Martel Maides in St Peter Port sold the Michael Paint collection of Channel Islands silver on October 18.
The 250-plus lots, spanning the spectrum of Guernsey and Jersey silver from the 17th century to the modern era, represented the most important sale of its type offered at auction: an opportunity to look at this most specialised of silver collecting markets in some depth.
And where better to begin than with perhaps the best-known of all pieces of Channel Islands silver?
A hot milk jug, inspired by a design by Paul de Lamerie c.1727, was featured on the front cover of the 1969 book Old Channel Islands Silver by Richard Mayne (and inside the 1985 revised edition).
It carries the maker’s mark of arguably the archipelago’s finest silversmith, Guillaume Henry, who worked on Guernsey c.1720-67.
It was last sold by Bonhams Langlois in 1999 as ‘the property of a Jersey trust company’ for £24,000 and decades before that had been sold in London for £1700 in 1966.
That was around half the price of the average home at the time, and a record price for a piece of Channel Islands silver that would stand until Langlois sold the Janvrin Le Couture coffee pot by Huguenot emigre Pierre Amiraux (now part of the Société Jersiaise collection) for £9000 in the early 1980s.
In this context, its estimate at Martel Maides of £25,000-£30,000 was relatively modest and its hammer price of £19,000 more modest still.
Relatively little written evidence survives about Henry – the source of considerable frustration to Richard Mayne, who was the first to properly attribute his mark and in the process kill off the mythical George Hardy whose name had previously been given to ‘GH’. One can speculate he was the son of one of many Huguenots who settled on the islands in the late 17th century after the Edict of Nantes was revoked.
“The 250-plus lots represented the most important sale of its type offered at auction
The Transactions of the Guernsey Society did include a small obituary in 1767. It reads: Guillaume Henry, excellent and clever goldsmiths and engraver, who raised himself by his own efforts, almost without help from any master, to the highest rank of these two noble professions, was buried the 10th February.
Henry’s work featured prominently among the trophy lots of the Paint collection – his mark seen to both a handsome George II period coffee pot and two pairs of candlesticks.
London-made coffee pots from the 1730s can be counted in the hundreds. Less than a dozen are known to be from the Channel Islands.
This example, a plain, tapered form with maker’s marks to both the base and the domed cover, had the engraved arms of the well-known Guernsey Dobree family impaling those of the Jersey Bonamy family. It took the top price of the sale selling at £27,000 (estimate £22,000-25,000).
Two other recently sold examples provide a price comparison: a coffee pot by the prolific Jersey maker Jean Gavey (c.1715-75) engraved with an armorial for the Lampriere family of Rose Manor (£15,000 at Woolley & Wallis in 2013) and another by Gavey’s son, Edouard (£13,000 at Christie’s South Kensington in 2006 as part of the Walker collection).
Pairs of Georgian Channel Islands silver rococo candlesticks are an equally rare beast – but there were three at Martel Maides.
Two from the George II period were by Henry: one to a standard rococo model with the crest of the Carey family (£20,000) and the other of Queen Anne form with inverted baluster and knopped stems (£15,000). The latter, now fitted with matched London-made drip pans, were similar to another pair by the maker sold in these rooms for £19,500 in March 2010.
The third pair in the Paint collection carried the maker’s mark IA with sunburst struck four times to each base and once to one of the detachable drip pans. This evidently prolific and talented maker working in Guernsey c.1763-1807 is yet to be identified but his work is often of London standard. This heavy pair of rococo candlesticks (42oz) took £20,000 (estimate £18,000-22,000).
In fact, with local shopkeepers selling English and French-made goods, the standard of 18th century Channel Islands silver was consistently high. Local smiths evaded the need for assay marks on account of geography (the majority of pieces are struck with maker’s initials only) but the need to adhere to English sterling standards was enshrined in law.
Silver was sourced from small mines in Guernsey and Sark but the majority came from the melting of coins and the purchase of bullion.
