It is fair to say the full potential has yet to be realised in the regional salerooms, although a number of auctioneers remain committed to the idea including Roseberys (23% buyer’s premium) of West Norwood and Lacy Scott & Knight (17.5% buyer’s premium) of Bury St Edmunds, both of whom held September sales.
A strength, but also a perception problem, is the huge diversity of objects and price levels coming under the ‘Design’ umbrella. Without the breadth of consignments afforded to the top London salerooms, it can be an unwieldy spread of interests – from ebonised Aesthetic Movement cabinets and Moorcroft to Troika and Marcel Breuer lookalikes.
Sign of confidence
In a sign of confidence in this disparate market, Roseberys has appointed former CSK expert Fiona Baker as head of 20th century decorative arts, to be joined by St Ives-based dealer and modern design consultant Alex Tonkinson, whose auction experience includes working at Bonhams and Woolley & Wallis.
Baker will concentrate on her area of expertise, Arts & Crafts, Nouveau and Deco, while Tonkinson will focus on the later 20th century material. They will build on a base established by Bill Forrest and Richard Gibbon, who handled the September 5 sale where just shy of 70% of the 196 lots got away to a total of £57,190.
“That was lower than the March sale when there were many more lots but I can say that each subsequent sale creates more interest,” said Forrest.
The opening lots were very much rooted in the Victorian era: a vast archive of watercolour designs by James Powell & Sons at the Whitefriars Glassworks for stained-glass windows in churches throughout Britain and others in the US, Australia, Malta, Italy and Sweden.
“Many auction newcomers are younger people influenced by IKEA and John Lewis but who want something genuinely retro
Split into two lots guided at £800- 1200 each, both with more than 200 designs, the first sold to an English buyer at £4200 while the second went to Japan at £4400.
The focus for newcomers to auction is largely furniture. “Many of them are younger people influenced by stuff from IKEA and John Lewis but who want something genuinely retro,” said Forrest, who added: “Overall they seem more interested in the looks rather than the names.”
That said, there were, in fact, some serious names known to collectors among the fairly affordable material.
Among these was a set of four chrome and leather 1960s Les Arcs chairs by the French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand (1903-99). Estimated at £800-1200, the set sold at £1600.
Another French piece was a 1950s oak desk by Maurice Flatchet with a floating top above four drawers with glass supports which went on the lower estimate, also at £1500.
Marcel Breuer (1902-81) was an early enthusiast of plywood furniture, some of which he produced for the innovative London firm Isokon in the 1930s – in particular his Long Chair.
At Roseberys, his nest of two white-painted tables designed in 1936 and an associated side table were estimated at £300-500 but sold at £1400.
From Germany, a 1930s Vereinigte Werkstatten oak and glazed two-door cabinet took a mid-estimate £1000 and from 1970s Italy came Ettore Sottsass’s Ultrafragola mirror for Poltronova.
Comprising a shaped and striated white plastic shell with internal fluorescent light, the 6ft 6½in tall, 3ft 3in wide (1.97 x 1m) mirror sold on the lower estimate at £2000.
Among the ceramics, a rare late 19th century-early 20th century vase was stamped Abramtsevo, the artists’ union/colony set up outside Moscow to promote traditional Russian folk art.
Illustrated opposite, the 8½in (21.5cm) tall pear-shaped vase with a flambé glaze took a mid-estimate £2400.
Best of the silver was a London 1970, 9½in (24cm) tall coffee pot and cream jug by Christopher Nigel Lawrence which doubled top expectations at £1600.
Topping the sculptural offerings was a terracotta figure, Seated Tamarind, illustrated on these pages. Signed by the Belgian animalier Ray. [mond] de Meester, the 8½in (21.5cm) figure went a shade above top estimate at £1100 to a Belgian collector.
“Mid-20th century furniture is popular with all ages,” said Shaun Crichton after his September 8 sale at Lacy Scott & Knight when 80% of the 480 lots got away to a hammer £80,000.
“For example, they can get a good-looking, well-made sideboard for a few hundred pounds which will last a lifetime.”
Buys at Bury St Edmunds included a 1960s Gloucester rosewood sideboard by Robert Heritage for Archie Shine at £500; a set of four Danish teak and vinyl dining chairs by Hans Olsen for Frem Røjle at £260 and a 1970s white fibreglass swivel ‘egg’ chair at £240.
However, the outstanding lot at LSK was again from the Arts & Crafts period: an adjustable ebonised walnut reclining armchair designed by Philip Webb for Morris & Co in 1912.
The design was so popular at the time that both Liberty in London and Gustav Stickley in the US produced their own versions.
In generally good condition, this Morris example sold at £6200 against a £1000-1500 estimate.