The Salisbury sale was held a couple of days before the kite-flying threat by environment secretary Michael Gove of a near-total ban in ivory sales. It remains to be seen whether the market’s resilience in this controversial field will continue.
But the 30 lots, consigned to W&W from a collection built up by the Edwardian gentleman yachtsman and traveller RH Lee Esq of Yarner and consigned for sale by ‘a distinguished Naval family’, were well received. “Only one item was unsold,” said specialist Suzy Becsy.
“The estimates were set sensibly to encourage bidding and the results were around what we hoped for. The buyers were mostly dealers, some from the UK and some continental.”
Tankards fill up
Priced highest was the 20in (51cm) tall, late 19th century silver-mounted German tankard pictured above.
The lid was carved with a mounted figure of Gustavus Adolphus and the body was carved in deep relief showing his death at the Battle of Lutzen.
Estimated at £6000-8000, the tankard sold at £8800 – a relatively modest sum in the context of similar examples sold in the past, but we now live in a different world.
A similarly dated 15in (38cm) tall tankard was probably made at Erbach, Germany’s ‘Ivory Town’. Featuring a mounted spearman on the finial and a relief-carved continuous classical battle scene to the body, it sold just shy of the top estimate at £7800.
Two late 19th century cups and covers also featured martial scenes. One, 13½in (34.5cm) tall, depicted a warrior and his hound and Amazons above their slaughtered enemies, tripled expectations at £3600. The other, 19in (49cm) tall, showed Crusaders and went well above hopes at £4600.
The English piece of carved ivory also involved a warrior of sorts – the boastful, cowardly, drunken lecher Sir John Falstaff. In c.1760-80 Derby produced figurines of the actor James Quinn playing Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation, and the 20in (50cm) tall ivory figure appears to have been based on these. Illustrated on this page, the figure was estimated at £1000-2000 but sold at £6000.
Dieppe groups also went above hopes, four late 18th century figures allegorical of the seasons going comfortably over hopes at £3200 and a pair of 19th century, 12in (31cm) tall dancing girls tripling hopes at £3600.
Although the auctioneers had expected more than the £500-800 estimate, the £4200 achieved by the 12½in (32cm) tall 19th century figure of Venus Au Bain, after Étienne Maurice Falconet (1716-91) and initialled h.c., was still a surprise. It was one of a number of ivory lots from different consignors.
In price terms, however, the ivory was eclipsed by wood: an unusually large William and Mary lignum vitae wassail bowl.
The 15in high (38cm) bowl had a brass plaque engraved with a coat of arms, the date 1694, and was inscribed Bibi Potum et non Defundo (drink and do not spill) and Thomas White.
Featured on the back cover of the catalogue and guided at £4000-6000, it brought several enquiries as soon as the catalogue was printed and 14 phone lines were booked on sale day. It sold to a collector well-known to the trade at £14,000.
Other lots of treen performed well. Most went to collectors including seven Victorian treen snuff shoes, the largest 5in (12cm) long and all with marquetry, tack and bone inlay. These doubled hopes at £1500.
Dealers, however, triumphed in the case of two other pieces each estimated at £100-150. One, a 2½in (7cm) long nutmeg grater in the form of a rudimentarily carved whale made £1700. The other, an American peg doll or bedpost doll stamped J. Rose Camden Maine, took £1300.
The earliest offering at Salisbury was a 10½ x 11½in (27 x 29cm) fragment of a 15th century Nottingham alabaster carving depicting the Coronation of the Virgin with Mary flanked by God the Father and Christ.
The work of carvers of alabaster quarried on Tudbury and Chellaston was hugely popular from the 14th to 16th centuries with altarpieces being exported across Europe from Santiago to Iceland.
“It was a beautiful find, despite being so damaged,” said Becsy of the fragment estimated at £2000-3000.
“We were hoping for perhaps £7000. Two collectors, both passionate about antique works of art, wanted it and the final price (£8500) shows that this was indeed a significant piece of art history.”
Among the furnishings, the show-stopper – and top price of the day – was a pair of French Empire porcelain urns with ormolu mounts which were attributed to Pierre- Philippe Thomire (1751-1843).
The 19in (49cm) amphora-shaped vases with faux tortoiseshell bodies were catalogued as possibly by Sèvres or Dihl & Guerhard. Both were damaged but the £800-1200 estimate was no more than a here-to-sell signal. The online catalogue referred to previous sales of similar vases, including the July 2015 sale at Christie’s when a pair of c.1785 vases with mounts attributed to Thomire took a premium-inclusive £98,500.
The trade was keenly interested in the Salisbury pair and, given the damage, the £24,000 hammer they achieved was more than satisfactory to vendor and auctioneers.
Of similar highly decorative appeal was a pair of late 19th century, French Louis XVI-style ormolu and turquoise porcelain mounted tazza.
Standing 9in (23cm) tall, these atheniennes supporting bowls went to a dealer at £3000 (estimate £300-400).
And so to furniture which, though overshadowed by the other lots, made a significant contribution to the day’s £370,400 total garnered by the impressive 89% of lots which got away.
The £8000-12,000 estimate on a George III kingwood and yew-banded sofa table by George Simsom proved too strong, but there were a number of compensations.
A pair of George I giltwood side chairs in the manner of James Moore doubled expectations, selling to a private buyer at £9000.
Possibly the most significant indicator of returning confidence was the rather austere Regency mahogany tilt-top breakfast table with crossbanding and ebonised stringing. Pitched at £300-400 to reflect the depressed brown furniture market, it sold at £5400 to a dealer.
“The buyer really appreciated the colour on top, a nice, deep patination and the quality detailing,” said Becsy. “The result was still much higher than we could have imagined.”