John Parry’s collection of early English furniture and works of art had not been long in the making.
It is only just under 13 years since he sold off his last
collection at Christie's King Street in what was then a benchmark
sale for early furniture (especially walnut), netting just under
£1.7m with all bar two of the 110 lots changing hands.
For this latest sale on March 25, again at Christie's
King Street (25/20/12% buyer's premium), John Parry had
extended his remit to yew as well as oak and walnut and was
offering 122 lots, but it included more treen and smaller works of
art. After all, even a collector of John Parry's indefatigable
energy can only find so many good pieces in a relatively short time
if they are to maintain standards.
In fairness even the first collection, which had also been
assembled over the relatively short space of around 20 years,
contained pieces that were of recent acquisition and on some of
those there might not have been much room for profit. But that
first sale in 1997 took place in a different economic climate and
there was a very different atmosphere, with enough demand and
enthusiasm to push many prices to new levels and to take the total
well past predictions of over £1m.
Spring 2010 is another story. Since 1997 walnut values have
fallen back, with even blue-chip pieces plateauing, while oak
prices have been erratic. So a new realism pervaded the air for the
second Parry sale.
In 1997, the sale was led by a bachelor's chest that realised a
treble estimate £240,000; in 2010, however, there appeared to be
resistance to breaking through the three-figure mark. Although
there were some rallies and strong results, a few of them shown
here, bidding didn't overtake guides with the same frequency as
before and there were probably more things on which the vendor
broke even or suffered a loss.
Fortunately Christie's, who said they had worked closely in
consultation with Mr Parry, operated what they termed "a tailored
reserve policy" for each lot. The result was that things were
allowed to get away below estimate.
That said, the auction house had drummed up plenty of absentee
interest to compete with the 20-30 strong mix of trade and privates
who turned out to bid on the day. In the end they sold 98 of the
122 lots to net £984,630, which must count as a pretty solid
Above: the yew section of the Parry sale included this 2ft
10in (87cm) wide George II period burr yew and walnut kneehole desk
estimated at £50,000-80,000. A two-way phone contest took it up to
The purchasing was predominantly private, 80 per cent, but of
international spread, according to Christie's. The trade were
present and bidding but didn't actually come away with much, which
is not surprising given the lack of potential bargains.
One exception was the sole piece of needlework, a Charles II
period silkwork casket with mythological and biblical scenes that
had come from Wilby Hall in Suffolk. Mr Parry had purchased it from
Witney Antiques at the 2007 Grosvenor House Antiques Fair and here
Witney's Stephen Jarrett bought it back just under low estimate at
The top price of the day was the £80,000 paid for a walnut
writing desk. This was one of a handful of pieces that Mr Parry
retained when he held his first sale and last month's result
represented a 100 per cent increase on the hammer price paid when
he secured this at Phillips Chester in 1990. But this kind of
performance was not the general rule.
The second highest priced lot of the sale, a well-figured George
I period burr walnut bachelor's chest, just 2ft 5in (73cm) in
height and width, sold for £75,000. This was inside the
£70,000-100,000 estimate and exactly the same hammer sum that John
Parry paid at Christie's in 1997, while a Queen Anne walnut
kneehole bachelor's chest which carried the day's highest estimate
at £100,000-150,000 couldn't get past £65,000 and failed to
This was notable for its narrow profile - just 131/2in (34cm)
deep - and well finished, veneered reverse, but perhaps
counterbalancing this were its later bun feet, associated handles
and replaced escutcheons. It was also a recent purchase. Mr Parry
had only bought it from Apter Fredericks in 2007.
John Parry has always bought from the trade as well as at
auction and price comparisons there are more difficult. But looking
at the Parry auction purchases, where ATG has managed to track down
the prices paid, they showed mixed fortunes when it comes to making
For example, the sale featured a 2ft 10in (78cm) wide George II
walnut and burr walnut chest of three long and three short drawers,
on replaced bracket feet, dated to c.1730-40. This was another
piece that John Parry didn't let go at the first auction. It was
purchased in April 1993 at Christie's King Street when it cost him
£32,000 (like all auction prices quoted here this would attract
additional buyer's premium). This time around it went over the
phone for £70,000, mid estimate but over double what he paid 17
But a William and Mary period dressing table, which had a
replaced foot and side stretchers, acquired in the same rooms in
1997 from the collection of Mr and Mrs Melvyn Rollason, was bought
in at just £18,000. That was well below an estimate that at
£30,000-50,000 was itself well under the £70,000 that it cost 13
That's also a contrast to the performance of another ex-Rollason
piece offered in the first Parry auction, a figured walnut reading
table that had cost £17,000 at auction in 1983 and sold for £62,000
The small, 16-lot oak section had a proportionately higher
casualty rate with half a dozen bought-in lots. Most of this had
been purchased through the UK trade rather than at auction, but two
exceptions were an early, late 16th/early 17th century, 2ft 4in
(72cm) high food cupboard with pierced Gothic tracery acquired at
Sotheby's Olympia in 2004 for £8800 and a 221/2in (57cm) wide
coffor bach from the Gower Peninsula carved with stylised tulips
and birds purchased at Bonhams Chester rooms in 2005 for a
This time they sold at £5000 and £4500 respectively.
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