As part of the Edinburgh auctioneers’ April 11 sale of decorative arts, it sold for £40,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium), above its £20,000-30,000 estimate.
The iron key, skillfully wrought with its totemic square terminal enclosing overlaid plant motifs, had not been seen in public since the opening ceremony on 20th December 1899.
It had presented to Sir James King, the Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1886-89, by six year old Miss Mary Newbery, daughter of Fra Newbery, director of The Glasgow School of Art, who then performed the ceremony of unlocking the door.
Attached to the key is a planished silver commemorative plaque (hallmarked 1899), probably applied after the ceremony. It is engraved with an inscription describing its part in the opening of the school using a trademark Glasgow School of Art typeface.
The current Sir James King was the vendor who has pledged to donate a percentage of the sale proceeds to the Mackintosh Campus Appeal launched in the wake of the 2014 fire in the building.
The new owner is Sir Ludo Shaw Stewart, owner of the Ardgowan Estate near Inverkip, Inverclyde. He said “I am delighted that the key will remain in Scotland, it will take pride of place on show at Ardgowan House. I have a particular interest in the key and the Glasgow School of Art as one of my forebears was a founding father of the first School of Art in Glasgow, started in 1753 by brothers Andrew and Robert Foulis, a precursor and inspiration to the later Mackintosh School. The key is a beautiful object and we look forward to welcoming it to its new home."