Gold sapphire ring

15th century gold and table-cut sapphire ring, £14,000 at Noonans.

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1. 15th century sapphire ring – £14,000

This 15th century gold ring, set with a rhomb-shaped table-cut sapphire, is engraved with lilies and other flowers issuing from a crescent bowl. A metal-detecting find, it came for sale on June 13 at Noonans in London with an estimate of £4000-6000 but pushed on to £14,000.

As recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, the ring was unearthed in 2019 in the village of Tarrant Crawford in Dorset, less than 200m from the Church of St Mary the Virgin. The medieval church is all that remains of Tarrant Abbey, an important and powerful Cistercian nunnery, founded in the 13th century by Ralph de Kahaines (of nearby Tarrant Keyneston). It closed during the Reformation.

Sapphires have long been associated with the church due to their designation in medieval lapidaries as representative of heavenly virtue and fidelity. In Christian iconography the white lily symbolises chastity and is associated with the Virgin Mary.

2. George III teacups and saucers – £6000

Silver teacups and saucers

One of the set of silver teacups and saucers that sold for £6000 at Chiswick Auctions.

Teacups and saucers are a rare form in Georgian silver. As the British liked to serve their tea much hotter than it was consumed in the orient, porcelain was a far more suitable material than a heat-conducting metal.

However, the set of four George III teacups and saucers offered by Chiswick Auctions on June 21 were made for Indian royalty. Marked for Robert, David and Samuel Hennell (London, 1801), they carry the cypher of the Raja of Coorg and in English the words ‘Veeraa Junder Wurrtar, Raja of Coorg’.

Dodda Vira Rajendra (or Vira Rajendra Wodeyar) was the ruler of the Coorg Kingdom from 1780-1809 and a favourite with both his subjects and the East India Company after he offered his assistance in the final defeat of Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatna.

Silver teacups and saucers

A set of four George III teacups and saucers made for the Raja of Coorg, £6000 at Chiswick Auctions.

The four cups and saucers had been bought from London silver dealership JH Bourdon-Smith in 1966 but had a much more recent provenance to the sale held by West Sussex firm Tooveys in May. There they had been hammered for £3300 and had been quickly flipped for sale on West London.

Reoffered at Chiswick with more comprehensive cataloguing and an estimate of £6000-8000, they sold at £6000.

3. The Beggar's Opera cards – £10,500

Beggars Opera playing cards

Cards from a full deck printed by Carington Bowles with words and music from The Beggar's Opera, £10,500 at Dominic Winter.

Items from the Dudley Ollis collection of playing cards were offered at Dominic Winter in South Cerney, Gloucestershire on June 14.

A dedicated and knowledgeable member of the International Playing Card Society, Ollis formed his collection of over more than 50 years, buying from dealers on Portobello Road and Camden Passage as well as auction houses.

Considered the most important English private collection of playing cards, it includes rarities such as this set of English playing cards printed with the musical notation and lyrics from The Beggar's Opera.

The London printer John Bowles probably produced the first set of playing cards based on the Beggar’s Opera soon after it opened at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in 1728. However, the great popularity of the ballad opera, that paired music by the Anglo-German composer Johann Christoph Pepusch with the word of the dramatist John Gay, meant the pack was reprinted often during the next few decades.

By 1766 Bowles’ son Carington had taken over the business and was working from 69, St. Paul's Churchyard – the address that appears to this complete deck of 52 engraved cards. At the time the printing of cards was heavily taxed (typically the ace of spades was stamped indicating that the levy had been paid) but here the duty ace requirement had somehow been avoided.

Offered together with a folder of notes regarding the history of The Beggar's Opera, the set, estimated at £1500-2000, sold for £10,500.

4. Ben Nevis watercolour – £4400

Thomas Miles Richardson watercolour

Thomas Miles Richardson’s watercolour Ben Nevis, River Lochy, Inverness-Shire, £4400 at Andrew Smith & Son.

Like his father of the same name, Thomas Miles Richardson Jnr (1813-90) began his career in Newcastle but he moved to London in 1846. Elected as a full member of the Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1851, from then until his death he participated in every summer and winter exhibition, eventually showing over 700 watercolours.

Dealers Arthur Tooth & Sons and Agnew & Sons held regular and very successful selling exhibitions with Christie’s conducting a studio sale in 1890.

Richardson’s scenes were the typical Victorian topographical range, mixing Swiss and Italian alpine views with those of the Borders and the Scottish Highlands.

Many of the top prices paid for Richardson’s works are for Ben Nevis subjects. Back in 2004 when the best British topographical watercolours were still deemed investment material, the large-scale 2ft x 3ft (60 x 90cm) composition Departing Day, Ben Nevis sold for a record £25,000 at a Sotheby's sale at Gleneagles Hotel. These days, with the market at a financial nadir, prices of over £5000 are a rarity and many workmanlike Richardson watercolours bring just a few hundred pounds.

There was, however, strong bidding for a Ben Nevis scene offered by Hampshire firm Andrew Smith and Son in Alresford on June 13. Titled Ben Nevis, River Lochy, Inverness-Shire, it measured 13in x 2ft 1in (33 x 64cm) and dated from c.1880. Estimated at £200-300, it reached £4400 – by some distance the highest price for the artist at auction over the past 12 months.

5. Maori jewellery – £5200

Maori pounamu hei matau

Maori pounamu hei matau and a chisel or staff, £5200 at Piers Motley.

The best-known type of Maori jewellery is the pounamu (greenstone) hei tiki pendants, the figural carvings representing ‘the first man’ that were typically worn by women.

Less well known are a range of neck pendants worn as items of personal adornment and status that mirrored other natural forms. These include the pekapeka pendants named after a native type of bat and the hei matau pendants that follow the stylised form of a traditional Māori hook (matau). Both were prized and a sign of high rank in Maori society.

The Maori used pounamu to make tools and jewellery. Offered together at Piers Motley in Exmouth, Devon on June 19 were a hei matau with serrated edge and an 11in (27cm) chisel or pendant with a pierced hole to one end. They carried no cast iron provenance – they were found when clearing the home of a local family with Royal Navy connections – but a long colonial history dictates that artefacts such as this still survive in the UK in number.

The visible signs of wear suggested a 19th century or earlier date. Pre-sale interest suggested they would far surpass the £100-150 estimate and so it proved when, against online competition from a UK bidder, it sold, via the, to a buyer in Virginia at £5200.