J.R. Ogden of Harrogate—-the antiquarian who worked on Tutankhamen’s  treasures

Ogden by Murray 001Found in Kaleidoscope (1947), that miscellany of anecdotes and opinions by veteran journalist Harold Murray from which one Jot has already been created, is a pen portrait of J. R. Ogden, the keen amateur archaeologist and collector.


James Roberts Ogden owned a high class jewellery shop in Harrogate , which he had founded in 1893 . According to his friend Murray, Ogden had a passion for collecting ‘ anything that would tend to prove the authenticity of Bible stories’, though Murray doesn’t elaborate on that. Murray, himself an evangelist and bible scholar, would have taken to this industrious human jackdaw, and as a journalist he would have been  impressed by Ogden’s voluminous archive of press cuttings.


‘I don’t think he wrote a line for the Press himself. For years he took in scores of newspapers and magazines. At breakfast he would quickly scan them, marking with a blue pencil whatever interested him. One of his servants received a fee for cutting out the items; sometimes unemployed men were called in to place them neatly onto sheets which were transferred to neatly bound little files, of which Ogden must have bought many hundreds. Ask him for any information about explorations at Ur, about Roman customs, ancient burials, mummies, all the familiar Bible characters—it would be supplied in an instant. Ask for such detailed records of film stars, sportsmen and the like—nothing doing…’ 


Ogden was a ‘ magnetic ‘ lecturer on his special fields, but perhaps his most valuable contribution to antiquarianism was his role as ‘ Advisory Goldsmith to the British Museum’, where he specialised in the restoration of jewellery found in Egyptian tombs. He worked closely with Egyptologists Howard Carter and Leonard Woolley on the treasures that emerged from Tutankhamen’s tomb from 1922. He seems to have kept some of the artefacts for his own collection, and these, including jewellery, a gold death mask and a wooden coffin fragment, ended up as cherished objects in Harrogate Museum.


In time Ogden opened up a high end branch of the family jewellers in Duke Street in London’s St James, while his son Richard continued the trade in King Street nearby, eventually moving to the exclusive Burlington Arcade, where his celebrity customers included Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, and Madonna.


J.R. Ogden’s practical skills and knowledge of ancient jewellery were passed down to his great grandson, Jack Ogden, an international authority on ancient jewellery and metalwork , whose monograph, Jewellery of the Ancient World(1982) is arguably the key work in the field.

  1. M. Healey

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