The Maritime sale held by Bonhams (15/10% buyer’s premium) in their New Bond Street rooms on January 16 was a sizeable 400-lot affair divided roughly 50/50 into paintings and maritime artefacts – the latter featuring anything from ship models to scrimshaw, divers’ helmets to sextants.
The picture section saw the lion’s share of the highest prices with £100,000 of the £620,000 total provided by one painting alone: Robert Salmon’s Regatta off New Brighton, but the collectables section had its own high points, a few of which are discussed here.
Titanic memorabilia is one of those cast iron sectors of the collectables market virtually guaranteed to command keen interest and strong prices. This auction had the ideal Titanic offering: a small collection of memorabilia related to one passenger and offered for sale by a direct descendant.
John Gill, a chauffeur by profession, had worked in the US for some years and was returning there following the extension of his contract. His wife and father-in-law were due to accompany him on the passage, but outstanding commitments kept them behind and he sailed alone. This lot was being sold by a descendant of Mrs Gill and comprised correspondence between her and the White Star Line detailing the recovery of her husband’s body and compensation, and some items retrieved from his pockets such as a small comb, a collar button, two dollar coins and a half-dollar, and a gold watch and chain plus a postcard of the ship.
The correspondence was going to be put on a bonfire until it was rescued by the vendor. He also inherited the gold watch, while his brother received the chain and after the latter’s death the two elements were reunited.
Not surprisingly there was plenty of interest in this piece from both British and American buyers and Bonhams’ Biba Woodall, who had confidently expected it to exceed the £6000-8000 estimate was not disappointed. No fewer than four would-be purchasers contested in the room and on the phone with the hammer falling finally at £34,000 to an agent acting for a collector.
Two other notable results were for elements from British ships. Bonhams were selling the brass letters for HMS Renown, which was completed in 1916 and which was one of two British ships to be completely modernised before 1940, and the ship’s tampion from HMS Lion, one of the so-called Big Cats class. Both these lots carried modestly pitched estimates of £300-500 and £200-300 and both were keenly contested by British collectors to multiple-estimate sums.
The Renown letters, which came with a letter of provenance stating that they came from the ship when it was scrapped, fetched £6000. The Lion’s tampion in moulded brass showing the lion on a rock with the motto Concordant Nomine Facta, came with a similar letter of provenance, a commemorative booklet for its launch at Devonport in 1910 and two postcards and realised £3000. As both lots were being sold to raise funds for the War Research Society’s statue of a ‘Piper’ in WWI battledress to be erected at Longueval in the Somme, the £9000 will make a welcome contribution.
Like Titanic related artefacts, Nelson memorabilia is another hot collectables market and this sale featured a particularly nicely provenanced piece: a small silver patch box by Joseph Willmore of Birmingham hallmarked 1806, featuring a medallion bust of Nelson to the cover.
The patch box had belonged to Admiral Sir Hyde-Parker, Nelson’s commander at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, when Nelson famously ignored the former’s command to discontinue the engagement by raising a telescope to his blind eye saying, “I do not see the signal.”
The box was offered direct from one of Hyde- Parker’s descendants which was doubtless instrumental in taking its price to £3600.
As well as these individual highlights there were some strong results for pond yachts and a pretty good overall selling rate with around of 80 per cent of the lots changing hands.
Bonhams’ maritime auctions, henceforth to be titled Marine sales, will be held twice a year and will take place in their Bond Street rooms.