Some 300 lots from the Lewisham home of the Anglo-American art and antiques dealer will be sold in a single-owner sale at Sworders on February 22.
For the Warner Dailey the collecting habit began young. An only child born in New Jersey in 1945, he was trading badges in pre-school before graduating to stamps and shells. After moving to London with $1000 and a promise of a job on the front counter at Christie’s in 1968, he spent the 70s and 80s working as a ‘runner’, driving a Mercedes estate around the South of England, filling it with objects that ranged from the best in Russian object d’art to the weird and wonderful. His clients included the American publishing magnate and Fabergé fanatic Malcolm Forbes who paid him a retainer to find items for him.
Having bought and sold an estimated 100,000 objects in his career, Dailey’s home in southeast London groans under the weight of pictures, natural history specimens, tribal art, exotic textiles and objects that just demand to be picked up and studied.
“Collecting has been almost everything in my life. It is a constant stimulation that you can’t get from anything else. What I value most is the gathering, the learning and the experience of what these objects give you.” The three words he uses to describe the collection are ‘historic, eclectic, and unusual’.
Estimates at Sworders’ sale range from £300-400 for an early 19th century iron anti-slavery tobacco box retaining its original white on green paintwork to £16,000-£20,000 for a fine pair of silver-mounted 16-bore flintlock holster pistols engraved with the mermaid crest of Lord Byron’s father.
Dailey has a deep emotional connection to objects that come with a narrative – a story about ownership, an individual or a culture. Throughout his career he kept careful notes regarding his purchases to ensure the details were not lost.
A straw work box in the form of a book (estimate £800-£1,200) tells the story of the early 19th century French prisoner-of-war who made it but also its more recent ownership history in the collection of John Paul Getty Jr. The box, given by Getty to the heiress and fashion model Nicky Samuel during London’s Swinging Sixties, entered Dailey’s collection on October 20, 2014.
Among his personal favourites is a small leather bag that holds several objects including rings, bracelets, a tooth filling, and a label recording the items were found in the stomach of a man-eating crocodile shot in the Ganges in 1915. Formerly in the collection of Jan and Craig Finch, it comes for sale with an estimate of £700 - £900.
Dailey tells the story that his love of objects suited to the kuntskammer or the souk was inspired by a childhood visit to the home of a retired sea captain on Long Island. “There were all these wonderful things, from the jaw of a sperm whale to a Maori tattooed head, and I thought, one day I want to have a house and collection like this.
One of several maritime lots in the sale are the seaman's papers of Charles Green (1888-1974) documenting his life at sea including two years with Shackleton in Antarctica as part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914-16.
Green was the ship's cook and among the men who remained on Elephant Island when Shackleton and five crew sailed to a whaling station in South Georgia, returning to save the entire crew three months later. Acquired from a dealer Laurence Langford, it is estimated at £400-£600.
Expected to bring £1000-£1500 is a Victorian oak and gunmetal walking stick engraved to the knop with a view of ships at sea and to the collar with the inscription Mary Rose Sunk 1545 Raised 1840.
It was probably made from materials salvaged from the wreck of Henry VIII’s flagship by Charles and John Deane. Contracted to remove wrecks from the Solent by the Admiralty, they developed the first practical diving suit in 1837 with assistance of Augustus Siebe.