1. Lalique scent bottle – £14,000
It was in the early 20th century that René Lalique turned his attention from handmade jewellery to making glass by industrial methods. Some of his first creations were for the perfumier François Coty, his neighbour on the place Vendôme in Paris, who believed success in the fragrance business lay in beautiful packaging and an affordable price.
Ultimately Lalique designed bottles for more than 60 perfumers, fashion houses and department stores plus bottles for his own Maison Lalique brand. Altogether approximately 400 models were made.
An exceptional private collection of 150 Lalique perfume bottles proved a near sell-out at Lyon & Turnbull’s live online auction on February 17. Many bottles brought record sums.
While Lalique’s most detailed designs typically hold the greatest appeal, this collection included some of the hardest to find bottles – many of them made for French and American perfumiers in the 1920s.
Among the most admired lots in the sale was this bottle, above, made for the opening of the Oviatt department store in Los Angeles in 1927 – its interiors featuring Lalique glass panels. To mark the opening of the building, and the launch of the scent Le Parfum des Anges, Lalique created a small bell-shaped perfume bottle incorporating the seal of the City of Los Angeles and the name of the product within the design. The 1926 grey and sepia stained bottle sold for £14,000, way above the £500-700 estimate.
The same bottle, but slightly later variant with a single bar stopper and without the words Le Parfum des Anges was a more affordable £700.
2. Mouseman carved oak figures – £7100
Ecclesiastical commissions are integral to the Mouseman story – it was the friendship between Father Paul Neville and Robert Thompson that led to the work at Ampleforth College – but in commercial terms these can be relatively difficult pieces. Not every collector can easily accommodate pews, altar crosses, lecterns, pews and prie-dieu.
However, there is no doubt these two carvings offered for sale at Railtons in Wooler, Northumberland on February 18 are rare pieces. The figures of a bishop standing 17in (44cm) and a 14in (35cm) Christ were likely carved in the 1960s or 70s by either George Weightman or Stan Dodds as a special commission or for promotional purposes. Both have the recessed ‘mouse’ carved to the square block base. Estimating them was not easy – they were never going to be in the same league as some of the more comical figures that have made huge sums in recent times – but they were undercooked at £150-250. In fact, the pair sold at £7100.
The record for a Thomson carving is the anthropomorphic figure of The Mouseman of Kilburn sold at Tennants in March 2021 for £13,000, a sale that also included a figure of Mr Toad of Wind in the Willows fame hammered at £10,000.
3. Tinplate ‘Bing Brake’ with original box – £20,000
The Tinplate & Specialist Toy sale at Vectis in Stockton-on-Tees on February 17 included this large-scale tinplate clockwork vintage car by the Gebruder Bing factory of Nuremberg.
The 10in (25cm) ‘Bing Brake’ modelled on a De Dion features as number 7213 in the 1902 Bing catalogue. As discussed in David Pressland's The Art of the Tin Toy, it is powered by a substantial clockwork motor with automatic steering device fitted which enables the car to run in an irregular circle.
This example is in excellent condition. It is in working order, retains its original white rubber tyres and red, cream, green and black paintwork and comes with its original card box with a ‘GBN’ trademark label to one end. This model car is one of the rarest of the well-known Bing large scale tinplate clockwork cars and the first example that toy specialists Vectis have offered for sale.
It was among the items filmed during preparations for a forthcoming ’fly-on-the-wall’ documentary about the auction house to air on the Yesterday channel.
Estimated at £8000-10,000 it sold at a cool £20,000 – but just try and find another one.
4. Plaster model of Mephistopheles – £6800
The unexpected highlight of Sworders’ Out of the Ordinary sale on February 15 was this plaster version of the Jean-Jacques Feuchere (1807-1852) sculpture Mephistopheles or Satan. Titled Satan when first exhibited in plaster at the Salon of 1834 and cast in bronze the following year, it proved an influential work for its Romantic portrayal of Mephistopheles as a melancholic rather than a monstrous creature. The subject’s pose is inspired by the famous engraving of Melancholy by Dürer (Feuchere is known to have owned a copy) and in turn is thought to have influenced Rodin’s Thinker.
A number of reductions were cast in bronze measuring 13.5in (34 cm) and 10.5in (21cm), some with the foundry inscription E. de Labroue. Gautier et Cie. The artist also produced an enlarged and reworked version in 1850 known in a few casts – one in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
However, this plaster model, standing 15in (38cm) high was signed and dated to the base J Feuchère 1838 and was inset with a small oval cast bronze plaque with the monogram JF. Clearly it was deemed a lot closer to the artist than the estimate of £200-300 suggested.
Despite some condition issues (the front fins to the wings were missing), it was bought on the phone by a French collector at £6800. Christie’s sold a bronze cast of Mephistopheles in November 2017 for £15,000.
5. Phyllis Keyes cups decorated by Vanessa Bell – £1300
From the early 1930s, the London potter Phyllis Keyes (1881-1968), with a studio in Warren Street and later in Clipstone Street, supplied Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other members of the Bloomsbury Group with earthenware teawares, jugs and vases for decoration.
After firing many pieces (typically marked with a crossed keys and the initial P), they were offered for sale through Heals sited nearby on Tottenham Court Road.
This pair of teacups decorated with a simple design of yellow crosses against a blue ground were probably decorated by Vanessa Bell (1879-1961). One has significant crazing, two chips and a hairline crack, the other has two chips and discolouration. However, such is the market for Bloomsbury and Omega Workshops material that they took £1300 (estimate £40-60) at W&H Peacock in Bedford on February 18.
6. Constance Spry pedestal flower vase – £8500
The society florist Constance Spry (1886-1960) is today considered the 20th century’s most influential floral decorator. Her approach to the art of flower arranging – seasonal, natural, unconventional – has seen a resurgence in recent years, one celebrated last summer at the Garden Museum, London.
Among the exhibits at the show Constance Spry and the Fashion for Flowers was a large array of the pottery vases made for Spry by the Fulham Pottery. The exhibition noted that “Spry tasked her art assistant Florence Standfast to develop wide mouthed bowls to allow for an abundance of blooms and foliage”.
By 1935, the Fulham Pottery was engaged to create the range for sale, producing Standfast’s outsized classically-inspired designs in a Devonshire earthenware. Typically, they were only biscuit fired (Spry liked the plaster-like finish that could be painted if desired) with a glaze only applied internally to make the vessels watertight. Bearing an impressed facsimile signature, they were retailed by Flower Decorations Ltd and remained in production into the mid 1950s.
In commercial terms, these vessels have had a remarkably return to form in the past decade. Keenly sought after by decorators and Spry devotees, most of the large boat-shaped vases are now priced in the low three-figures with others, seemingly made in small numbers, bringing rather more.
Back in February 2020, Norfolk auction house TW Gaze took £2600 for a 19in (43cm) wall pocket, modelled as a swag of fabric. However, that price was made to look modest in comparison with the reception accorded a similarly-sized two handled vase offered by Newport, Shropshire firm Brettels on February 22. Estimated at £200-400, it was hammered down to an online buyer via thesaleroom.com at £8500.