It may look like a textbook early 19th century silver teaset, but this unprepossessing three-piece service seen at Tennants of Leyburn, North Yorkshire on November 17-19 carried marks later identified as those of the early Australian silversmith Alexander Dick (c.1791-1843).
After the catalogue had gone to print, the £700-900 estimate was
soon revised to £20,000-30,000.
Dick arrived in Sydney as a free-settler from Edinburgh in 1824
and employed a number of assigned convicts in his workshop.
Although himself sentenced in 1829 to seven years transportation to
Norfolk Island for receiving stolen dessert spoons, he was later
pardoned and became one of the most prolific manufacturers of
silver flatware and presentation pieces in the colony.
His mark appears on the first Australian-made racing trophy (the
1827 Junius Cup) and he was praised as the maker of the Sydney
Subscription Cup, a now lost 84oz silver trophy ornamented with a
gold horse finial and gold horse-heads for an 1834 race meeting.
Retiring in 1841 (the year the first silver mine opened in
Australia), he died two years later leaving an estate of almost
Tennant's teaset, in the classical revival style that is so
typical of Alexander Dick's work, was consigned to the sale from an
estate in the Leicester area where it had remained since the
It was commissioned by a group of grateful passengers on the
Camden, a 432-ton barque built in London which was damaged
by rocks on their voyage to Australia.
An inscription around the lid of the teapot reads: Presented
by the cabin passengers on board the ship Camden to Captain
Valentine Ryan in acknowledgement of his unswerving attention and
kindness during the voyage from Portsmouth to New S. Wales
1836. The ship was later wrecked on its way from Sydney to
On the day, the teaset attracted five telephone lines and
competition in the room from several agents and a gentleman who had
flown in from Australia.
In the end it was knocked down to the London trade at £42,000
(plus 17.5 per cent buyer's premium). In 2009, Christie's sold a
similar three-piece tea-service with the mark of Alexander Dick for
a premium-inclusive £33,650.
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