Wednesday - 23 July 2014

Strong turnout for Harvey’s vintage selection of drinking glasses

11 October 2003Written by Anne Crane

IN terms of collecting focus, much of the pre-sale attention for the Harvey’s Wine Museum sale at Bonhams centred on the October 1 glass and ceramics auction.

This was in part because it contained the collection's most expensive piece - a Jacobite glass estimated at £40,000-50,000 - but also because it was the most celebrated element of the Harvey archive, much of it put together by local glass specialist Peter Lazarus and formed at a time when there were rich pickings on the market through the dispersal of the celebrated Walter F. Smith collection.

Although the sale's star failed to find a buyer this was something of an exception, the only unsold lot in the entire 261-lot auction which netted just over £311,000. The event prompted a whole gamut of rarely seen glass collectors to come up to town for the occasion.

There was a huge turn-out for this event, the auctioneers' main ground floor saleroom filled with lots of unfamiliar faces, many of a certain age, as well as more familiar dealers and agents including Christopher Sheppard, Alan Milford, Mark West and Delomosne.

As a result there was nothing that didn't find favour with someone, although certain classes of glass proved more popular and were more keenly contested than others. These were some early bottles, the 18th century balusters and the colour twist drinking glasses.

A concentration of interest in the more unusual and rarest pieces was another feature and one which Bonhams' ceramics head John Sandon reckoned has been a notable trend at sales across the board. He has observed that these days the preference is for a small collection of choice pieces rather than lots of mundane examples.

"New collectors leave the starting block very quickly," he said. "Private collectors prefer to spend £2000 on a single piece than buy several at £200."

Delft Wine Bottles

The small opening section of decanters passed off favourably enough, but the first real flurry of bidding excitement came with the delftware. The collection included no fewer than eight mid-17th century dated delft wine bottles, seven of them inscribed Sack, and one rarer example for Claret, all of them of narrow necked flask form.

The main contestants for these were the specialist London pottery dealers Jonathan Horne and Alistair Sampson, who carried off half of them, although they had stiff competition from the telephone and a couple of private bidders in the rooms.

The most expensive at £6500 was the Claret flask, a 6.25in (16cm) high example dated 1645 that was secured by one of the private contestants, a young couple in the room who were busy throughout the sale, against underbidding from Alistair Sampson.

Following the delftwares were some 70 lots of early wine bottles varying from single early globe and shaft rarities estimated at £1600-2000 to lots containing a couple of bottles estimated at £100-150. This is an area where crossover interest with the wine industry has added an international element to the buying. Despite the fact that condition was not tip top for many of these, there was plenty of demand from all quarters and at all levels, but a group of around half a dozen determined combatants ended up with the majority of the lots and there were two particularly big spenders: one in the room, the other on the telephone.

The most expensive bottles were, as expected, the earliest and highest estimated entries: "black" glass globe and shaft bottles of c.1660, each with some surface degradation. The first to come up was contested by two bidders who had battled over the delft bottles immediately beforehand: the young couple who bought the Claret bottle and a telephone bidder who eventually succeeded at a double estimate £4600. The second example sold in the room for £2400, more in line with the pre-sale estimate.

Although most of the 18th century bottles came in under the £500 mark, one or two good sealed and dated examples were subject to bidding battles. These included an 11in (27.5cm) high specimen stamped for All Souls College 1764 that the main buyer in the room secured against the phone for £1300 and a 10in (24.5cm) wide squat-shaped bottle inscribed R Tucker Street 1788 that went in the room for £1350.

 

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Above: the bottle stamped for All Souls College 1764 that sold for £1300 at the Harvey's wine museum sale.

 

The subsequent small section devoted to various shaped glass entries included a good-sized and well-shaped 8in (20cm) wassail bowl of c.1690 with a lower section decorated nipped diamond waies, that made £4600 and the silver-mounted glass wine fountain, a rare glassmaking tour-de-force with the extra bonus of a titled provenance, that in the event proved to be the auction's best seller, going on the phone for £8500.

The sale then moved into wine glasses and with the early baluster stems the tempo and prices once again moved up a notch or two. These substantial plain early drinking glasses are perennially popular, relying for their appeal on simple good proportions and weight rather than engraving or forms of decoration that can be subject to whims of fashion.