A bullet form teapot by Jean Gavey was among the best performing lots in the sale, doubling hopes at £12,000.
“Local smiths evaded the need for assay marks on account of geography
Again, only a handful are recorded, although one in the aforementioned Walker collection by an unknown Jersey maker (PB crowned) inscribed to the base Elizth J Le Hardy sold at £8400 and several by Guillaume Henry have made auction appearances (two at Bonhams in 2004 and 2008 and another in 2014 sold for $7000 as part of the Mrs Paul Mellon collection sale at Sotheby’s New York).
The earliest surviving secular plate from the islands are wine cups, although few pre-date the Civil War. In the 1640s a temporary royal mint was established on Jersey when ‘silver plate of this Island was transformed into money for the King’s use’.
There were two late 17th century vessels in the Paint collection. A goblet c.1690 carrying the maker’s mark for Robert Barbedor, who worked in both Jersey and Guernsey c.1677-c.1704 took £6500 (estimate £6000-8000) while a slightly earlier vessel engraved to the shallow, wide bowl with the arms of the Earl of Guernsey sold at £4500 (estimate £6000-8000).
With one exception (a seal top c.1610 found in a Jersey garden wall), trefids are the earliest form of Channel Islands spoons. A silver gilt example c.1700 with the maker’s mark of Pierre Amiraux and initials TDV to the terminal took £600.
Five decades of collecting
Paint had been the sort of collector who was happy to own multiple examples of the same form. The auctioneers and dealers who sold to him across five decades will surely miss him.
He owned, for example, close to a dozen Jersey footed beakers, a similar number of baluster mugs and more than 30 christening cups.
The relatively common Guernsey porringer cups – the classic Channel Islands form – sold for around £300-650 each: modest sums that suggest there was plenty to go around among the 60 bidders who competed successfully at the sale.
The much scarcer form is the shallower Jersey pattern cup. An example by Henry took £2400 (estimate £2000-3000).
Some buyers new to the collecting field did emerge at the sale. A few jumped in at the deep end.
While a single established collector on the island bought a significant number of the aforementioned pieces, a Guernsey couple previously unknown to the firm were the buyers of three five-figure lots.
These included two large London-made presentation pieces marking the efforts of prominent islanders to fight the Corn Bill.
“A great collection remains a great collection… but this and other results make it apt to conclude the market has scarcely moved in a generation
A typical George IV hot water urn (John Edward Terrey & Co, 1823) was embellished with the Guernsey arms and inscribed A Tribute of Gratitude, From Numerous Inhabitants of Jersey, to Daniel De Lisle Brock Esquire Bailiff of Guernsey, for his successful exertions with His Majesty’s Ministers in the year 1822 in preventing the Corn Bill Then Pending Before Parliament From Being Extended To These Islands.
Similar sentiments were expressed 12 years later to Daniel De Lisle Brock Bailly of Guernsey, the recipient of a William IV 193oz epergne (William Ker Reid, 1835). With competition from the local museum, these sold at £15,000 and £12,000 respectively.
Some of the more modestly estimated pieces, including spoons, sauce ladles and local prize medals, were among the unsold lots.
Numerous pieces of flatware were hammered at £40-100, although rarities were more.
A rare George III bodkin or ear pick by George Hamon (Jersey c.1770- 1830s) with barley twist decoration and the initials FLG – a piece pictured in Channel Islands Silver – sold at £1000 (estimate £500-700), while a George III marrow scoop spoon (LC, Jersey c.1760-99) was £620. The latter was surely a bargain: ATG reported another by Thomas Mauger sold at auction in 1980 for £450.
A great collection such as this remains a great collection, no matter when it is sold in the collecting cycle.
However, this and other results make it apt to conclude that the market for Channel Islands silver has scarcely moved in a generation.
Buyers in numbers
There were a total of 60 different buyers at the Martel Maides sale:
8 from Jersey
12 from the UK
40 from Guernsey