Collector: James Thomas Hooper

James Thomas Hooper (1 September 1897 – 9 February 1971) was a British collector of ethnographic artifacts of the Inuit, Native American, Oceanic and African peoples in addition to being a writer and owner/curator of the Totems Museum.

Hooper was born in North Wraxall-Wiltshire in 1897 and began collecting in 1912 when his father gave him a native spear.He became an employee of the Thames Conservancy Board but collecting was his obsession. He scoured flea markets and small antique shops in rural England for items of interest as well as purchasing from auction houses, private museums and house sales. He also organised exchanges with other dealers and collectors such as William Ockelford Oldman and Kenneth Athol Webster.

At the height of his collecting in the 1950s, he was one of the top four collectors of pacific ethnographic material in the United Kingdom. Others included Kenneth Athol Webster and William Ockelford Oldman. Hooper’s interest in collecting this material was ethnological rather than aesthetic. Like Oldman, Hooper never left Great Britain to visit the cultures that created the material he enjoyed.

After his retirement, Hooper opened the Totems Museum in Arundel, Sussex, United Kingdom in a two-story building on the High Street. He ran this museum between 1957 and 1963. The ground-floor rooms were packed full of his ethnographic collection while he and his grandson, Steven Hooper, lived in the rooms above.The British Pathe newsreel film dated 9 December 1957 follows a couple visiting the Totems Museum. While the film gives little information when describing the treasures of the museum, close attention to the background and general shots of the interior of the museum give an excellent insight into the size, diversity and quality of Hooper’s collection.

In 1954, he co-authored the publication The Art of Primitive Peoples with Cottie Arthur Burland. In it, Hooper concentrates on the art of Polynesia, Melanesia, North Coast of America, Eskimo, West Africa and the Congo. His text is illustrated with 116 photographs of items from his collection taken by R.H. Bomback.Soon after the opening of the Totems Museum, he published a guide booklet titled The Totems Museum, High Street, Arundel, Sussex : exhibiting the Hooper Collection of primitive art from Africa, the Pacific islands, New Zealand and the Americas. This was also illustrated. The Hooper Collection was also documented through photography as Hooper allowed visitors and researchers to photograph his collections. Photographs of works from his collection can be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hooper’s collection continued to be documented after his death in 1971. His collection was the subject of a book by his grandson Steven Phelps – now known as Steven Hooper. Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection was published in 1976 and featured 250 illustrations. Soon after this book was published, parts of the collection began to be auctioned by Christie’s. Between 1976 and 1982 there were at least six auctions of material from the James Hooper Collection. The auctions included African Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 14 July 1976 at Christie’s London,American Indian Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 9 Nov 1976 at Christie’s London,Hawaiian and Maori Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 21 June 1977 at Christie’s London, Melanesian and Polynesian Art from the James Hooper Collection held on 19 June 1979 at Christie’s London,Oceanic Art From the James Hooper Collection held on 17 June 1980 at Christie’s London. and Important Tribal Art held on 7 July 1982 at Christie’s London.

Books written by or featuring Thomas Hooper

Art and Artefacts of the Pacific,Africa and the Americas
The James Hooper Collection by Steven Phelps (now Steven Hooper)

London: Hutchinson, 1976.
487pp. 8 colour and 250 monochrome plates, numerous maps, biblio., index.
A total of 1927 pieces are catalogued; the Pacific, 1307 pieces; the Americas; 424 pieces; and Africa, 196 pieces.

ISBN-10: 0091250005
ISBN-13: 978-0091250003

The Art of Primitive Peoples. J. T. Hooper and C. A. Burland
Title: The Art of Primitive Peoples
Publisher: Fountain P
Publication Date: 1953
Binding: Hardcover

African Art from the James Hooper Collection 14 July 1976
48 Pages + 38 Pages with Full Page Illustrations and 139 Lots

American Indian Art from the James Hooper Collection 9 Nov 1976 at Christie’s London

Hawaiian and Maori Art from the James Hooper Collection 21 June 1977 at Christie’s London

Melanesian and Polynesian Art from the James Hooper Collection 19 June 1979 at Christie’s London

Oceanic Art From the James Hooper Collection 17 June 1980 at Christie’s London

Important Tribal Art held on 7 July 1982 at Christie’s London.

Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990 Paperback – February 15, 2010
Author: Hermione Waterfield, Jonathan C. H. King
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Paul Holberton Publishing; New edition (September 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 190347096X
ISBN-13: 978-1903470961

Articles and advertisements


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

Come and join our Tribal art identification topic on the forum

Our forum is now open to anyone who has an ethnographical item or object that he or she want to have identified. please register on our forum and go to the What is it? (Object identification) section. Make a new post with your images and as much information as possible and we will try and get this identification solved.

If you rather keep your items private but would still like to identify an object: please send an email with pictures to

Have nothing to identify? please help us in helping others with their objects and join our forum a place where collectors, academics and scholars can share their knowledge. Inventarisnummer : AM-10-2 Credit line / Met dank aan : Congregatie van de Heilige Geest (CSSp.) CC BY-SA 4.0