Gordon Bramah, a descendent of the lock-making dynasty, collected silver smallwork for 28 years.
His background in engineering and metalwork lent a
sense of wonder to his first visit to the Burlington Arcade when
choosing a suit in Savile Row in 1983. Window shopping at the store
of Gerald Sattin soon led to a serious collecting habit that only
800 purchases, from a walnut-form vinaigrette to a propelling
pencil fashioned as a spigot, could satisfy.
Always keen to share his enthusiasm, when
entertaining at home he would remove a dozen pieces from the
cabinet and leave them for the enjoyment of the invited and to
encourage discussion. It was the source of considerable
disappointment to him that recent guests had ignored them
completely - and that was among the reasons his remarkable
collection was offered at
Lawrences of Crewkerne on October 11.
What made the collection unusual was Bramah's
decision to cast his net wide across a number of different
collecting disciplines. Amongst these 800 (principally) Victorian
and Edwardian pieces, were micro collections of bookmarks, card
cases, nutmeg graters, vinaigrettes, snuff boxes, whistles, scent
bottles, vestas, stamp boxes, inkwells, pencils and pepperettes -
not to mention the occasional item that defied classification.
However Bramah had quickly realised the need for
some boundaries in a huge field: "Wherever possible he focused upon
items of British origin," said Lawrences' specialist Alex Butcher.
"He preferred good craftsmanship and design to mere ornamentation
(for example he owned relatively few 'castle tops') and he realised
that he had to limit his collection's physical size by
concentrating upon small pieces to hold in the hand."
The final lot of the sale was the 2ft 4in (72cm)
high Victorian brass-bound mahogany surgeon's cabinet with seven
internal drawers (each with a lift-out 'grid' of compartments) in
which all the collection were housed. It added £1550 (estimate
£500-700) to a total that, with after-sales, crept over
Around 75 per cent of the lots were sold on the
Rather than a case of too much of a good thing
(the content appealed to a wide spectrum of collectors) this was an
indication that estimates were on the whole sensible but
occasionally just a little stiff. Bramah bought retail and he
bought broadly. There were items here that even a smallwork veteran
such as Alex Butcher had not catalogued before but there were many
(particularly those acquired relatively early in Bramah's
collecting odyssey) that were more common and, accordingly, price
But, if the sale had its bald patches then its major components
did not disappoint.
A group of Victorian naturalistic vinaigrettes were eagerly
competed, with the example by Jane Brownett (London 1885) in the
form of a walnut with an unusual hinged grille resembling the nut
itself selling at £3500 (estimate £2000-2500), and another in the
form of a 4½in (11.5cm) long carnation flower and bud by E.H.
Stockwell, London 1876, sold in its original case at £3800
Many of the pieces were by Sampson Mordan with whom there was a
family connection (in his youth Sampson Mordan Snr (1790-1843),
co-inventor of the first patented mechanical pencil in 1822, was an
apprentice of Joseph Bramah). More than 20 different Mordan &
Co propelling pencils offered here included rare novelties in the
form of a grandfather clock with enamelled dial (£1150) and a
champagne tap or spigot (£1450).
A strong £3800 (estimate £2000-2500) was bid for a 5in (12.5cm)
Victorian novelty scent flask and vinaigrette in the form of a
champagne bottle - a design registered by Mordan in 1869. For the
vendor at least, it compares favourably with other examples sold at
Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury in 2004 (£2300) or Wintertons of
Lichfield in 2005 (£2400).
But some of the most ingenious and best made objects were by the
less-prolific London 'toy' maker Henry William Dee.
These included a 3¼in (8.5cm) high sewing
compendium and vinaigrette in the form of a hen's egg in an egg cup
(London 1875) - the lacquered top opening to reveal a needlecase,
pin holder, thread bobbin and thimble, the base with a hinged
grille and cover - and a 2in (5cm) long pocket game counter with
dials to record pheasants, woodcock, hares, partridges, snipe and
rabbits (London 1868 retailed by Thornhill).
These sold at £2300 (estimate £2500-3000) and
£4700 (estimate £2500-3000) respectively.
Also by H.W. Dee, (London 1875) was a 1¼in (3.2cm)
diameter sphere opening in multiple compartments to reveal a
vinaigrette, compass, photo frame and coin holder. They are rare
but another, dated 1873, sold at Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet
in 2005 for £2100. This one took £1800 (estimate £1700-2000).
The highest priced piece in the sale was by
Nathaniel Mills, a 4in (10cm) long table nutmeg grater with a split
domed cover (one side for the nuts, another for the grater) struck
for Birmingham 1848. Estimated at £4000-5000, it took £6600.
Bramah's example of Matthew Linwood's well-known
1805 Nelson vinaigrette with a Victory grille
and an engraved portrait with the legend England Expects Every
Man Will Do His Duty, shown above, was a
particularly good one.
Some of these were initially made with plain covers
- the engraving added -later to boost their commercial appeal -
however the hammer price of £4700 (estimate £3000-4000)
demonstrated the confidence that this was of the period.
With such a representative selection of items, this is one
catalogue well worth keeping.