Hearst, established S.J. Shrubsole as one of the leading purveyors of American, English, Irish, Scottish and Continental silver. The opening of Shrubsole’s New York gallery transformed the trans-Atlantic trade in fine antique silver.

When Groucho Marx was told that everything at S.J. Shrubsole was English and antique, he pointed his cigar at the porter and quipped “even him?” Shrubsole’s interests, however, included American silver. Mr. Martin will discuss some of the most important, and magnificent, pieces of American silver ever to come to the market.

Mr. Martin will also explain how museum collections, such as those at the Portland Museum of Art and the Huntington Museum in San Marino, were assembled. He will explain how Eric Shrubsole helped the idiosyncratic Sir Arthur Gilbert (nee Bernstein) assemble the 20th century’s greatest collection of English silver. Mr. Gilbert retired early, in 1949, to sunny Los Angeles. However, instead of playing tennis, the savvy English businessman amassed a second fortune as a real estate developer. Disappointed with the placement and display of his promised collection by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Sir Arthur left his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Although Tim Martin was interested in antique silver and silversmithing before his mother’s marriage to Eric Shrubsole, his mother’s intended was more interested in teaching Tim how to hit a golf ball into a pond. Notwithstanding his glittering academic career, our speaker was advised, soon before graduating from Columbia with a degree in English literature, not to embrace further studies in favor of the opportunity to enter his stepfather’s business.

Tim Martin spent two years acquiring a unique combination of expertise in the care and cleaning of antique silver, as well as antique toilets, sinks, floors and display cases. Following this mercifully brief tenure as janitor and delivery man, Tim Martin began extensive studies of English and American silver in public and private collections in America, England and further afield.

More than two decades later, Tim Martin is an authority on the authenticity and integrity of rare items of American and English silver. This recognition is exemplified by his service on vetting committees for New York antique shows, as well as the European art fair in Maastricht, Holland.

7:30pm mini-exhibit

Show off your shining favorite silver pieces.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.