'50-bob' tailor's treasures set to fetch £2m

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A collection of antiques belonging to the man who invented the "50-bob" suit is expected to fetch more than £2m when it is sold at auction next month.

A collection of antiques belonging to the man who invented the "50-bob" suit is expected to fetch more than £2m when it is sold at auction next month.

When Henry Price opened his first shop in his front room, his stock consisted of three collars and a few empty boxes to serve as window dressing. But a few years later he invented the suit - quality wear for the working man's average weekly wage of £2/10s (£2.50) and his fortune was made. At the time of his death in 1963, Price's Tailors employed 12,000 staff and had 500 outlets.

"I can halve my prices and double my sales," he said of his revolutionary production-line techniques. Indeed, it was said that for two years running he bought every woollen fleece sent to market in Australia.

Sir Henry, as he later became, spent his money restoring and furnishing his country mansion at Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly, West Sussex, giving the leading antiques dealer of the day a blank cheque with which to furnish it, and his London house, off Sloane Square. His collection, which has remained largely intact and has been in storage since his death in 1963, includes English furniture, Chinese porcelain and jade, Old Master paintings and Renaissance bronzes and silver.

On the death of his first wife, Ann Elizabeth Craggs, he bought Wakehurst Place in 1936 and completely restored it. He was knighted the following year, and married Eva Mary Dickson, 30 years his junior, in 1939. To decorate the house he enlisted the help of his friend, the Bond Street dealer Frank Partridge, who later recalled: "One of the greatest pleasures of my life was the furnishing of Wakehurst. The only demand [Price] made was that I make his house worthy of the wonderful Sussex countryside which surrounds it."

Following Lady Price's death six years ago the estate's executors are selling up. Among the treasures bought by Partridge and now to be sold by Sotheby's in London are an early 18th-century Queen Anne walnut armchair, for which he paid £250 in the Thirties and which is expected to fetch £35,000, and a pair of George III satinwood armchairs bought for £125 which could go for £15,000.

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