A 17th century embroidered nightcap which is estimated at £15,000-20,000 at the Christie’s South Kensington sale on December 3.

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Every few years the salerooms throw up an example of an embroidered night cap, elaborately worked headgear worn by the well-to-do when retiring to the privacy of their private apartments and liberated from their wigs and hairpieces.

It is much rarer for such pieces to survive in near-mint condition and to come to market with centuries-old primary provenances. How unusual then that two such well-preserved night caps, both with long provenances to the same part of country, should come up for auction at two different salerooms within the space of a week.

The example which will be offered at Bonhams' Knowle in their textile sale on November 30 forms part of a small collection of 17th century and later embroideries that have passed down through the female line of a Leicestershire family in a provenance that has been documented from 1755.

The collection includes a similarly embroidered lady's bodice and sleeve and a beaded bag thought to date from the same period. There is also a quilt and a small group of unfinished samplers, but the cap is the grandest and best-preserved element and carries the highest estimate at £8000-12,000.

Three days later, on December 3, Christie's South Kensington are holding their annual sale of collectors' costume. It includes 11 lots that have come from Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, home of Sir Thomas Cave (d.1666), a staunch supporter of Charles I, that have been passed down by direct descent.

The grandest of these is another 17th century embroidered nightcap which is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

Both caps are in exceptional condition for their age, freshly coloured and still bearing their silver sequins. The overall design of the embroidery is also very similar with its metal thread scrolls and vivid silk flowers and fruit, although there are subtle variations.

The actual stitching is slightly different; Bonhams' version is worked in floss silks with long stitches, while Christie's silk stitching is more matt and of a shorter variety. Additionally, Christie's are cataloguing their version as a man's nightcap while Bonhams reckon theirs to have been worn by a woman.

By Anne Crane