‘Amiable nonsense’ of a Sheffield collector

Caption: Objects of Desire - July 28, Peter Harvey
Caption: Objects of Desire - July 28, Peter Harvey
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n PETER Harvey joined the old Sheffield Morning Telegraph in 1951 as a 17-year-old trainee reporter fresh from Woodhouse Grammar School.

IN LIFE he strived to capture in words the soul of the Sheffield he loved.

In death he left a collection that embodies it.

Peter Harvey spent more than 50 years with the Telegraph and Star as a reporter and columnist and a lifetime as a collector of the city’s oddities, quirks and what he described as ‘amiable nonsense’ for his columns.

He also amassed an equally eclectic hoard of trinkets and trivia from the city’s junk shops, jumble sales and antiques fairs.

500 penknives, more than 1,000 postcards with a strong Sheffield interest and 2,000-plus Pan paperbacks to be precise, and they all go to auction on August 10.

Their monetary worth is debateable, possibly up to £10,000 for the lot, but as a window into bygone Sheffield they are pretty much priceless.

A fact not lost on Peter’s son Simon Harvey.

“It will be nice to see dad’s stuff go to a collector,” said freelance journalist Simon, aged 48, and now of West Bridgford, Nottingham.

“I will go to the auction but it has been quite an emotional time for my mum. Dad died just over four years ago now and she has just got round to looking at his old stuff. She wan’t happy about having that many knives in the house and although she was more attached to the postcards she decided it would be best if a collector kept it together.

“I remember walking into town with my dad along Abbeydale Road when we were young and he would stop at every junk and antique shop along the way and end up going through shoeboxes of postcards or penknives. He would always find an excuse to stop the car and walk if ever he saw something interesting in a shop window.”

Among the furniture and jewellery of more traditional lots and other accumulations which include everything from teddy bears and maps to lighters, slide-rules, binoculars and Star Wars memorabilia, the Harvey collection now lies in trays and boxes in the first floor storerooms of the Sheffield Auction Company in Heeley.

The penknives are of all qualities and every resort. Knives by J. Howarth, Walker and Hall, WM Weedon, Souvenirs from Scarborough, Nigeria, Carnaby Street and the World Student games, solid gold knives, corn knives, knives for sharpening quill pens and one made in Sheffield in 1842.

The postcards are mainly Sheffield-related with real historical value.

Cards depicting 1920s leather-clad speedway stars like Smoky Stratton and Skid Skinner, pipe-smoking test pilots, team pictures with the date chalked on a football, girl guide companies, chest-out, chin-up shopkeepers standing upright in front of their stores, wounded soldiers, classroom groups and factory lads in blackened leather aprons squinting into the sun. So where did he keep all this stuff?

”There was small room in the house that he used to call his office that was wall-to ceiling shelves and boxes where he had most of his stuff, though it did overspill in to the garage,” said Simon.

“My mum dutifully put up with it all their lives together and she had her own collection of theatre programmes.

“The worst thing that could happen would be for it all to end up in a skip somewhere. By taking it to auction it means that whoever gets it will really want it.”

While the collection was largely a plaything for Peter Harvey there was a practical application for it as well.

“He had a collection of WWI silks, special cards that were actually quite valuable,” said Simon. “If they were short of money for a holiday my dad would call around the dealers in London and sell a few cards and they would go off somewhere on the proceeds.”

Simon did think of taking on his dad’s collection himself.

“I’m not sure my partner would have ever forgiven me if I had! I’ve already got my own football programme collection,” added Simon, a lifelong Blade, as was his father.

“I just wouldn’t have had the room unfortunately, but I did consider it.”

In the collection there are also items that won’t be auctioned off.

“There are a lot of Sheffield Directories that we want to give to Sheffield Local Studies Library. Dad spent such a lot of time in there researching and reading up on local history that it would be nice to give them something back.

“Dad would like that.”