Two lavish catalogues, a DVD, three days at Syon House, trips to the USA and Hong Kong, acres of press coverage… Sotheby’s and Christie’s apart, seldom can a UK auction house have devoted more time, more energy and more money to promoting a sale than Lyon & Turnbull did with the Drambuie Collection.
And they pulled it off.
The roots of Drambuie - the name is taken from the Gaelic
meaning "the drink that satisfies" - can be directly traced to 1746
when legend has it Bonnie Prince Charlie bequeathed to Captain John
MacKinnon of Skye the recipe for a scotch whisky liqueur as
gratitude for the protection from the British Army after Culloden.
The MacKinnon family, now Edinburgh based, remain the owners of
The roots of the Drambuie collection are not so deep - 20 years
of acquisition through salerooms and dealers designed to enrich the
brand and transform the Edinburgh corporate headquarters into art
gallery. Robin Nicholson, who formerly worked at The Fine Art
Society in Edinburgh, has been the principal advisor to the
MacKinnon family and was appointed curator of the collection in
At the heart of the collection is a celebrated archive of
Jacobite relics which remains key to the brand.
However, the need to rationalise the company's assets during one
of the most turbulent trading periods in its 260-year history has
made associated acquisitions surplus to requirements.
Up for grabs was an A-Z assembly of Scottish art, a significant
collection of Scottish pottery, silver and boardroom furniture -
and an opportunity for L&T to conduct the sort of showpiece
sale by which reputations are made.
When the marketing campaign finally took a breather on the
evening of January 26, there can't have been many potential bidders
who weren't aware that this year Drambuie was not just for drinking
on Burn's Night. In financial terms, the sale was all about the
Samuel John Peploe's still life of pink roses and fruit c.1919,
estimated at £100,000-150,000, drew a fierce battle quickly between
the room and the phone, the latter winning at an impressive
Elsewhere there were a series of strong prices and the sole
disappointment of the evening was the much hyped Sir William
Quiller Orchardson RA (1832-1910) oil Dolce Far Niente. Estimated
at £30,000-40,000, it got away just over the opening bid at £16,000
to a delighted lady buyer in the room.
So it must have been with some relief that John Mackie took to
the rostrum on January 27 in the knowledge that, at £2.64m, the
running sale total was already up on the projected take for the
Drambuie Part II was worth a further £520,000, enough for
L&T to claim the biggest single sale total posted by a regional
auction house at £3.16m.
The Wemyss was particularly good. "Fashions have come and gone,
but Wemyss has retained an enthusiastic following of discerning
collectors who cherish its distinctive charm and superb painting,"
wrote specialists Victoria de Rin and David MacMillan in a forward
to the catalogue.
Certainly the market proved capable of sustaining the dizzy
price levels achieved for rare pigs and cats at recent Sotheby's
sales in Gleneagles. Predictably, the favourite at Edinburgh was a
12.5in (32cm) high tabby cat, modelled, Gallé-style, in a seated
upright position with smiling face and applied with green glass
The form comes in a wide variety of different decorative
treatments from monochromes to cabbage roses but the naturalistic
tones of the tabby is certainly among the most appealing. Eight out
of ten Wemyss collectors said they preferred it - and bidding shot
to a quadruple upper-estimate £20,000.
This bid matches that offered for a cat decorated with circles
and hearts in green against a pink ground at Sotheby's in 2003.
The record for Wemyss remains the remarkable £29,000 (plus 20
per cent premium) bid twice for two super-cute sleeping piglets at
Gleneagles in 2004. However, £20,000 is a massive price for a
Wemyss tabby, one of which made £9500 at Gleneagles as recently as
The other Drambuie Wemyss cats of the same form but more
standard decoration (there were five in total) proved more
predictable. Two glazed in apple green sold at £3200 while another
with pink cabbage roses, but some damage, achieved £3800.
Above: the rare Wemyss tabby cat which sold at £20,000 at
Lyon & Turnbull's Drambuie sale.
Two rare tablewares, both decorated with farm animals and both
probably by Karol Nekola, performed well. A bread-and-butter plate
painted with a frieze of cows and a bull in a landscape had some
minor damage but sold at £1600 against an estimate of £300-500.
Another bid of £1600 secured a 7.5in (19cm) square tray painted
with a solitary black pig within a green scalloped border that also
had a fine hairline.
There were several examples of the well-known honeycomb pots,
but more unusual was an example modelled as a bee skep with
'thatched' cover and painted with flying bees. Estimated at
£800-1200, it sold at £1900.
