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Not that there were many dealers present in the saleroom to bear witness. Mr Kirk wondered whether they had all headed north to attend Tennants’ sale in Leyburn, another auction which defied the downward trend in the market.

Almost all the expensive lots sold on the book or via the telephone, including the Duke of Newcastle’s 44-piece Derby porcelain dessert service, c.1797, which was scattered across 21 lots to collectors and dealers in England and Ireland.

Damage is commercially acceptable on unique porcelain (vide the Watney collection) and the trade were impressed by several aspects of this service, even though every one of the 24 plates was rubbed or cracked and one of the cream bowl covers was missing.

“It was interesting that the service had been kept under wraps for so long,” said a leading Derby dealer, referring to the fact that it had not been unpacked by the vendors’ family since they acquired it at Christie’s clearance of Clumber House, the Newcastles’ Nottinghamshire seat, in 1937.

“No one had actually seen pattern 229,” said the dealer, referring to the watercolour landscapes of England and Ireland that were mostly attributed to George Robertson, with a few possibly by John and Robert Brewer. The designs are not found in any of the surviving Derby pattern books.

The number of pieces in the service corresponded to an inventory of Newcastle heirlooms taken in 1885, although the trade speculated that the service originally included a pineapple dish.

However, the service did have an impressive pair of ice pails which were illustrated on the front page of Antiques Trade Gazette No 1585, April 19, which sold to a commission bid of £32,000.

This result contrasted with that of the pink ground Derby ice pails and covers from the nautical service owned by Alexander Davison, a friend of Nelson, which was sold at Sotheby’s Bond Street last October at £16,000, though one of the pails was extensively restored.

However, nautical patterns are second only to military patterns in Derby rarity and, given the Davison provenance, pairs of dishes at Bond Street fetched between two and three times the price of equivalents from the Newcastle service. In relatively good condition, unlike the plates, the dishes included a fluted oval pair decorated with a view of Clifden Spring, Buckinghamshire and Ullswater, each 12in (30cm) wide, which made £4200, and a square pair with a view of Coniston Lake and the Cottage at Nuneham Courtney (the seat of the Earl of Harcourt) 9in (23.5cm) wide, which sold at £3800.

Another square pair made £4200, probably because of the local interest in the view of Matlock Vale on one of the dishes (the other was decorated with a view of the Venetian littoral) and parochial interest also saw Irish views higher prices than English views.

A pair of lozenge dishes with Mount Kennedy in the County of Wicklow and Bally Finn in the Queens County sold on the telephone at £3800, contrasting with the bid of £2200 for a lozenge pair with views of Shropshire and Westmorland. Given the poor condition of the plates, most pairs sold for £1500-2000.

Some 44 lots of Derby and Royal Crown Derby from other sources were sold, including a case set of six coffee cans and saucers with shipping scenes by Dean which sold on commission at £3200, a pair of Chelsea-Derby chocolate cups, covers and stands with turquoise spiral fluted decoration, at £950 and a Royal Crown Derby retailer’s plaque which made £550.

Art pottery was well contested in the saleroom; among the highlights a Keith Murray black basalt bowl with 11 commission bids up to £250, eventually selling at £550. A Denby Ceviot vase designed by Glyn Colledge with a tapered neck and bulbous base, painted with crystals, stars and leaves on a matt black ground over a white glaze, 16in (41cm) high, made £800 (it retailed in the original sale at five guineas) and a Calvert and Lovatt Langley vase incised and painted by George Leighton Parkinson in coloured slip with a view of Shanes Castle, 91/2in (24cm) high, which was estimated at £50-100 and took £400 from the trade.

Among the earlier pottery, there was strong competition for a previously unrecorded, 17th century slipware dish with dense foliate decoration, 171/4in (44cm) diameter, the olive green-slip denoting a probable Staffordshire origin.

The catalogue entry was adumbrated by a lengthy footnote comparing the dish to five others, although the one cited in the Rous Lench collection sold at Sotheby’s on July 1, 1986 (lot 83) at £11,000, is not ‘markedly similar’, as claimed by the auctioneers. In any case this dish was not so exalted, selling to the trade at £2000.

The Oriental works of art were remarkable for a fine collection of Meiji ivories and works of art, some of them not seen on the market since the 1950s, which mostly sold to the same telephone bidder.

These included a 101/2in (27cm) high ivory group of Tokiwa Gozen and her three young sons fleeing Kyoto during the civil war in 1159. Signed Dosho, c.1900, this fine representation of the Minamoto clan in retreat sold at £9000, while another of an unknown mother and child by Kogyoku, 9in (23cm) high, brought £4200 from the same bidder. An ivory study of a cockerel with lacquer eyes and talons of shibuichi, 5in (13.5cm) high, took £5500 and a 43/4in (12cm) high pigeon with lidded compartment, mother-of-pearl and abalone plumage, shibuichi bill and finely chiselled feet, which was offered with a solid opal egg, but had lost some of its scales and sold at £2400.

The highlights of the silver section included a linguistic misunderstanding between a telephone clerk and her French bidder – an amusing interlude in the swift business of knocking down the lots – but their relationship was quickly back on course as the French buyer bid £2800 for a 38oz pair of Louis XV cast candlesticks with knopped columns and stepped feet with Bordeaux marks, the maker LVL, and £2200 for a loaded pair of mid-18th century German candlesticks with medallions of classical heads under the knopped shoulders, 73/4in (20cm) high.

There were four sets of dinner plates up for grabs, most of them struggling to make estimate. Most expensive were the set of 12 George III plates with shaped borders and gadrooned rims, 93/4in (25cm) diameter, by William Stroud, London 1807, 248oz, which sold at £4800.

A set of six William IV plates of similar design and the same diameter by Richard Sibley, London 1830, 117oz made £2000. The same buyer then bid a winning £1800 for a
set of six George IV soup plates of the same diameter by William Brown, London 1829, 139oz and £1000 for a set of four George III soup plates by Fogelberg and Gilbert, London 1792, 90oz.

Furniture was not nearly as successful as the auctioneers had hoped; the top lot was a pair of Victorian French-style satinwood corner cabinets which had been seen by the trade and failed to sell against an estimate of £15,000-20,000.

Clocks included several lacking their innards which had been removed from a barn in poor external condition and received hearty approval from a trade used to seeing marriages of cases and movement at auction. As such, a George III mahogany clockcase of London quality with break-arch hood, cavetto pediment and brass mounted, stop fluted pillars, the trunk and base with a finely figured door flanked by pilasters, made £7500 against an estimate of £800-1200.

Top price went to a Queen Anne half hour striking, eight-day longcase with alarm (an unusual specimen) by the respected makers Fromanteel and Clarke, which took £12,000, while a Queen Anne eight-day longcase movement signed for Edward Clement in rusted and weathered condition took £2800.

Pick of the works of art were two polychrome terracotta figures of young black men seated on cane chairs, c.1890, which brought £8600 and £6400, while a Victorian stone figure of Diana, 5ft 101/2in (1.77m) high, which was heavily damaged but possibly Coade’s manufactory, sold to the garden statuary trade at £4000 against hopes of £400-800.