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Australian teaset brings £42,000 in Yorkshire

29 November 2011Written by ATG Reporter

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 £9000.

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 Edwardian period.

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 Surabaja.

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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ATG Reporter

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