David Sanctuary Howard

Author of 'Chinese Armorial Porcelain' and dealer in armorial antiques

David Sanctuary Howard was the greatest world expert of the 20th century in Chinese armorial porcelain. But he was not an ordinary trader. He had a mission. That mission was to do his best to marry heraldic china with the original collections for which they were created.

David Sanctuary Howard, antique dealer and armorial porcelain scholar: born Manchester 22 January 1928; married 1952 Elizabeth North (one son, three daughters), 1974 Anna-Maria Bocci (marriage dissolved 1988), 1989 Angela Postlethwaite; died West Yatton, Wiltshire 25 March 2005.

David Sanctuary Howard was the greatest world expert of the 20th century in Chinese armorial porcelain. But he was not an ordinary trader. He had a mission. That mission was to do his best to marry heraldic china with the original collections for which they were created.

Given a piece of porcelain with British arms, Howard would seek to identify the family who first bought it, if possible the name of the first owner, and any important moments in its history. He aimed to date any single piece accurately to within five years, and to classify the styles of armorial porcelain, and thus of much other Chinese export porcelain of the 18th century. He hoped, too, to add to the great store of knowledge of heraldry and its use in the 18th century, by cataloguing as many examples as possible, indexing mottoes, and blazoning arms.

He endeavoured not only to throw new light on the way of life of those who could afford to buy this porcelain from the East, but to provide information for future work on 18th-century Chinese porcelain, armorial porcelain with continental arms, European porcelain derived from Chinese painting, or any other aspect of the East India Company's business.

"The social historian," wrote Sir Anthony Wagner, Garter King of Arms, in a foreword to Howard's Chinese Armorial Porcelain (1974), "no less than the herald, the connoisseur, and the collector, may learn much from Howard's 1,000-page book." Nearly 30 years later another Garter King of Arms, Peter Gwynn-Jones, was to contribute a foreword to a second volume, hailing it as "an astounding work". Published in 2003, and running to over 900 pages, the new volume added four extra chapters, and included an alphabetical list of over 4,000 services - more than 3,300 of them illustrated - made for the British or American market.

David Sanctuary Howard was born in 1928, the son of Dorset people who worked in the motor trade in the firm of Merriman and Howard. (Sanctuary was his mother's maiden name.) He was evacuated with Belmont Preparatory School to the Bahamas, returning to public school at the Stowe of J.F. Roxburgh. His interest in heraldry was ignited by his fag master, the head boy whose books on heraldry he was required to dust.

After service in the Coldstream Guards in Palestine, Howard wanted to get on with life and to his later intense regret turned down a place that had been offered him at Trinity College, Cambridge. For a time he worked with the rope makers of Bridport Industries in Dorset. In 1952 he married, as his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Admiral Sir Dudley North, commander of the royal yachts in the 1930s, and in 1960 went into business in London under the name of Heirloom and Howard.

His shop on Hay Hill, off Berkeley Square, was an Aladdin's cave, offering not only armorial porcelain but all sorts of material so long as it bore arms, from silver ware and pewter tankards to seals and scrolls, hall chairs, banners, coach panels, fire buckets, portraits and silhouettes, paintings and prints. Latterly the business withdrew to Wiltshire, but continued to issue tempting and miscellaneous catalogues.

Howard's scholarship was indefatigable. In 1978 he followed his magnum opus with China for the West: Chinese porcelain & other decorative arts for export illustrated from the Mottahedeh Collection, co-authored with John Ayers, of the Victoria and Albert Museum; the foreword was written by Nelson Rockefeller.

He was invited by the New-York Historical Society to be the curator of their 1984 exhibition "New York and the China Trade". The following year, the College of Arms appointed him curator of their 500th-anniversary exhibition "A Pageant of Heraldry in Britain and America". For the Minneapolis Institute of Art he wrote The Choice of the Private Trader: the private market in Chinese export porcelain illustrated from the Hodroff collection (1994), with a foreword by another scholar, the Earl of Perth.

In 1997 Sotheby's appointed him curator of their exhibition "A Tale of Three Cities - Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong". As he was preparing it cancer was diagnosed, but this in no way inhibited him from writing the accompanying book and curating the exhibition from his hospital bed.

Tam Dalyell

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