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What was it that took this piece of furniture to £22,000?

21 May 2003Written by ATG Reporter

AUCTIONEER George Kidner admitted after this April 16 sale (15% buyer's premium) that he wished he’d been able to offer more of that currently under-regarded commodity, brown furniture, because while routine silver remains pretty dormant and there was little good jewellery to be found, good quality furniture, along with ceramics, was selling well, sometimes spectacularly so.

Into this latter category came a good, if plain, bowfronted sideboard whose main attraction seemed to be the quality of the wood – the combination of walnut with satinwood crossbanding much favoured in the late 19th century, the era to which the catalogue ascribed the piece.

“The vendor had been given an insurance valuation of £2000 but she was quite aware insurance valuations don’t translate into auction prices and the handles to the drawer had been plugged in a rather puzzling way,” said Mr Kidner. “The only rather unusual factor was the way the top overhung quite a long way at the back, probably to accommodate a wainscot. We gave it an encouraging estimate of £700-1000, hoping for a bit more.”

Bidders in the Hampshire rooms thought rather differently.

“Given the way the bidding went, they obviously considered it a real period piece, mid- or lateish 18th century,” said Mr Kidner. “But as there was certainly no signature and no reference as far as I could see in design books like Sheraton’s, I still wouldn’t have expected it to have gone much above £7000.”

Local dealers concurred, dropping out when the bidding reached the £4000 mark and others fell out at around £7000, but two determined bidders stayed head to head until the sideboard finally sold to the London trade at £22,000.

“I just have to assume they saw something nobody else did,” said a frankly puzzled Mr Kidner.

The local trade were active enough at lower levels, tripling lower expectations on a George III mahogany chest-on-chest with two short and three long drawers to the upper section and three long graduated drawers to the base on bracket feet.

“It was nice looking with a good veneer but it needed a bit of work,” said Mr Kidner who was more than happy to see it go at £2000.

Another local trade buy was a 19th century Dutch marquetry chest fitted with six long drawers between columns with all-over decoration of rams’ heads, cherubs and vases of flowers. Like many such pieces, it had suffered splits to the sides, but this did not deter the local trade who took it at £1700 against a £400-600 estimate.

Other winning bids in the furniture section included a top-estimate £1300 on a George III mahogany and satinwood banded sofa table with a hinged rectangular top above two frieze drawers on solid end supports; another £1300 (mid-estimate) on a 4ft 10in (1.47m) wide Regency mahogany and inlaid breakfront sideboard with brass rail; and a low-estimate £1200 on a George III mahogany bureau, 3ft 3in (99cm) wide with a fall enclosing a fitted interior above four long graduated drawers.

Mr Kidner’s hopes among the ceramics were largely pinned on a 25-lot section of Belleek discovered in the kitchen of an unpromising flat. The section did live up to its fairly modest hopes, with collectors doing all the buying, including the top offerings of 11 miscellaneous Second Period cups and saucers, including the Five O’Clock, Lily and Celtic patterns, which made £750 against a £100-130 estimate, and a teacup, saucer and plate in the Thorn pattern, which tripled hopes at £480.

Much more of a surprise was the way one of the Belleek collectors fought off all determined comers for a set of six c.1902 9in (23cm) square Minton plates with pâte-sur-pâte putti panels representing the seasons. They carried the printed crown globe mark and retailer’s mark for Gillman Collamore, but it was not until after the catalogue had been printed with an estimate of £500-800 that the minuscule artist’s mark was revealed.

Still, the set was hardly in perfect condition, one plate had a chunk missing, and the winning £8500 bid was pretty remarkable.

Name association also helped the best-selling piece of silver, a 4 3/4in (12cm) unusual double hip flask of radiator form with the maker’s mark of William Basse & Sons, Birmingham, 1928. More crucially, the presentation inscription read Johnson with best wishes for T.O.M. Sopwith and Phyllis Sopwith. Given Tommy Sopwith’s links with the pioneer days of aviation and the date, could the Johnson have referred to the great Amy? If so, this would explain why the trade went to £1600 on the 9oz piece estimated at £200-300.

Meanwhile, older and long-respected names in the silver trade continue to languish – here a 10 1/2oz, 5in (12.5cm) baluster tankard with scroll handle marked for John Langlands I, Newcastle 1759 was had by the local trade towards the low end of the estimate at £480.

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