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These are of identical design and weight and were both made for an English nobleman. But the significant difference is that the pair pictured were made in Paris by Robert-Joseph Auguste and the others copied from the French model a year later.

In market terms, this translated into the French pair making over twice as much as their English counterparts.
Simon Harcourt was appointed ambassador to Paris in 1768 and these 8656g (278oz) French coolers which were made by court goldsmith Pierre Robert Auguste in 1766/7 were almost certainly a part of his 7000oz allowance of ambassadorial plate. Their design was in the vanguard of French fashion, anticipating the Louis XVI style that came in with the King’s accession a decade later. Indeed they are thought to be the earliest example of this model. Although the quantities of silver melted down in times of conflict make any substantial pre-Revolutionary pieces rare, Auguste’s small output makes his work even rarer.

Even ambassadors were cost-conscious and although French silver was at its most fashionable at this period, its purer standard and import costs prompted many people to commission copies of French work from English goldsmiths. This is doubtless the reason why Lord Harcourt asked his goldsmiths, Parker and Wakelin, to produce copies of Auguste’s coolers the following year in London.

The French coolers were sold by the Harcourt family, along with other pieces by Auguste, in a single-owner sale in 1993 when they fetched £230,000, over double the estimate, from a collector. The English models have had a more chequered recent history. Retained by the Harcourt family, they were stolen, although fortunately recovered within a short space of time.

Matthew Stuart-Lyon explained how the four coolers all reappeared together on the market. When the owner of the French pair told Sotheby’s they were thinking of selling them, the auctioneers happened to have the English pair in their store, so they contacted the Harcourt family to see if they would be interested in selling them at the same point.

Hence the appearance of all four in the same auction, offered as consecutive lots. The Auguste coolers, entered with a guideline of £300,000-500,000, duly made £610,000 this time, selling to a private buyer. The English pair, although copies, were still very early examples of this model and, although their final price of £240,000 was less than half that of their Gallic counterparts, it was nonetheless far in excess of the £40,000-60,000 that had been predicted. This was partly because the same private buyer was determined to secure these as well, so the quartet is now reunited.