Art dealer: William Ockleford Oldman

William Ockleford Oldman (24 August 1879 – 30 June 1949) was a British collector and dealer of ethnographic art and European arms and armour. His business W.O. Oldman, Ethnographical Specimens, London was mostly active between the late 1890s and 1913.

Oldman purchased collections from various sources including items that were considered surplus from many small British museums. He produced a series of auction catalogues between 1901 and 1913 that were well illustrated with photographs and remain an important reference for collectors, subject experts and museums to this day. In addition to holding auctions he also reserved items for possible sale to private collectors and scholars. He maintained frequent correspondence with his network of collectors and he was often visited by museum professionals and scholars from institutions around the world. Oldman continued to deal in artifacts after 1913 but ceased to arrange auctions. Instead he sent out artefact lists to his contacts. These were also illustrated with photographs and were issued on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

Ethnographic specimens with a provenance to Oldman’s business can be found in various public institutions around the world including the National Museum of the American Indian Pitt Rivers Museum, the British Museum and others. Items were either collected directly from Oldman or were part of donations from other significant collectors.

In addition to his business Oldman also had a substantial personal collection. His focus was on Oceania. Despite his particular interest in this area Oldman never travelled to the Pacific.

In June 1925 he married Dorothy K. Loney. In 1927 Oldman retired and created a private museum in his house at 43 Poynders Road, Clapham Park, London. The photographs of the interior of his house at this time show rooms packed with weapons, carvings, textiles, and weaving squeezed into every available space. Despite the bombing raids during World War II Oldman, his wife, and his collection remained in the house. All survived intact despite hits on houses in close proximity.

The catalogue of Polynesian and Maori items in Oldman’s private collection was published in sections in The Journal of the Polynesian Society based in the University of Auckland, New Zealand. On 13 August 1948 Oldman sold his private collection of Oceanic material to the New Zealand Government for some 44,000 pounds stirling. The New Zealand Government distributed the collection to various regional museums including the Dominion Museum, the Auckland Museum, Canterbury Museum, Otago Museum and various others on long term loan. In 1992 the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act was passed and the New Zealand Government, under section 26 of the act, transferred legal ownership and administration of the Oldman Collection to The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The collection remains distributed among the regional museums of New Zealand.

Less than a year later Oldman died on 30 June 1949. His widow sold the last of his stock to the British Museum in 1950 (Julien’s note, I am not sure if this last part is accurate: the source for this claim is Wikipedia)

Books and catalogs

There are many original prints and reprints , I am only listing original work or the bundled versions

William O. Oldman (1879-1949) – The Remarkable Collector
Author: Conru & Hales, 2016)

The Illustrated Catalogue Of Ethnographical Specimens, Oldman, W.O., London, 1904 (original)

The Illustrated Catalogue Of Ethnographical Specimens, Oldman, W.O., London, 1976 (reprint, limited to 1000 copies) Hardcover and softcover published by London: [Hales, Wilburg]

The books below also have originals, but these are the ones that you can generally find available.

The Oldman Collection Of Maori Artifacts. New Edition of Polynesian Society Memoir 14 (reprint) ISBN-10: 090894005X ISBN-13: 978-0908940059

The Oldman Collection Of Polynesian Artifacts New Edition of Polynesian Society Memoir 15 (reprint) ISBN 10: 0908940068 / ISBN 13: 9780908940066

Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990
Author: Hermione Waterfield, Jonathan C. H. King, 2010

ISBN-10: 190347096X – ISBN-13: 978-1903470961


This film was edited using William Oldman’s personal 16mm print copy in April 2006.
Text and Music by Kevin Conru – Production By Alain Pierre

The video above is available on the following website



Oldmans ledgers are available online and can be found here:

William Ockleford Oldman Archive research materials, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.


Media Gallery