The best of the Harvey's bunch excited such interest that bidders were seemingly prompted to ignore that extra 40 per cent's worth of add-ons to take the bidding to multi-estimate prices.

One of the most fiercely contested battles came with a Walter Smith piece, a large early baluster goblet of c.1700 with elegant funnel bowl and double knop stem. In addition to having been in the Smith collection, this was a much-published piece that had featured, amongst others, in Bickerton's standard volume on English drinking glasses. The glass dealers Delomosne, a glass consultant and a private purchaser were all outstripped by a determined telephone bidder who took it to a double-estimate £3800.

The response to the Newcastle and Dutch engraved light balusters and wine glasses that followed was more muted with sales on estimate. When it came to the mid-18th century airtwists, the small Jacobite section looked to be off to a good start with the three air twist glasses with their various roses and other engraved emblems all exceeding expectations.

But then came the star turn, the Jacobite 'Amen' glass, and the tables turned. Starting the bidding at £30,000, John Sandon met with silence and the glass was bought in with no interest from the room. There were several theories as to why the Harvey's glass cake was robbed of its icing in this manner.

One was that the estimate was simply too high, especially in view of that extra VAT factor. Another was that buyers were cautious because Jacobite glass has become a controversial area. There has been been much debate and discussion in glass circles recently about its dating with some holding that the engraved elements of Jacobite significance have been added to plain 18th century glasses at later dates when there was a revival of interest in the Jacobite movement.

As a result buyers have become cautious about pieces in this field unless they can be tied to a very early provenance such as an 18th century inventory. Given that 'Amen' goblets are much the most expensive type of Jacobite glass, a degree of caution is understandable given the size of the outlay involved.

Mr Sandon said he felt the size of the estimate had been the biggest drawback and that they were still hoping to negotiate an after-sale.

Perry/Cider Glass

The remaining, less rarefied mid-18th century airtwist and opaque twist glasses that followed afterwards, pieces that were pitched more affordably, progressed comfortably enough, selling to a wide range of different bidders in the room. Prices were mostly within estimate, with the occasional flurry of interest from several bidders sending the price up for an unusual shape or decorative detail. For example, a rare perry/cider glass of c.1750 ex the Sir Hugh Dawson and Walter Smith collections, engraved around the pan-topped bowl with a continuous spray of apples and pears, was contested by two of the room's more active participants: the telephone bidder who secured the large baluster goblet and a buyer seated in the front row, selling to the phone for a double-estimate £3200.

A different telephone bidder went to no less than £3000 to secure a 6in (15.5cm) high champagne/mead glass of c.1755 with gadrooned lower section to the generous-sized bowl and a double series opaque twist stem, while a bidder in the room was prepared to go to £2300 against a £1000-1300 estimate for a rare 61/4in (16cm) high bell-bowled glass set on an air twist stem with four separate knops, another Bickerton illustrated and Walter Smith piece.

The small sub-section of Beilby decorated glasses performed adequately enough given that all had some degree of damage, but the next really active section came towards the end with the Harvey's collection of colour twists. Although this type of 18th century glass, which was produced over a relatively short period from 1760-70, has always been sought after, it has periodic moments in the collecting spotlight when new enthusiasts decide to build up collections and on such occasions prices can move up an extra rung or two.

There were 11 examples in the Harvey's sales, enough to promise opportunities for prospective purchasers, and in the event there were around three or four really keen contestants, mostly established collectors present in the room, battling for this group.

The most expensive example was a 6.25in (16cm) high ogee-bowled glass with blue glass tapes around a central white corkscrew that was contested by the room and phone to £5000. It was followed by a bell-bowled 6.5in (17cm) high tartan twist glass of c.1770, which after a slow start saw bidding rise to £4600.

Rounding off this auction was the inevitable section of Bristol blue glass and a small group of miscellaneous later wares, the latter distinguished by one unexpectedly high price for a piece of thespian interest.

This was a 6.5in (17cm) high wine glass engraved with a portrait of the actress Sarah Siddons in a scrolling border. Bonhams reckoned that although the glass dated to c.1740, the portrait of Siddons was probably engraved later, and gave it a lowish £250-350 estimate only to see the price rise to £1050 as it was contested by two bidders interested in theatrical items.

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