The series of electroplated teapots designed by Christopher Dresser and made by James Dixon & Sons in 1879 rank among the great moments of the Aesthetic movement – and 19th century art as a whole.
But, for reasons of cost and a conservative audience, these six radical prototypes never made it into general production. Some of the surviving designs, pictured together in a famous photograph of the time, are thought to be one-offs. All are very rare.
Only a handful of examples of teapot model 2275, distinctive for its low drum-shaped body, simple angular spout and elongated ebony handle, are recorded. The example in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland is that sold at Phillips in March 1994 for £60,000, a price that saw another appear on the market the following year.
So there was a moment of incredulity when James Grinter, managing director of Reeman Dansie in Colchester, found himself staring at this example among a sundry lot of electroplate on an Edwardian sideboard during a routine house clearance visit in Essex.
The property was located only a mile away from Frinton-on-Sea, where Mr Grinter had discovered the Douglas Shepherd collection of Arts & Crafts silver sold in February for £125,000.
The teapot was fully marked to the base with both the facsimile C.W. Dresser signature in a cartouche, the hallmarks for James Dixon & Sons and the pattern number 2275.
Unfortunately it had been dropped sometime in its life (the front spout area is visibly compressed and the semi-circular hinged lid no longer shuts completely), but the estimate had been set conservatively at £2000-5000.
It sold for £19,000.
The discovery of another model 2275 comes just a month or so since Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury sold an Elkington electroplated silver kettle that ranks among Christopher Dresser's earliest provable designs in the medium.
Although not manufactured until 1884, the kettle's pattern number 10272 dates the design to 1866-67 and contemporary with the 1865 copy of The Building News which records Elkington's first experiments with Dr Dresser's electroplated silver designs.
The possibly unique teapot, sourced from a private collection, sold at the lower end of its £15,000-20,000 estimate on June 19.