BONHAMS’ latest silver auction was another sale of two parts. Around a third of it was devoted entirely to one specialist collecting field, early spoons, the bulk from one vendor, Mr Britton Smith.
The remainder of the sale on November 19 was devoted to a
general, mixed-owner selection of English and Continental
silverwares featuring anything from Victorian novelty cigar cutters
to a Tudor Communion cup plus a 46-lot hors d'oeuvre of objets de
vertu. Overall, the take-up was a respectable 71 per cent to net
just under £450,000 but it was the spoons which carried the day,
with all bar seven of the 65 lots finding buyers.
Canadian collector Britton Smith was probably the major player
in the field in the last decades of the 20th century. Buying
through the specialist trade and at auction, he assembled a massive
collection of early spoons. This was Bonhams' second instalment,
the first part having been dispersed this time last year. This
November's sale covered a similar range and timespan, from the 14th
to the late 17th century, and saw a similarly high strike rate,
generating almost £250,000 between them.
This is all the more encouraging given that, between sales one
and two, news of the fake spoons produced by Peter Ashley-Russell
over the past decade has emerged.
Specialist Rupert Slingsby felt that the confidence inspired by
a named private collection played a part here, although there was
an equally strong take-up for the mixed-owner spoons. These were
reduced to 20 lots after nine withdrawals over a question of title
but just two failed to sell in this section.
As expected, the highest spoon price was paid for Britton
Smith's lion sejant terminal spoon from Henry VIII's reign,
carrying marks for the specialist London spoon maker William
Simpson 1529, although the £13,500 was more than Bonhams had
Also above expectations was the £10,500 bid for a diamond-point
spoon from five years later which carried an unidentified maker's
mark of a pair of compasses.
While such rare specimens attract keen demand from those wanting
to fill gaps in established collections, above £10,000 the
collecting air is very thin. There are many more buyers below the
£5000 mark and, fortunately, Britton Smith's holdings also offered
pieces for entry-level buyers. These included a provincial Charles
II period trefid end spoon whose reverse showed nice clear marks
for York goldsmith Mark Gill, 1681 with a curlicue embellished
rat-tail at £650, and the two late 17th century Puritan spoons
shown here, which also took £650.
Among the silver that followed the spoons, the big
disappointment was the day's potential best-seller, another Charles
II, parcel-gilt, two-handled cage work porringer of very similar
size, weight and form to Christie's Bodendick version, but, in this
case, unmarked. It was estimated slightly lower at £40,000-50,000,
but still failed to sell, a clear illustration of how choice
affects buyers' attitudes.
Helping to bump up statistics in the porringer's absence was the
much higher than predicted interest in an elegantly restrained 24oz
French Louis XV ivory handled chocolate pot dated to 1764. This had
the magic Parisian name of Germain as maker - not Thomas Germain
senior but his son François Thomas, who trained in his father's
workshop and inherited his models, atelier and his artistocratic
Bonhams had given this an extremely attractive £10,000-15,000
estimate but the pot was contested to £48,000, bid by an overseas
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