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Silver snail – the ‘trump piece’ bid to £8200

13 May 2013Written by Terence Ryle

Holding a major silver sale days after the melt price has plummeted by about £3 an ounce is hardly ideal timing.

"Anything with reserves based on melt price - tired flatware, engraved trophies and so on - was bound to suffer," said Alex Butcher, the silver expert at Lawrences of Crewkerne after the latest.

Happily, most of the 828 silver lots which opened the three-day, 1450-lot Somerset sale had considerably more worth to collectors than scrap metal merchants and in the end, 75% got away to a hammer total of £202,000.

Exemplifying 'collector value' was a 1½oz novelty vinaigrette in the form of a snail by Thomas Johnson, London 1884.

The appeal of a snail alongside the salad bowl doesn't appear to have occurred to any other maker.

"I'd never seen such an item before," said Mr Butcher. "And as it turned out, nor had anybody else."

A quality item, with a gilt interior and lift-out grille, it was well illustrated in the catalogue and pitched at £2500-3000 for the April 23 sale. It ended up selling to a collector at £8200.

"It was what I'd call a trump piece," said Mr Butcher. "If one collector was showing his pieces to another, this would be the one to show last to trump anything in the other's collection."

Silver Scroll Holder

Another lot with niche-market appeal was a 19th century silver gilt megillah, or Esther, scroll holder. It comprised a 7¼in (18cm) engraved and coral-decorated body from which unrolls a 5ft 4in (1.63m) long illuminated parchment scroll with inked Hebrew text of the Book of Esther.

The story of Esther, the Jewish Queen of Persia who averted a massacre of the Jews, is the basis of the festival of Purim and there was interest from Israel, America and Europe as soon as the scroll holder appeared in the online catalogue.

Unmarked, though probably Persian, and with some old repairs/restoration to the scroll, the holder was estimated at £1500-2000. Eleven phones were booked but, against strong international competition, a UK bidder secured the scroll holder at £11,000.

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