Interiors by John Hobbs amounts to a cross section of the signature look that made Hobbs' Pimlico Road shop a regular port of call for high-end decorators and a broad cadre of private clients for two decades. It also contains many of the rebuilt or embellished antiques created for Hobbs at the workshop of the Kent cabinetmaker Dennis Buggins.
The combined mid estimate of the December 15 sale is a relatively modest £500,000: the items originally had a cost price of several times this amount and Dreweatts' executive chairman Stephan Ludwig believed their original retail ticket prices would have been in the order of £5.5m-6m. Individual elements carry low estimates from £200 to £25,000.
There will, however, be a number of important caveats for buyers to note. Dreweatts have consciously not attributed any firm dates to items in the collection and buyers must satisfy themselves as to the originality or otherwise of each lot. Dreweatts will offer condition reports only with respect to the appearance and structural integrity of each item and will not provide additional commentary beyond the catalogue descriptions (and, where relevant, the stated provenance) of any item.
In short, all lots in the sale are being sold 'as seen' and for their decorative and aesthetic appeal, with the auctioneers explaining that the assemblage includes creatively restored, reconstructed and newly-made items.
Dreweatts have followed a consistent cataloguing style, as follows:
1. Of recent construction: those items that have probably been created since the latter half of the 20thC either 'from new' or utilising period materials.
2. Elements of recent construction: those items where extensive restoration has probably gone beyond that acceptable to the general antiques market.
3. Provenance: those items that bear a substantially similar structural appearance to when they were purchased at public auction. In these instances we have included the date, location, lot number and hammer price of sale.
In this guise there is no reason that the pieces cannot be enjoyed and appreciated as spectacular decorative objects displaying considerable craftsmanship.
"There is no intention whatsoever to deceive potential buyers and we are, of course, very conscious of the impending court case," said Mr Ludwig, who added that John Hobbs had been totally candid with the auctioneers regarding the history of the pieces he hoped to sell.
The 16 lots withdrawn from Bonhams' November furniture sale (click here for ATG story) are understood not to form part of the sale.
While a book on the Hobbs-Buggins revelations and associated furniture 'faking' scandals is in the pipeline (penned by journalist Christopher Owen), John Hobbs himself is understood to be working on an autobiography, scheduled to be published at the end of 2011, apparently with the working title Honest John.
The dealer, who continues to trade by private appointment, promises a fast-paced and disarmingly candid account of both an extraordinary life story and the inner machinations of the market for the finest antiques and decorative objects.
It is apparently "in celebration of his semi-retirement" that Dreweatts have presented the vendor with a 'John Hobbs' brand that will be discreetely applied to all items in the sale. This 'signature' will also go some way to ensure these pieces do not reappear on the market in a different guise.
John Hobbs versus Extreme Architecture (the trading name of Dennis Buggins), the protracted legal action between the dealer and his restorer, finally came for hearing at the High Court last week but, on the strong recommendation of the judge, the two parties settled out of court.
Hobbs and his company originally sued in December 2007 for the return of a large number of items valued at approximately £2m plus interest, as well as unspecified damages, but the vast majority of these claims were abandoned earlier this year. Buggins was countersuing for a sum approaching £400,000 for fees, materials and storage charges for which he had invoiced Hobbs shortly after the termination of their relationship in August 2007, but which remained unpaid.
Following summary submissions in the High Court, Mr Justice Field said: "This should never have come to court. I don't know what madness has seized the parties but you are now in a situation where costs are very, very high and where much depends on the credibility of the witnesses. I hope I don't trivialise the process by saying that cases like this are something like a roll of the dice… This is nuts. There must be a basis for a settlement… What's happening in front of me makes no sense at all."
Talks took place during the lunch adjournment, but failed to produce a deal. The hearing resumed, but immediately before he was to be called for cross-examination, Hobbs requested a further adjournment in the course of which a settlement was reached.
The settlement was undisclosed but is understood to include payment of a substantial cash sum and the transfer of items of furniture which had been in joint ownership.
The legal costs of both sides are thought to total more than £1m.
By Roland Arkell