William Ockelford Oldman was born in Lincolnshire and married Dorothy K. Oldman. He lived in Brixton Hill (London), where he was a collector and dealer of ‘exotic artefacts’, mostly Polynesian. Elected Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in May 1905, he was also a life member of the Polynesian Society. From 1928/29 to his death, he lived at Poynders Road, Clapham Park, London. He... Read more
William Ockelford Oldman was born in Lincolnshire and married Dorothy K. Oldman. He lived in Brixton Hill (London), where he was a collector and dealer of ‘exotic artefacts’, mostly Polynesian. Elected Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in May 1905, he was also a life member of the Polynesian Society. From 1928/29 to his death, he lived at Poynders Road, Clapham Park, London.
He produced printed catalogues in the manner of William Downing Webster and started by publishing lists (c. 1902–3), the first was called ‘Special List of Genuine Curiosities at Low Prices’ and the second ‘Monthly List of Latest Purchases’. He went on to publish seventeen other lists; unfortunately none is illustrated. He later published 121 catalogues with photographs of all the items, but with no dates after June 1908. All the catalogues were reproduced in a limited edition of 1,000 privately printed copies in 1976. Copies of thirteen of his ledger books are in the British Museum’s Department of Ethnography.
W. D. Webster and W. O. Oldman knew each other well, and Oldman learnt from Webster. In November 1904 at Stevens Auction Rooms, Oldman spent about £200 at the sale of Webster’s stock. In 1912, he bought a Benin Aken'ni Elao (Altar Tusk) from Walton for £60. In 1914, he bought a pair of Benin Ama (Relief Plaque) for £43. In July 1920, he bought a £180 Benin Bronze standing figure (now in the British Museum) at Stevens’. 1922, he bought a Benin altar tusk from Spink’s (Spink & Son) for £70. It was said that other buyers such as Harry Geoffrey Beasley were ‘filled with dismay when Oldman appeared in the sale-rooms because he could outbid them for most items’ (Waterfield, 2006, p.65-77).
Through his catalogues, he established contacts abroad and continued sending lists with photographs. He was in contact with staff from the Peabody Museum, Salem; University Museum, Philadelphia; Zoological Museum, Buenos Aires; Rotterdam Museum, among others. Oldman also exhibited parts of his collection abroad.
He tried stimulating British interest in his collection of African and Polynesian objects. In 1947, Oldman was forced to sell his house in Clapham to the London Country Council, since its area was being scheduled for redevelopment. In 1948, after many twists and turns, the Government of New Zealand purchased his collection for £44,000 (later incorrectly reported as £45,000). Many of Oldman’s letters, books and catalogues are in the archives of the Alexander Turnbull Library and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.
After Oldman’s death in 1949, Mrs Oldman sold a Benin Bronze Ikpakohen (Hornblower or Fluteplayer Figure) to the Horniman Museum. She kept only a few objects for herself and sold the remaining ones at Sotheby’s in July 1950. The Oldmans had no children, and the objects retained by D. K. Oldman, photographs and letters, were passed to a friend’s daughter, who sold them to Bob Hales.