1. Table made from parrot coal – £6000
Among the more unusual entries to Woolley & Wallis Furniture, Works of Art & Clocks sale in Salisbury on January 12 was this early Victorian table carved from parrot coal.
Cannel or parrot coal – a form of anthracite so-called because of the crackling and chattering sound it makes in burning – was mined largely for industrial use in the Wemyss area of Fife. However, it has similar characteristics to marble.
Most of the small corpus of coal furniture is attributed to Thomas Williamson (1817-60), a stonemason from West Wemyss whose commissions included a table and two chairs inscribed Wemyss Parrot Coal made for Wemyss Castle in 1855 (now in the Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery) and furniture for the Fife Coal Company offices in Leven.
At the Great Exhibition in 1851 he exhibited a parrot coal garden seat which now sits in the grounds of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
However, this William IV table was signed and dated to the underside of the top R Martin 1836. It came for sale with a provenance to the London and Eastbourne dealership of David and Paula Newman with a guide of £500-800 but sold at £6000.
Rarely do these large-scale parrot coal pieces appear for sale, but Christie's New York sold a work table with a foliate carved pedestal in 2008 for $6500 while Mallams of Cheltenham took £7500 for an occasional table in February 2011. Back in 1996, Phillips in Edinburgh took £19,000 for a similar table.
2. Gstaad ski poster – £10,000
At the top end of the budget for ski poster enthusiasts are the Art Deco images promoting Gstaad. They are just the thing to decorate a lodge in one of Switzerland’s most exclusive resorts.
This classic design by Swiss graphic artist Alex Walter Diggelmann (1902-87) depicts a party on a gondola lift – a new addition to the landscape when the poster was printed in 1938. The first ski school in Gstaad opened in 1923 with the first ski lifts following in 1934-44.
Examples of this poster have sold beyond £15,000 in the past but this one, offered at The Ski Sale held by Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on January 18, got away at its low estimate of £10,000.
The sale featured only original lithographed posters focused on winter sports and travel assembled for sale by former Christie’s vintage poster specialists Nicolette Tomkinson and Sophie Churcher. The pair first teamed up with Lyon & Turnbull to launch dedicated poster sales in 2018 and this was the largest selection offered so far with nearly 100 pre- and post-war ski posters.
3. Egyptian head of a king – £32,000
The sale at Stroud Auctions in Gloucestershire on January 12 included this 10in (24cm) Egyptian greywacke or green siltstone head carved in the form of king. The subject wears the nemes headcloth with a chiselled cavity at the brow where a uraeus (cobra symbol of the goddess Wadjet) may have been attached.
He has some of the facial characteristics of the 13th Dynasty king Mentuhotep VI (1675-1650BC). As evidenced by an original catalogue included with the lot, it had been bought for £1300 in 1978 at a Christie’s antiquities sale in London.
It was offered for sale at Stroud at a similar sum, just £1500-2000, but did rather better, selling at £32,000.
4. Intaglio seal fobs – £9500
The subject of unexpected bidding at Taylor’s in Montrose on January 13 was a lot of intaglio carnelian seal fobs guided at £30-50. One was Victorian, engraved with a crest and a monogram, the other more speculative, finely worked with the profile bust of a bearded man.
An inscription in ancient Greek translates as ‘Trophonios’ – the Greek hero with a rich mythological and cult tradition. In the classical tradition, ‘to descend into the cave of Trophonios’ became a proverbial way of saying ‘to suffer a great fright’.
This fine example of the glyphic arts will need research to ascertain if it is a Grand Tour piece, a Renaissance copy or perhaps an ancient Hellenistic or Roman gem. Speculating it might be the latter, it was pursued to £9500.
5. Killarney games table – £5800
Just as in Tunbridge Wells, a thriving cottage industry existed in Killarney in the 19th century making marquetry souvenirs for the tourist trade. They were made using predominantly local timbers (including the distinctive arbutus) with the inlaid scenes of local beauty spots based on engravings in guidebooks and topographical works of the area.
It was commonplace for proprietors to invite the visiting public to inspect their craftsmen at work in the hope of encouraging a purchase. One maker, James Egan, even introduced caged mountain eagles in the upper room of his workshop as a further attraction.
The Killarney yew and marquetry games table pictured here is a particularly good example of the craft from c.1850. When opened it has playing surfaces for chess, backgammon and cribbage. In addition to borders of trailing sprays of shamrock are a series of oval vignettes including Muckross Abbey, Ross Castle and Glena Cottage.
Offered for sale at Bamfords in Derby on January 13-17, it was guided at £2000-3000 but sold at £5800.