With space at a premium and fashions different, a move from the country to the city will often involve some downsizing.
For Bonhams’ (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) oak sales, formerly the preserve of regional outposts, the move to Bond Street has meant smaller sales, higher average lot values and the sometimes painful filtering of consignments this entails.
The Oak Interior Sale on March 15 was the third held in London.
At 357 entries it was around half the size of those held in Chester and Oxford, but the premium-inclusive total of £692,513 from 225 sold lots (more with after-sales) underlined the inclusion of some exceptional items in the fields of vernacular furniture, metalwork and treen.
Observers have long talked of a two-tier market for vernacular furniture, one divided between ‘furnishing’ pieces and the relatively small number of objects that appeal to the connoisseur through a combination of colour, condition and form.
Furnishing oak is increasingly sticky. So too are the large objects that can’t easily be incorporated into the modern home or a collection that already has its kitchen dresser, court cupboard and refectory table.
The small collectors’ pieces remain beloved by the market.
A good example was the rare Charles II boarded oak mural glass case with a triangular pediment and twin arcaded shelves, 2ft wide x 2ft 10in high (62 x 88cm), sold at £17,000 (estimate £10,000-15,000).
Cheap and coarsely made drinking glasses were fairly plentiful even in middle-class homes in the 16th and 17th centuries and such lightly-built cases to house them first made an appearance around 1600. As well as its simple linear and punched-decorated design, this example, c.1660, was stamped with the ownership initials DT to each boarded side. Another similar example was sold by Bonhams Oxford in January 2014 for £20,000.
A small, 17in (45cm), mural cupboard was the example illustrated in Victor Chinnery’s Oak Furniture: The British Tradition and was formerly part of the John Fardon collection (much of it sold by Christie’s South Kensington in 1996).
The distinctive arched bentwood form, here decorated to the front boards and a single door with multiple concentric roundels, is typically associated with the Monmouthshire region and the period c.1680-1720. A similar example was in Syd Leviathan’s (Longridge) collection sold by Christie’s in 2010 (£17,500) and another in a Bonhams Oxford sale in October 2014 (£12,500).
Estimated at £5000-8000, this one took £12,000. Another pitched at £10,000-15,000 failed to sell. Also ex the John Fardon collection was a Charles I joined oak six-leg refectory table, c.1640, with an impressive three-plank cleated top, foliate carved rails and six inverted baluster-turned legs joined by stretchers, 10ft 2in (3.11m) long.
It came with a weighty provenance, having been part of the Cyril Bradshaw collection at Little Wolford Manor, Warwickshire, until 1957 when it passed through Broadway dealer HW Keil and was acquired as a 21st birthday present for Fardon.
The table was making a relatively swift return to the rooms. When offered by Sotheby’s in 2013 it had doubled hopes to bring £35,000.
Pitched here at £40,000-60,000, it sold at the lower end of expectations.
The vendor will thus (with premiums added and deducted) lose a few percent, but then they had four years to enjoy what specialist David Houston called “an exceptional table”.
There were some fine examples of Stuart seating furniture – including a Salisbury caqueteuse – but perhaps the best was a James I oak panel-back open armchair dating from around 1610.
Powerfully carved with a victorious St George astride the defeated dragon, it was further populated by fork-tongued beasts and the mythical scaly serpents bearing razor-like teeth that formed the arms. It took £11,000 (estimate £6000-8000) but it would be hard to find another.
Contrary to an often held belief, not many pieces of early oak furniture were painted, but a 4ft 5in (1.35m) James I coffer offered here retained traces of its original red, green and ochre dye. Made in the West Country (possibly Somerset) c.1600-10, it was carved to both the rails and panels with stylised plants – a pomegranate, a rose, an orchid and a large single carnation among the identifiable species.
Admired for its original condition, it passed its £4000-6000 estimate to bring £16,000.