The sale was a 143-lot timed online auction that closed on September 24. It raised £354,375 including premium with 122 lots sold (85%). The auction house reported bidding from over 20 countries.
Antony Armstrong-Jones, whose career spanned photography, fashion, design and theatre, married Princess Margaret in 1960 and was given the title Earl of Snowdon, a homage to his Welsh ancestry.
For Prince Charles’ investiture ceremony at Caernarvon Castle, he was invited by the Queen to design much of the set, including the seating for the large number of guests. Working with Carl Toms and John Pound, in total 4600 of these chairs were made at the Remploy factory in Bridgend.
Made in vermillion-stained beech and plywood, embossed with the Prince of Wales motif in gold leaf and upholstered in Welsh tweed, they were later sold flat-packed after the ceremony for £12 each with invited guests given first refusal. Lord Snowdon purchased six for himself.
Nowadays examples appear at auction occasionally, fetching anything from a few hundred pounds upwards depending on who they belonged to and what condition they are in. Most recently a pair sold for £1900 at Dreweatts in Berkshire in July, an above-average sum.
However, the pair at Christie’s were in a somewhat different commercial category being in immaculate condition and with provenance to their original creator. They had also appeared in a photograph of Snowdon’s studio that featured in in a World of Interiors article in 2009.
Estimated at £2000-4000 at the Christie’s sale, they drew bidding from multiple parties before they sold to an overseas buyer at £35,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium). The price was a major record for a pair of Prince of Wales investiture chairs.
Many of the objects in the Christie’s sale had been given to Snowdon or were inherited through members of his family, including his maternal uncle Oliver Messel (1904-78). Messel, a celebrated and flamboyant English theatre and stage designer, had been close to Snowdon and supported him in his own chosen career.
He was also an artist in his own right and his 1962 portrait of the American socialite Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley sold for at £19,000 to a UK bidder, a record for the artist at auction.
A portrait of Messel himself, aged 17, by William Bruce Ellis Ranken sold at £13,000 to an overseas buyer, another artist’s record.