Setting a new house record for Holloways of Banbury, this enigmatic alabaster urn shot to £170,000 (plus 15% buyer’s premium) on October 18.
The massive 3ft 2in (95cm) urn - probably late 16th or early 17th century Italian, but possibly from ancient Rome - was sold on the instructions of the rector and churchwardens of St James's Church, Edgcote, Northamptonshire. It has been in the church since about 1960, prior to which it was part of the furnishings of the adjacent property, Edgcote House. Edgcote was built by William Jones (to the designs of William Smith of Warwick) between 1747 and 1752 for Richard Chauncey before it passed by inheritance to the Cartwright family (of Aynho) in 1847. It seems likely that the urn was acquired by either a Chauncey or a Cartwright family member on the Grand Tour, although it appears to have escaped the house contents sale in 1920 or failed to sell and was simply left in the otherwise empty house.
Bidding for the urn - and the 25 fragments that comprised the entwined serpent handles - proved a largely two-way content between a British agent and a dealer from France who was ultimately successful. The estimate had been £15,000-20,000.