L&T had been a dogfight to win this job from local rivals -
single-owner consignments as good as this one don't just fall into
the lap - but, once chosen to conduct the sale, they were not asked
to hike estimates to testing levels. Guidelines for a fine array of
18th century drinking glasses put little pressure on the
The Leith Goblet, was the title given to a 7.75in
(19cm) high bucket-bowl glass decorated in white enamel with a
rococo scroll cartouche enclosing the dedication The
Success to the Town and Trade of Leith. The traditional
attribution of these wares is to the Beilby family of Newcastle and
the suggestion was made that the goblet was probably made and
gifted to wish success to a trade venture between Newcastle and
There is an alternative theory. I recall an article by museum
curator turned Sotheby's specialist Simon Cottle in which he raised
the probability of similar enamelling workshops operating in
Scotland c.1765. Could this be one of those wares? Anyway it
doubled hopes when it sold at £11,000.
A very fine Dutch decorated 'Newcastle' composite stemmed
cordial glass, c.1760 took £7500 (estimate £4000-6000). The 7in
(17.5cm) high glass was the The
Friendship pattern from a series also depicting The
Liberty, Peace, Harmony and Fatherland and was stipple
engraved with three (rather than the usual two) putti drinking a
toast. The inscription below the rim of a Dutch-decorated light
baluster translates as The Success to the voyage of the
Boeken Roode. She was built as a 52-gun ship in 1729 in
Amsterdam and refitted in 1747 as the 44-gun three-masted ship
engraved to the funnel bowl.
Engraved to the reverse were the arms of Roos of Amsterdam
suggesting the goblet was made to mark Dirk Roos's promotion to
Rear Admiral in 1748. Standing a substantial 10in (25cm) high, it
sold at a mid-estimate £5500.
Drambuie's silver holdings were relatively small but did include
a classic Scottish teapot from the early years of George II's
Both the spherical or 'bullet' form and the restrained narrow
band of engraved decoration around the shoulder are characteristic
of Scottish hollowware of this period.
This 6.25in (16cm) high, 22.5oz example from 1729 was marked for
Edinburgh maker James Taitt, who might just be the jeweller and
silversmith called 'Tate' who accompanied Prince Charles Edward
Stuart back to France in 1746. It sold at £3200 (estimate
A William IV punch ladle with marks for William Cunningham of
Edinburgh, 1830 was set to the floral engraved bowl with a gilt
coin inscribed Georgius II. Popular legend associates
coin-inset punch ladles such as this fine example, with the
Jacobite cause as each serving presented an opportunity to 'drown'
a Hanoverian monarch in the punch. They are not, however, uncommon,
so £1200 - against an estimate of £200-300 - looked a strong
Scottishness was what the Drambuie collection was all about. And
what could be more Scottish than the sporran?
There were many examples here including a regimental sporran
inscribed 42 (for the 42nd Highlanders) and mounted to the grey
horsehair body with six gold bullion work tassels suspended from
single-knotted gold cords. The 20in (51cm) sporran was estimated
low but sold at £2300.
Another officer's regimental dress sporran with a similar
display of gold bullion wirework tassels and comparable in terms of
size, had a central oval crest inscribed The Queen's Own Cameron
Highlanders above a banner inscribed Peninsula, Egypt, Waterloo.
The purse was inscribed to the reverse R&HB Kirkwood, 66 &
68 Thistle Street,
Edinburgh. It made £1900.
But perhaps most interesting of the trio was the late 17th/early
18th century, brass-mounted leather sporran measuring just 81/2in
(21cm) long and embellished only with crudely engraved stylised
thistles, the saltire of St Andrew and a monogram.
It was one of two early sporrans in the sale (another sold at
£1100) but this was accompanied by a note stating: 'Sporran left
behind at Barcaldine by Macdonald of Glencoe where he had been
storm-stayed by snow in December 1691. Consequently he was two days
late in reaching Inveraray to sign the Oath of Allegiance by
1st January 1692, which gave Campbell of Glenlyon the
excuse for the Massacre of Glencoe'.
That was enough to see it double the mid-estimate and take
What followed was an array of Georgian and Victorian boardroom
furniture and associated furnishings from stuffed fish to
Thorneycroft bronzes, Aubusson tapestry fragments and model yachts.
Private buying dominated.
The furniture yielded one exceptional object - a mid Victorian
walnut centre table, attributed to Henry Eyles of Bath.
It was difficult to know where to look first. To the 5ft 3in
(1.60m) diameter, burr quarter-veneered top was a cartouche-shaped
marquetry panel depicting a basket of flowers. To the sloping
boxwood frieze were 16 reliefcarved oval panels depicting the
Ages of Man and Adam and Eve expelled from
Paradise, between rope twist mouldings. And the base was a
riot of carved dolphins, flowers, shells and swans.
A similar table by Henry Eyles (it is likely that the edge
carving was carried out by his relation George Eyles, woodcarver of
Claverton Street, Bath) was exhibited at The Great Exhibition of
1851 and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The subject
matter suggests the Drambuie table was also made for exhibition.
Estimated at £8000-12,000, it pushed on to £34,000.
Drambuie is a shot in the arm for the Scottish art market and -
in their quest for a larger slice of that cake - Lyon &
Turnbull appear to have done themselves no harm at all.
The buyer's premium was 19.5/12%.