LIGHT has been shed on the £52,000 price tag awarded an oak and gilt-bronze coffer on stand at a Sworders Interiors sale.
The sober display piece that sold back in September is one of a
set of four made for William Beckford (1760-1844) to show off some
of his most luxurious small works of art at Lansdown Tower in
Beckford moved to Bath following the sale of Fonthill Abbey and
its contents in 1823 to pay his accumulated debts. As shown in one
of a series of interior views of the neo-Renaissance Lansdown
Tower, drawn after Beckford's death in 1844, the four cabinets were
placed on stands in the Scarlet Drawing Room to house highlights
from a re-growing art collection.
Designed with the input of the Bath architect Henry Edmund
Goodridge between 1831 and 1841, they employ a number of art
historical references. Their form is derived from a Roman
sarcophagus, the tops evoke an Italian Renaissance door, while the
arched ends quote directly from Santa Maria della Grazie in
They were probably sold when Lansdown Tower and its contents
were sold by Bath auctioneers English and Son in November 1845.
Prior to the appearance of Sworders' sleeper, the only known
survivor was a coffer (minus its stand) that was acquired by the
Victoria and Albert Museum from London dealer H. Blairman & Son
in 2006. The purchase price of Mr Beckford's Treasure Chest, was
Quite how the new discovery emerged in Essex is anyone's
Guy Schooling at Sworders, still smarting from his oversight
(although relieved it had not sold within its £300-500 estimate at
the sale on September 22), told ATG it had been acquired by the
vendor only a week earlier at a saleroom in Epping for £100.
The consignor had been content to learn he might make a small
profit, but had asked that it be sold without reserve because,
under no circumstances did he want it back.
By Roland Arkell