The second foray to Mayfair from their custom-built rooms near Bath fell short of an unqualified success for Gardiner Houlgate (15/10 per cent buyer’s premium) but the March 18 specialist musical instruments sale at the Westbury Hotel, where some 380 lots took about £178,000, attracted enough top-level interest to put it on the map as a bi-annual event with a third planned for November.
And it certainly had its talking points. One came among the violins, and the story behind the example shown which bore a reinforcement parchment strip along the centre join of the inner back inscribed Marcus Antonius Novellus fecit Venetiis 1793.
The 141/8in (36cm) instrument, varnished to a rich plum colour, also carried Novello’s monogram and was branded to the back with his initials enclosing the Venetian lion and the Cross of St Peter.
It was a genuine example of Novello’s work and there was no surprise when it led the day at £14,500, just below estimate.
The talking point was how the vendor had come upon it. In the best traditions of the trade, the English violin dealer was in Germany attending an auction when, out of his taxi window, he spotted the violin in the window of a pawnbroker’s shop. He stopped the cab while he went to look at it and bought it on the spot for just DM700 – even the exchange rate was to his advantage as this worked out at around £220.
However, violin and cello sales were a disappointment, just over half of them selling on a day which enjoyed an overall 95 per cent success rate.
That said, there were some compensations, like the violin with a spurious label Antonius Rocca fecit Taurini anno domini 1854,
catalogued as German and given an £800-1200 estimate. Many in the room thought it Italian and an American dealer went to £4800 to secure it.
Another speculative lot was a latecomer: a violin by Fagnola, one of the most copied 20th century makers, consigned from Scandinavia, and it went to a Japanese buyer at a mid-estimate £12,000.
The other talking point of the day was the 213-lot entry of seasoned wood fronts, backs and ribs for violins, violas and cellos plus some instrument-making tools from the estate of David Rubio – the great 20th century baroque musical instrument maker.
Fearing that acid rain would lead to a
shortage of wood to make his instruments – commissioned at £5000-10,000 each – Rubio bought a lifetime’s stock in the early 1980s.
Sold without reserve, although attracting full VAT at 171/2 per cent, almost every lot got away, with prices between £50 and £1000.
One eager bidder in the room was London-based violin dealer Peter Biddulph who purchased many of the lots on behalf of a Japanese violin maker.
Viewing on a Saturday and auction on a Sunday may not be ideal for busy dealers with families, but the reaction from leading names and the international trade was brisk enough to warrant another such outing.
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