Wednesday - 03 September 2014

Arts and Crafts silver emerges from bank vault and brings £125,000

07 March 2013Written by Roland Arkell

It was at Frinton-on-Sea Golf Club that James Grinter, managing director at Reeman Dansie of Colchester, first learned of the Douglas Shepherd collection of Arts and Crafts silver.

At the end of a routine valuation evening he was approached by a lady who had brought along a Tiffany & Co. spot-hammered water jug in the manner of Edward Moore. Would he like to see the rest of her father's collection?

He had hoped for a dozen pieces. Instead, laid out on the kitchen table in a large Edwardian house were more than 100 objects recently removed from a bank vault where they had been for over 40 years.

Douglas Shepherd, it emerged, was a designer, architect and member of the Art Workers Guild who worked for the brewery Ind Coope.

Charged with designing and decorating public houses as their head architect in the 1970s, he had been heavily influenced by the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and the work of Charles Robert Ashbee in particular.

He had collected in the 1950s (when Arts and Crafts was at its commercial nadir) through the '60s (when interest was again piqued) and into the 1970s (when the market began to gain the momentum it sustains today).

"I had to pinch myself" said Mr Grinter.

The 87 lots offered at the Severalls Business Park, Colchester on February 12 amounted to a cross section of Arts and Crafts silver in its many guises.

Alongside pieces by Omar Ramsden, Robert Ashbee and Archibald Knox were related wares by the Keswick School, Charles Boynton, Edward Moore at Tiffany and wares in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau idiom by major Birmingham and London firms such as James Dixon, William Hutton and the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Company.

There were two outstanding pieces.

Most highly rated was the Cymric silver, enamel and blister pearl biscuit box by Liberty & Co, after a design by Archibald Knox. It is one of only two known - the other in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It sold to a UK private collector on the telephone at £26,000, well above the pre-sale estimate of £4000-5000.

Silver Tazza

There was more in the way of market precedent for a 29oz silver and enamel tazza or fruit stand made by the Guild of Handicrafts Ltd (London 1904) possibly to a design by Ashbee.

Another tazza of this form, again set to a pieced octagonal stem with rectangular foliate enamel panels, was sold by Christie's South Kensington in 1998 for £5750 but I recall another pictured on the front page of the ATG a decade or so ago sold for something in the region of £30,000. Sadly another Guild tazza was stolen as part of the raid on the Court Barn Museum in Chipping Campden in November 2011.

The example in Colchester, decorated with alternating panels of flowers to a cobalt ground, was estimated at £2000-3000 but, after commissions, bidding in the room began at £6300. Underbid by the internet, it sold at £20,500. The successful private buyer was understood to be a member of the Art Workers Guild.

Charles Robert Ashbee and the Guild of Handicrafts (20 lots) and Archibald Knox and Liberty (23 lots) formed the core of the collection.

In terms of market-freshness it does not get much better than this but not everything was in the best condition. Some pieces were a little tired (several of the Cymric designs had been well polished) while one or two of the Guild of Handicrafts pieces had repairs. As always, regardless of provenance, it was necessary to take each piece on its own merits.

Universally admired was a 3½in (9cm) high Guild of Handicrafts mug (London 1904) chased with a band of swimming fish, set with four moss agates and applied with a dolphin scroll handle. Many would have liked to buy it at its estimate of £500-800, but bidding persisted to £3700 - an impressive sum for a diminutive 6oz piece.

 

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Above: Guild of Handicrafts mug with fish decoration - £3700 at Reeman Dansie.

 

But in general, while 'there to be sold' estimates were regularly bettered, in the context of the market, prices were steady rather than spectacular - something underlined by the predictable response to those items that make saleroom appearances with more regularity.

Two versions of the Ashbee silver plated muffin dish and cover with a wirework and chrysoprase finial sold at £480 and £420 apiece while a pair of Ashbee (London 1906) porringer cups with loop handles, again set with a cabochon chrysoprase, sold at a reasonable £3700 (estimate £2000-3000). They were bought by London dealer Jan Van Den Bosch who said the later engraved presentation inscriptions will probably be removed.

The Grays-based specialist was also pleased to buy two white metal and enamel menu holders, one decorated with a fox sold at £270, the other with a cockerel's head sold at £560. They are unmarked but thought to be Guild of Handicraft).

 

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Above: two silver and enamel menu holders sold for £270 (left) and £560 (right) at Reeman Dansie.

 

Van Den Bosch also took a pair of 7in (18cm quasi-medieval candlesticks by Ramsden and Carr (London 1906) at £5900 (estimate £2000-3000). The pick of 14 Ramsden lots, they were engraved to scroll bands with the legends As he builds so will his light shine and A Builder's Building is his memory's lamp.

 

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Above: the pair of trumpet form silver candlesticks, Ramsden and Carr (London 1906), 7in (18cm) - £5900 at Reeman Dansie.

 

From a different vendor (doubtless keen to sell in a sale guaranteed to have the right buyers in attendance) was one of Ashbee's best known pieces, a silver mounted decanter with sweeping sinuous handle and chrysoprase set finial marked for Guild of Handicrafts, London 1903. A key element of this design is the green glass ovoid form body produced by James Powell & Sons of Whitefriars but here it was broken (a replacement had been blown and was sold with the lot). This kept expectations down to a realistic £2500-3500 and it attracted plenty of competition before it sold to an online buyer at £8000 - a strong price given the condition.

And the 30oz Tiffany jug in the manner of Moore that had begun this auction odyssey? Estimated at £3000-4000, it was one of just two items that failed to sell - although it was an aftersale at £2000.

The Shepherd collection contributed £125,000 to a house record sale total of £555,000 - and accounted for a good number of the 1000-plus bidders who registered to bid either in Colchester or online.

The buyer's premium was 17.5%.

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