The small Wiltshire firm Jubilee Auction Rooms – opened in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year in 2002 and soon to move to larger premises in Pewsey – received inquiries from all over the world when it emerged they had unearthed a remarkable jewel-decorated flask by William Burges (1827-81) in a routine house clearance.
As an antiquarian and an avid collector as well as an architect-designer, Burges often successfully incorporated classical gems, coins, Oriental carvings and porcelain into the art objects he created for himself and his clients.
For this newly-discovered 7½in (19cm) tall vessel he used two Chinese works of art - a robin's-egg-glazed blue vase with elephant-mask handles and a domed cloisonné cover - mounted in silver set with cut and cabochon semi-precious stones.
The original watercolour design for the flask survives in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (and is easily available online) but the whereabouts of the vessel itself was hitherto unknown. It was found by David Harrison, who runs the Fordbrook Estate auction room with Sue Owen, when clearing a house in the nearby village of Etchilhampton.
The auctioneers believed it was made for Burges' personal 'use' as it is engraved to the foot in gothic script: W Burges in remembrance of Tommy Deane his pupil MDCCCLXXIV (1874). It was a tribute to, rather than a memorial for, a favourite student.
At the time the flask was made, Cork-born architect Thomas Manly Deane (1851-1933) was showing only the first signs of a talent that would earn him major commissions in Dublin and a knighthood in 1911.
Such personal art objects by William Burges make only rare appearances on the market, although a hitherto unknown brooch by the architect-designer was sold by Gildings of Market Harborough last year for £31,000.
A more straightforward comparison with the Wiltshire flask was another memorable Antiques Roadshow discovery, a silver and jewelled bottle formed around a Chinese vase (again the original watercolour survives) which was unsold against an estimate of £40,000-60,000 at Sotheby's in March 1998, but later found its way into a Continental museum.
Jubilee estimated their bottle at an eminently buyable £8000-12,000 and on the eve of their May 16 sale were thinking more in terms of £20,000.
In fact the undisclosed buyer parted with £42,000 (plus 15% buyer's premium).