Silver smallwork is a designated area of the silver market in its own right but even this particular sector has its own sub-divisions.
There are collectors who only buy spoons, or
vesta cases, while others eschew all in favour of the humble nutmeg
grater or card cases.
It was the latter that occupied a small
38-lot section of a regular Tuesday Interiors auction held by
Christie's South Kensington earlier this month.
There was no information given about the
vendor or provenance in the catalogue but it seems that they were a
assembed by a serious card-case collector and put together largely
through the English trade.
In total, just over 70 examples were
offered, most as single cases but with around a dozen multiple lots
containing anything from two to ten examples.
When it comes to collecting card cases -
small, rectangular, silver, flip-top receptacles made to contain
visiting cards that were popular in the mid 19th century - the
attraction and value is all about the decoration chased or engraved
to the front.
The more obscure the building (and it often
is a building) or the setting depicted, the more demand is ramped
up. Cases with popular scenes, like the Houses of Parliament or
Windsor Castle, by contrast, are more affordable.
Above: two card cases that sold together
for £2400 at Christie's South Kensington. Left: an unmarked
silver-gilt case c.1850 engraved with a hunting landscape. Right: a
card caseengraved with an unidentified cathedral by Nathaniel
Mills, Birmingham, 1843.
Prices for card cases have softened slightly
in recent years, so Christie's were deliberately cautious with
their guides, especially given the number on offer at the sale on
Attractive guides, plus ensuring that the
collection was publicised to all the likely candidates on the
auctioneers' mailing list, brought out a good mix of specialist
collectors, dealers and some additional crossover demand from
non-specialist Christie's Interiors clients as well as some Chinese
As a result, all bar eight lots sold and a
number were disputed well past estimate.
The most popular lots were those rare views
that made multiple-estimate sums, while most of the failures were
either the cheaper group lots or cases with standard views of
Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey which proved hard to shift at
This is the kind of typical price
polarisation that affects so many areas of the market these
Most of the decoration on card cases is
derived from print sources.
"There was a certain amount of discussion as
to where some of the scenes were," said Christie's specialist
James Nasmyth Card
So it was with what proved to be the
top-priced case of the collection, a Scottish case marked for James
Nasmyth of Edinburgh 1845. This depicted a turreted building on the
edge of a lake with the engraved inscription Loch Leven
Cas.,but the auctioneers did not think it matched print views
and instead catalogued it as showing another the famous Scottish
island fortress, Eileen Donan Castle. In the event it outstripped
its £1000-1500 guide to take £4500.
Another popular case was an example marked
for Wheeler and Cronin, 1852,engraved with a view of Walmer Castle,
one of Henry VIII's defensive coastal fortresses. Here an estimate
of £600-800 was overturned with the hammer falling at £3000.
A third high-flyer was a Sheffield made case
marked for Henry Wilkinson 1851featuring a country house in a
parkland setting with deer to the foreground. This was later
identified as a view of Norton Hall near Sheffield and the estimate
upped to £1000-1500 a level which is still outstripped selling for
Another interesting observation made by Mr
Prevezer was that hitherto demand seemed to be centred on cases
with high-relief scenes. But both the Eileen Donan and Walmer
Castle scenes were shallow engraved, so buyers no longer appear to
be basing their choice solely on this distinction.
These three cases are shown in the slideshow at the top of this
page alongside a selection of other examples from the
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