Monday - 28 July 2014

Why the reward for progress at maths in 1818 was £11,000

18 July 2013Written by Roland Arkell

We can be too quick to write the obituary of the passionate old-school collector. Thankfully, they are still with us.

The extraordinary bidding battle for a simple George III silver medallion seen at  Martel Maides of St. Peter Port, Guernsey on June 26-27, proves the point.

Fashioned from a silver disc under 2in (5cm) across, struck with the maker's mark only WB and bright cut with foliage, it is inscribed to one side The Reward of Merit and to the other Obtained by P. Baker for the greatest progress in arithmetic at Mr. Berry's Academy June 1818.

A last minute entry to the sale that made the catalogue as an A lot, it was consigned via a local firm of advocates from the estate of a lady from Sark together with documentation detailing its descent in her family since the first half of the 19th century.

American Bidders

Estimated at £60-80, it had considerable pre-sale interest from both UK and US based clients (where education awards are much collected) and from relatives of the deceased based in the UK who were keen on preserving a family heirloom.

But expectations that it might be sold in the mid-hundreds proved wide of the mark as two American bidders - one on the telephone and another bidding online through Artfact Live - exchanged blows for a full five minutes up to £11,000.

The medal will be making its way into a huge collection of 4000 presentation medals in the USA, that includes a section devoted to school reward medals.

So what was Mr. Berry's Academy? An online cutting from the Gazette de l'Isle de Guernesey  dated March 9, 1811 perhaps gives a clue. In an advertisement titled Boarding and Day School it reads: "Mr Berry, begs to inform the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Island, that he has removed to Miss Smith's house, in Havilland-Street, near George-Place, New Town, a situation which he flatters himself will be found more convenient for the young Gentlemen attending his Academy.

Merchants' Accompts by double entry, taught as well in the School as privately, and young men, who from a neglect of Education, or bad memory, feel themselves at a loss in business, may of an evening receive instruction, in Writing, Arithmetic, &c. with persons of their own age."

Tunbridgeware

This sale also included an item of great interest to collectors of Tunbridgeware.

Specimens of English & Foreign Wood used in the Manufacture of Tunbridgeware… from the workshop of the famous maker Edmund Nye, came complete with its original printed key naming each of the specimens to correspond with the handwritten number on each sample, along with their country of origin and typical use.

It was consigned privately from Jersey and achieved £3200 against an estimate of £300-400, selling to a UK collector bidding via the telephone. Grantham auctioneers Marilyn Swain sold a similar item in 2004 for £1150.

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