Early 1950s Dealers in Reptiles in U.K.

I started the series on reptile dealers in the U.K. in the mid-1950s, a low-point if that is the right word in the number of companies and individuals involved in the trade, other than the tortoise trade where many importers and wholesalers fed the retail pet shops in cities and towns.

Tortoises and terrapins in bulk appear in this advertisement from Cage Birds:


At this time the well-known traders like Cura and Haig were mainly or exclusively in the wholesale business supplying fish and importing mainly European reptiles and amphibians to pet shops. Joe Grassby advertised his strictly wholesale only business for many years:


A feature of the trade was, and apparently still is, the appearance of dealers who only stayed in business for a short time. There were also those who imported animals directly for themselves and then sold on any surplus, and those who imported batches of reptiles only occasionally.

Early in the 1950s, as post-war restrictions designed to protect Sterling during a period of real austerity, were slowly lifted and imports began to re-appear, there were dealers in addition to Robert Jackson, George Boyce and Palmers who were selling reptiles at least part of the time.

The monthly magazines, The Aquarist and Pondkeeper and Water Life, were not the only or main place for advertising. Everybody with anything to do with wild animals read the advertisements in the weekly, Cage Birds.

Ford’s Zoological Supplies of Woolwich, London loomed large in the early 1950s but then seemed to disappear:

Ad Fords 1950

I have no information on Mr Griffin other than this advertisement from Water Life in 1952:

Ad WL 1952

St Martin’s Aquaria in the centre of London advertised in Water Life in 1953 but I was told later only had the normal ‘pet shop’ European reptiles in Spring:

Ad WL Feb 1953

Child’s was a major pre-war aquarium dealer in London but I do not know when the shop closed. This advertisement is from 1952:

Ad WL Aug 1952

This one from Cage Birds in August 1953 shows that a number of aquarium shops were stocking reptiles and amphibians:


The Alan Robertson Organisation of Edinburgh had occasional blitzes on advertising that started, I think, in 1953. Where he kept the animals I do not know since his address in South Learmonth Gardens was in a typical Edinburgh New Town terrace. He could of course have been acting for a zoo or other dealer selling surplus large animals like the tiger and orang-utan that appeared in some of his advertisements.

This is from Water Life, August 1953:

Ad WL August 1953

This is from May 1954 in Cage Birds:


Cage Birds, October 1955:


Aquarist December 1955:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 15.44.56 copy

Water Life February 1956 had three separate advertisements:




The last of the three is interesting because it describes the launch of  ‘ARO-Magazine’ as well as leaflets written by Alfred Leutscher. Have any of these publications survived?

I thought I remembered being told by Clin Keeling that Alan Robertson had gone on to work for Ravensden Zoological Company (incorporated I see in 1961 but operating I think from a little earlier). That thought was confirmed when I found an article on a pet skunk which was kept on board one of H.M. warships.

For a week, during duties in the Firth of Clyde, Saintes had on hoard a party of Sea Cadets from East London. They were in the charge of their history teacher – an ex-Major who kept exotic pets as a hobby. He persuaded David to find an unusual mascot for the ship, (the Captain’s kitten, Sylvester, did not count as such), and just happened to have on board a zoological company’s catalogue. David spotted the entry for skunks, and wrote away to the company, Ravensden in Bedford.

     …it was some time before David received the mail from Ravensden saying that no skunks were available – but that one
might turn up. Meanwhile, he had obtained the necessary permission, from his First Lieutenant, to keep a skunk on board.
     The ship’s next tour of duty was to be in the Mediterranean, based at Malta. While the Saintes was berthed at Plymouth, David was staying at Sudbury in Suffolk, with his father, a retired Royal Navy Captain, who had become an accomplished landscape painter. They drove to Bedford to have a look at Ravensden.
     There, they were shown around by Scots manager, Alan Robertson. The animals then in stock included various apes and monkeys, and even baby alligators, but no skunk. Taking a chance, Alan phoned the firm’s Scarborough branch, and found that they had just received a male, North American Striped Skunk, fourteen weeks old. II would cost 15 guineas… As part of the deal,  Alan requested “a bit of publicity”.
     David agreed, and Alan immediately phoned the Sunday Pictorial, who were interested, and asked David to call at their London office. That was convenient, since David had planned a trip to London, and was able to go next day. It was then, in Bedford, that he decided to name the unseen skunk “Alphonse”.

The full story is told in a book I have not read:

David Gunn. Alphonse: The Story of a Seafaring Skunk. London: Peter Davies, 1964.

By the end of the 1950s things were beginning to change and the 1960s saw a increase in keeping reptiles and in the number of reptile dealers, some of whom though soon fell by the wayside.

UPDATED: 24 April 2016


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