1. Rare Picasso charger – £34,000
Picasso produced more than 3500 ceramic designs and created 633 different ceramic editions between 1947 and 1971. Most were made at the Madoura Pottery in the town of Vallauris in southern France.
This painted and glazed plate was created in 1950, making it one of the earlier pieces from Madoura, and was created in a relatively small edition of 50. Titled Corrida aux personnages – the central scene of a bullfight is bordered by characters that provide the crowd – it is numbered 104 in Alan Ramie’s catalogue raisonne of Picasso pots.
A number of these 39cm chargers have appeared for sale in recent times. Two offered by Christie’s in 2020 took £26,000 (February 2020) and £19,000 (September 2020) while another took £14,000 at Sotheby’s in December 2020 as part of the Chenel collection.
However, this dish, sold by Gorringe’s in Lewes on March 8, was a rare variant. While most Corrida aux personnages dishes are undecorated to the reverse, this one Is painted in black with a faun holding a branch and signed and inscribed ‘Picasso, 1st Septembre 1951’. It comes with a letter of authentication from Alain Ramié at Madoura, dated November 25, 1996, and is in good condition – the crazing and small unglazed patches both inherent to the manufacturing process.
Estimated at £10,000-15,000, it sold at £34,000.
2. Zeppelin raid watercolour – £5600
The Kent artist William Stephen Tomkin (1861-1940) is best known as a proficient watercolour painter of marine subjects and a draughtsman who worked for General August Pitt Rivers (of Oxford museum fame) between 1882-90.
His works come for sale with some regularity with most sold for relatively small sums of around £50-200 each. For example, the typical Tomkin watercolour Wind Against the Tide (he exhibited a picture of that title at the Royal Academy in 1909) sold for £60 at Jacobs & Hunt of Liss on January 28.
However, Tomkin’s biography also records a night on September 2, 1916, when he recorded the shooting down of a German SL11 airship over Cuffley, Hertfordshire – the first to crash on British soil. He painted the scene of its blazing remains from his garden in Walthamstow – a sketch now held at the RAF Museum in Henson alongside a souvenir scrap taken from the wreckage.
These First World War scenes are now considered Tomkin’s most important work and they have a commercial appeal way above late Victorian and Edwardian marines. The sale at Dominic Winter in South Cerney on March 9 featured the artist’s Searchlights during a Zeppelin raid over London, dated September 8, 1915. On the same night, Aldersgate in the City of London was targeted by the German Zeppelin commander Heinrich Mathy, a raid that killed 22 people and inflicted serious damage. The 8 x 12in (20 x 30cm) watercolour and bodycolour scene was estimated at £300-500, but it took £5600.
3. Artwork for Queen album – £21,000
The original artwork for Queen’s A Day at the Races album sold for £21,000 (estimate £5000-10,000) at Gardiner Houlgate in Corsham, Bath on March 9. It had been consigned for sale by artist David Costa, who worked up the original concept by Freddie Mercury. Costa also provided the artwork for the band’s previous album A Night at the Opera.
Costa provided three elements for the album released on December 10, 1976: the famous ink and fine airbrushed ‘heraldic crest’ used for the front cover, and the artwork for the credits panel used on the reverse. Also offered here was the original penned linework on tracing paper, each piece bearing the original mount pin holes to the corners.
The buyer at Gardiner Houlgate was an American collector.
Auction specialist Luke Hobbs said he had asked Costa is he still had the similar artwork for A Night at the Opera. He had said: “I've got no idea where it is, I think A Night at the Opera may have become a night in the dustbin.”
A Day at the Races, featuring the singles Tie Your Mother Down, Somebody to Love and Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, was Queen’s fifth studio album and the first the band self-produced. The follow-up release was 1977's News Of The World. The original artwork for that album, by American sci-fi artist Frank Kelley Freas, was sold by Bonhams Los Angeles in December 2019 for $50,000.
4. First edition of Harry Potter – £69,000
An exceptional copy of the first edition of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone took £69,000 at Hansons in Stafford on March 9. The vendor had owned it since buying it in 1997 for £12.99.
The 1997 first issue hardback is a famously rare book. Only 500 copies were printed of which the 300 sent to schools and libraries are typically in poor condition. The text has a number of tell-tale errors: on page 53 the phrase ‘1 wand’ appears twice on the list of items required for students of Hogwarts while to the rear cover 'Philosopher's' is misspelled 'Philospher's'.
The owner of this copy since 1997 had been a financial director for a paper merchant who brokered supplies of paper to the book trade. He saw a review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in The Bookseller magazine and – as a collector of children’s literature – had ordered a copy from The Leatherhead Bookworm at a cost of £12.99.
At the time he had been disappointed to find it came without a dust jacket but had kept it in ‘as new’ condition inside a protective cover. The following year, he bought his daughter her own copy as the Potter phenomenon began to grow.
Although above the estimate of £40,000-60,000, the hammer price of £69,000 was relatively unremarkable – perhaps even a bargain. Tired, ex-library copies of the Philosopher’s Stone have sold for sums of £20,000-plus (in this Hansons sale a copy covered in blue felt pen doodles took £15,000) while a ‘near mint ‘copy offered by Heritage Auctions in Dallas in December 2021 took a record $380,000 (£285,000). Hanson’s pre-sale publicity had suggested its copy could bring over £100,000.
In June 2020, Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh sold a first edition copy that was inscribed and signed by JK Rowling for £100,000. This copy, in fine condition, included the note For James, Kate and Laura, with best wishes, J.K. Rowling and the date 6-9-97, less than three months after the book’s publication in June of that year.
5. Royal Doulton figure – £5300
Not to be confused with the modern limited edition toby jugs of the same name, the early Royal Doulton figure Spooks is among the most desirable models in all the HN series.
First there was just a single Spook (HN58) – a design by modeller Harry Tittensor introduced in 1916 during the First World War. Then in 1918 Doulton’s art director Charles Noke adapted the mould to add an addition ghoulish figure that became Spooks’ or ‘Double Spook’ (HN88). Both models were available to order until 1936 – Spook was made in many as eight different treatments from monochrome flambe red to the lustrous Titanian glaze, while Spooks created in just three different colourways. All are today considered great rarities.
Two examples of Spook (HN58) have appeared for sale in recent years – one in a red cap and blue titanium glaze cloak selling for £2800 at Bonhams in August 2020, another in a lustrous glaze bringing £2900 at Arthur Johnson & Sons in July 2021.
The double figure Spooks (HN89) is more costly still. One with red hats and pale blue cloaks took £3300 at Sworders in September 2005 and another £3200 at Duke’s in March 2020.
However, the example pictured here, offered for sale at Potteries Auctions in Stoke-on-Trent on March 10-12 bettered them all. This rare example in a green Titanian type glaze with the figures wearing green and black caps was estimated at £2500-£5000 and took a hammer price of £5300.