DRAWING on long-ago mercantile wealth (don’t mention the slave trade or even, these days, tobacco imports) Bristol has for years rewarded visits by dealers looking for fresh material. But of late the city has been raising its profile as a premier league centre for antiques.

In May, the investment operation Fine Art Auction Group bought into the Bristol Auction Rooms and, coincidentally, June saw the inaugural fine art sale at the new Kenn Road base of the Clevedon Salerooms.

Clevedon had been at their Herbert Road rooms since 1885 and when the lease expired – the land will be developed for housing – took the opportunity to move into the bigger premises they needed just a couple of miles away.

Since the move in April there have been four general sales at the single-storey, former social club with 4500 square feet of floor space, but the first fine auction showed the value of a big car park just a couple of miles off the motorway. “I counted more than 200 vehicles there on sale day,” said auctioneer Marc Burridge.

In this case, however, the buyers were attracted less by material from an old city home than by some of the 100 items from a two-bedroom flat in Littlehampton. They were consigned to the Clevedon rooms by a local vendor whose elderly relative had downsized his homes over the years before ending his days in the Hampshire resort surrounded by the best of his collection.

Pretty closely surrounded by them, it would seem, as they included some hefty examples of marquetry furniture including an English chest-on-stand, a London longcase clock and a Dutch cabinet.

All three were expected to top the price sheet, each was shown in full glossy colour on the catalogue cover pages, but the chest on later stand was still something of a surprise.
The 3ft 5in wide, 4ft 2in high (1.04 x 1.23m) 17th century figured walnut veneered chest with two short and three long drawers was a beautiful example of restrained elegance, with bird and foliate design marquetry panels to the top, sides and drawer fronts. The later stand, with one long drawer and matching marquetry panel, stood on five barley twist supports united by a shaped stretcher.

Estimated at £5000-7000, the chest triggered a mix of private and trade bidding which was a feature of the day, but once bids went into five figures the battle came down to a duel between dealers, a Shropshire specialist finally winning the day at £17,000.

The longcase clock presented a bit more of a problem in terms of estimating. The 6ft 11/2in (2.12m) walnut veneered case with marquetry panels of birds and flowers flanked by herringbone borders, an inset lenticle to the trunk door and the hood with a pierced fretwork frieze and four barley twist pilasters, was very impressive and the auctioneers were quite sure about the William and Mary dating.

Some of the marquetry to the base had been replaced over the years but this is quite usual and, if anything, tends to confirm age. Furthermore, there was no question of the eight-day five-pillar striking movement and 11in (28cm) silvered brass dial with engraved rings to the winding apertures, seconds indicator
and calendar aperture, being a marriage.

The one problem was that the signature to the dial, Louis Seigneuret, London, seems unknown to the usual authorities (although Baillie lists a Pierre Seigneuret working in Paris
in the mid-18th century).

Nevertheless, the auctioneers decided on a £7500-10,000
estimate. On the day, trade interest so apparent at the viewing faded completely, leaving it to private buyers, one of whom took the clock at £7600.

The Dutch walnut cabinet – a typical piece with arch-shaped top and shell carved pediment above the upper glazed section above a serpentine base with four drawers flanked by canted corners – was a more straightforward early 19th century piece. Standing 6ft 4in tall by 2ft 111/2in wide (1.93m x 90cm) it was profusely decorated with bird and foliate marquetry decoration and, against a £3000-5000 estimate, sold at £4200.

Most of the rest of the 123 lots which made up the furniture section were more standard material – although it’s worth recording that despite current trade nervousness about brown furniture only 19 offerings failed to sell – but an unusual piece of popular Black Forest furniture is worth noting.

This was a late Victorian child’s carved chair, 2ft 3in (68cm) tall, with buckle-shaped back with a carved standing bear, arms outstretched, in place of back splats. Standing on rustic played supports, the rustic spring seat enclosed a musical box movement which played God Save The Queen (or, if the maker had been thinking of the US market, My Country ’Tis Of Thee) when sat upon. The estimate on this novelty was £300-450 but it was a trade buy at £1800.

As intimated, furniture accounted for less than 20 per cent of the sale in terms of lots but there is room here only for a few highlights from other

From the 260-lot ceramics section, which was almost a total sell-out, the top sellers were a pair of 19th century Staffordshire spaniels and a Doulton Lambeth plaque. The 101/2in (27cm) tall seated spaniels, each with a tobacco pipe in its mouth, eclipsed their £600 top estimate, taking £3200 from a specialist dealer and the 111/2 x 81/2in (29 x 22cm) plaque of a young girl and a dog in a farmyard, monogrammed KS, tripled printed expectations at £1200.

From the collectors’ items were a couple of offerings virtually guaranteed to get away – an Edwardian postcard album of 125 Louis Wain works and a Steiff bear.
The album went to one of the legion of fans of Wain’s cats at £2700 – treble the top estimate – and the bear did even better against estimate. The 161/2in (42cm) early 20th century bear, with articulated gold mohair body, button eyes and trademark lead button, was pitched at £500-750, but a Brighton trade specialist had to go to £3500 to secure it.

Neither of the prices could be regarded as too surprising and
more of a real sleeper was a late 18th/early 19th century French ormolu ceiling light fitting with six arms decorated with Chinese mask heads with a decorative central boss and support chains.

The 191/2in (50cm) diameter fitting certainly sounded the sort of thing interior decorators are always on the look-out for and although the fitting was not illustrated in the catalogue no doubt their eyes lit up at the estimate – £200-300. On the day, however, one of them had to go to £2000 to secure it.

Clevedon Salerooms, Bristol June 19
Number of lots offered: 740
Number of lots sold: 92 per cent
Sale total: £190,000
Buyer’s premium: 15 per cent