Eighty lots from a local estate ensured a flying start to Mallams’ recent sale in Oxford and provided an insight into the taste and interests of a collector buying 60 years ago.
The collector in question was Captain Hugh Vivian, identified by
the survival of a number of carefully preserved receipts, and his
furniture combined quality with the type of longstanding provenance
that does much to reassure bidders.
Outstanding in this regard was a small George II walnut bureau
on stand which led the sale on February 26 with a bid of £30,000
from an overseas telephone bidder.
This was an early form, with a clear break between the
slope-fronted writing desk and cabriole-legged stand which had
stylised shell carvings at the knees and trefoil feet.
There were some signs of wear and tear, with small areas of
veneer missing, but it had an attractive overall patina and would
have been regarded as a top-drawer survivor from the golden age of
English walnut when it was purchased by Captain Vivian at Malletts
of Bond Street in October 1943.
The receipt from the famous London firm affirmed that it was a
piece from the Percival D. Griffiths Collection, while a later hand
noted that the desk was illustrated in R.W. Symonds' seminal 1929
work English Furniture Charles II to George II. The
Griffiths Collection, formed under the guidance of Symonds, had
been dispersed by Christie's in May 1939 and, despite the highly
eventful three and a half years in between, its formidable
reputation must have been fresh in the memory when Captain Vivian
paid the considerable sum of £525 for the desk.
Above: The original Mallett & Son invoice dated October
7, 1943 made out for £525.
Inflation calculators suggest that this would have been
equivalent to over £20,000, today, and an estimate of
£30,000-50,000 indicates there were hopes that the desk might go on
to even higher levels at the Mallams sale.
At Christie's in 2006 another bureau on stand from the Griffiths
Collection, of very similar design but fitted as a dressing chest
with a large cheval glass above, sold to a UK collector for
£156,000, but the market has undoubtedly softened since then.
Walnut furniture was not Captain Vivian's only interest and his
collection of early railway commemoratives proved equally well
documented, with receipts from various dealers dating from the
1930s and '40s. The Mallams sale included around 20 lots which were
firmly focussed on the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester
Railway in 1830 and the Rainhill Trials which were run the previous
year to find the most suitable locomotive for the line.
The Rainhill competition was famously won by Stephenson's
Rocket, the only locomotive to complete the trias, and
this features on many of the commemoratives, as does the
Northumbrian, a successor to the
Rocket which led the parade at the opening of the
A black and white frog mug, 5in (13cm) high, with some damage,
printed with a view of the Exchange Building and Nelson's Monument
in Liverpool flanked by two views of the Northumbrian,
sold for £420, while another with titled vignettes of
Rocket and Northumbrian, reached £950.
On the inside, both mugs were decorated with carriages and
Braithwaite and Ericsson's Novelty, another engine that
had competed at Rainhill. A similar mug (they are thought to have
been made at the short-lived Herculaneum factory in Liverpool) sold
for £1400 at Peter Wilson in Nantwich in November 2008.
The successor to the Novelty, Braithwaite &
Ericson's William IV, was depicted pulling coaches full of
passengers on a black printed jug and matching mug, 4½in (11cm) and
4in (10cm) high, which sold together for £750.
The engines were the technological wonders of the age, but
trains cannot run without a track and commemorative wares also made
much of the tunnel entrance to the Liverpool & Manchester
A single Staffordshire black-printed mug, 3¼in (8cm) high,
showing engines passing at the entrance, made £220, while a lot of
three jugs depicting the same scene, the largest 5½in (14cm) high,
made £420. Slightly upmarket, a pair of square-section porcelain
vases, 5¼in (13cm) high, decorated with various coloured landscape
scenes, but crucially featuring the entrance to the Liverpool and
Manchester tunnel in one of the lower reserves, made £680.
Many of these early commemorative wares feature named views and
identified engines, but the strongest competition in this section
was for a 6¼in (16cm) high black-printed jug decorated around the
outside with an unnamed engine pulling four wagons variously loaded
with passengers, barrels and animals.
It would be easy to assume that this was simply a generic
portrait of an early locomotive, but comparison with engravings of
the period suggests that it is an accurate depiction of Timothy
Hackworth's Sans Pareil, which was one of the more basic
engines to take part in the Rainhill Trials.
The Sans Pareil is recognised by its distinctive
'fool's cap' funnel top and the vertical cylinders which caused it
to waddle from side to side as it progressed. When it arrived for
the trials it was found to be overweight but competed well until a
cylinder cracked. This caused some controversy, since the casting
had been done at the Stephenson factory. The Sans
Pareil was later repaired, bought by the L&MR and
gave many years of service on this and other lines.
It may have under-achieved in 1829, but in the saleroom the
Sans Pareil out-performed all the other engines when
the jug sold for £2000.
Such was the excitement caused by the appearance of these
smoke-belching leviathans in the 1830s, it is easy to forget that
much of the rail transport at the time, was actually pulled by
Three pieces of leather harness, each decorated with three
brasses, added an extra dimension to the railwayana collection.
It is some time since standard horse brasses were a force to be
reckoned with in the saleroom, but a few early steam engines among
more traditional decorative motifs meant that these made £380 where
£20-30 was estimated.
The buyer's premium was 20%.
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