14-07-04-2149LS01E Archibald Knox.jpg
A good selection of Archibald Knox designs for Liberty & Co were offered in Bonhams’ June 18 decorative arts sale in New Bond Street including the half dozen pieces pictured here, the majority of which (nos. 2, 3, 4, 5) had been stored in a bank vault since 1989.

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In a well-timed offering, it coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Manxman's birth - the focus of several events this year including a large loan exhibition of 115 pieces on display at this summer's Olympia International Art and Antiques Fair in London and the issuing of a set of special edition stamps by the Isle of Man post office featuring a selection of his designs.

Such good pre-sale publicity aided by sensibly pitched estimates saw this ten-lot group of very choice pieces all sell to contribute just over £100,000 to the sale total. 

Although, broadly speaking, Knox prices have continued on a steady upward trajectory, Bonhams specialist Mark Oliver says the market has not always been as strong.

While collectors drove prices up in the '90s, most famously Hollywood actor Brad Pitt among them, some stepped back in the early part of this century, causing the market to plateau. In the last few years, however, new enthusiasts have injected fierce competition back into this market.   

Bank Vault

At Bonhams, six of the Knox lots had come from a gentleman who had stored his 1000-strong collection of Liberty ware in a bank vault for 25 years.

Among this market-fresh group was the section's top performer, an 8in (19cm) Cymric silver, shagreen and chalcedony tobacco box and cover marked Birmingham 1901, an example that Mr Oliver had not come across before. Bids from the room, the phone and the internet ensured this unusual piece comfortably surpassed the £10,000-15,000 estimate to eventually sell for £28,000 to the French trade.

"I've never known the French to buy a single piece of Knox," said Mr Oliver. 

Clocks remain one of Knox's most collectable areas, with the category at Bonhams offering five. The financial highlight here was an attractive 4in (11cm) high Cymric silver and enamel clock hallmarked Birmingham 1903. Raised on four bun feet, the body was inset with turquoise matrix cabochons and the face enhanced with green enamel. It took £11,000 against a

£5000-7000 estimate.

Biscuit Box

Outside the single-owner collection was a silver and blister pearl biscuit box which had been consigned from a source in Canada. Similar to other wares discovered in the colonies from Britain, it had probably travelled with a British family to Canada in the last century or so.

It measured 8in (20cm) high and was marked for Birmingham 1901. There was a small break to the metal with some potential past repair work which was reflected in the £6000-8000 estimate. Nevertheless it still got away above expectations to take £10,000, fittingly from a buyer based on the Isle of Man.

Prices for this form of biscuit box, especially those with enamel, have commanded even bigger sums; in 2013 Reeman Dansie of Colchester sold another with blister-pearl and yellow enamel decoration and marked for Birmingham 1900 for £26,000.