As always, market freshness and quality was key. The £400,000 March 9 sale at Clevedon Salerooms (20% buyer’s premium) benefited from a couple of private collections, including pieces from nearby 18th century country house Ston Easton Park, just to the south of Bristol.
It is also true that prices were still way down on the boom years and the extremely tempting estimates on some items helped the 700-lot sale enjoy an 85% selling rate.
Much of the furniture, including perfectly decent Georgian pieces, brought modest three-figure prices, but auctioneers Marc Burridge and Toby Pinn were decidedly upbeat after receiving strong bids for connoisseurial objects.
The latter included a 2ft 2in (66cm) tall walnut hanging corner lantern with a mirrored back and bowfront glazed door, or lanthorn as collectors prefer to name these rare early 18th century survivors.
A limited production and inherent fragility make these rare items, and the £300-400 estimate on this example looked more ‘here to sell’ rather than cautious. It went to a long-standing East Anglian collector at £7200.
It was one of the lots provenanced to Ston Easton Park, in its various forms the Bath home of the Hippisley family from 1544-1956 and today a luxury hotel and restaurant.
Robust and Practical
Other, more robust Georgian furniture of practical use included a mahogany elbow chair, a mahogany pillar wine table and a walnut chest of drawers.
The chair, with carved serpentine crest rail, pierced trellis back and shaped open arms with carved decoration was similar to one which took £23,400 at Sotheby’s in 2001.
In these straitened times, it was pitched at £2000-3000 but the £9200 winning bid from a ‘Wessex’ dealer was more optimistic.
The George III wine table, with a 2ft (60cm) diameter veneered top segmented to its 12 sides on a turned pillar and tripod base, was another Ston Easton item with an unduly modest estimate (£250-350) and went to the Cotswolds trade at £5800.
The chest of four long graduated drawers was estimated at £400-600, which looked a more reasonable reflection of the times, but it was a very fine example.
With a herringbone inlay and crossbanded top and a fitted brushing slide, it was in good condition and attractively small at 2ft 7in (78cm) wide. Just what the market likes, it was another Cotswolds trade purchase at £7200.
Top price of the furniture, however, went to a Georgian ‘style’ lot: a set of six walnut hall chairs with shaped spoon backs from Ston Easton. Although not thought to be period, each chair was painted with the Hippisley family crest. Against a £2000-3000 estimate, the chairs sold at £12,500 to the dealer who bought the Georgian armchair.
The wide-ranging sale included a Chinese ‘sleeper’. A 5in (12.5cm) diameter bronze two-handled tripod censer with six-character Xuande mark estimated at £60-90 sold to an East Anglia-based Chinese bidder at £4800.
But that price was topped by that most traditional of English ceramics: a mid-18th century Staffordshire Whieldon-type pottery group of a romantic couple in an arbour with birds and flowers. “Time was when such a piece would have had collectors and international dealers queuing round the block to bid,” said one nostalgic observer.
Despite the changes in the market and the group’s condition problems – a section in the top corner had been broken and poorly restuck as had one of the birds and there were various chips – the £100-150 estimate was pretty notional. Bidders thought so and the group went to the East Anglian trade at £5000.
A ceramics favourite suffering only minor condition problems was a 10½in (27cm) Charles Vyse figure of a flower seller inscribed to the base CV Chelsea 1927.
Chrysanthemums included losses to the petals of the flowers in her basket and her hand and some crazing and staining to the plinth. This was pretty much consistent with age and the figure went to an American buyer at £2800 – one of the 38% of lots which sold online.
As Pinn pointed out, online sales have been a major force in keeping the auction world healthy in these challenging times.
Another contribution has been the activity of decorators, more than one of whom was interested in a 2ft 3in (69cm) pair of 19th century wooden two-handled urns painted with a continuous frieze of classical maidens.
The surface had been professionally restored before the vendor bought them at Christie’s some 30 years or so ago, but since then they had lain wrapped in a blanket awaiting the day suitable bases were found for them.
They never were and the pair came to auction on a temporary base. That and some wear to the paint kept the estimate down to £500-800 but the urns sold to a London dealer at £8500.