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Ivory removed

Much like Brexit, the imminent ivory ban was background music throughout the year. Occasionally the volume was turned up high. The cancellation of the International Netsuke Society Convention and the British Museum’s acquisition of carvings from The Sir Victor Sassoon Chinese Ivories Trust both made waves within the trade.

But few stories gained the traction of ATG’s report that the ivory elements of an important piece of Chippendale neoclassical furniture had been replaced with celluloid to ease its export from the US. Coverage in the broadsheets was followed by a BBC Radio 2 debate.

World of books

In a surprisingly lively August for the trade, two rather different stories emerged within the antiquarian book trade.

In a welcome move for bibliophiles, it was announced the next summer’s series of London book and map fairs will be aligned to run in the same four-day stretch. In 2019 the ABA and PBFA rare book fairs, as well as The London Map Fair and Etc Fairs’ Bloomsbury Book Fair, will all open during the second week of June.

It emerged too that rare books and prints valued at millions of dollars were at large in the international market in the wake of a US library theft.

London dealers Peter Harrington and Maggs Bros have already returned ex-Carnegie Library items purchased in good faith. “We restituted the book to the authorities at our expense,” said Pom Harrington. In his view, the library “should have audited more frequently – not once in 26 years”.

Trade war battles

In another example of international cooperation, dealers and auctioneers in the US and UK mobilised in the hope of removing works of art from the thousands of items caught up in an escalating US-China trade war.

Chinese works of all periods were listed among goods subject to President Trump’s proposed 25% import duty.

Specialist dealers said the tariff – applied regardless of the port of origin – would have the self-defeating effect of moving trade to Europe and other duty-free selling centres. “They are shooting themselves in the foot,” said London dealer Stuart Marchant. Eventually, after submissions by the international art trade, someone in Washington, DC, saw sense and art and antiques were dropped from the list.

Goings and comings

One of Ireland’s leading provincial auction houses, Mealy’s Fine Art of Castlecomer, ceased trading with the retirement of George Mealy Snr.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Pratt, among the best-known faces of the UK regional auction scene, began his new role as managing director of Dreweatts.

Swapping Bellmans in West Sussex for Donnington Priory, he is working alongside chairman George Bailey at the saleroom where he first tasted the auction business as a porter.

Quote of the month

Criminals are home making ammunition for these antique weapons

BBC Panorama following its investigation into how antique guns can be put to illegal uses

Key sales


Gold medal awarded to Ernest GF Brown, the bursar on board Carpathia – £45,000 at Bourne End Auction Rooms.

Only 14 medals in gold were awarded by the Titanic Survivors Committee to the captain and senior officers of rescue ship RMS Carpathia.

Buckinghamshire firm Bourne End Auction Rooms sold this one, presented to Ernest GF Brown, the bursar on board Carpathia, for £45,000 (plus 15% buyer’s premium) on August 1.


C.1920 beer bottle label for Wheeler’s Oatmeal Stout – £2000 at Loddon Auctions.

It might not look much but this c.1920 beer bottle label for Wheeler’s Oatmeal Stout is a great rarity. Estimated at £30-50, it served up a new record of £2000 (plus 17% buyer’s premium) at Loddon Auctions in Berkshire on August 8.

Demand in this collecting niche is focused on the labels of obscure small breweries. Other labels in the sale included those for Castle Ale, Lascelles Tickner & Co, Guildford (£1500), and a pale ale brewed by Shirley Brewery, Croydon (£1400).


Agate, enamel and gemset cameo brooch carved, signed verso for Georges Bissinger – £4200 at Mallams of Oxford.

This agate, enamel and gemset cameo brooch carved with the profile of a classical maiden is signed verso for Georges Bissinger. The German-born gem engraver produced gem carvings for several jewellers working in the Renaissance revival style, including Carlo Giuliano, John Brogden and Boucheron.

The brooch, from c.1870, was among the most eagerly contested lots at Mallams Oxford on August 22 when it took £4200 (plus 24% buyer’s premium).


Blanc de chine figure of Guanyin with the double gourd seal of Ming potter He Chaozong – $650,000 (£500,000) at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.

This 12½in (32cm) high blanc de chine figure of Guanyin carries the double gourd seal of He Chaozong, the celebrated late Ming potter who worked at the Dehua kilns in Fujian province during the early 17th century.

Estimated at $50,000-75,000, at the sale conducted by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in coastal Maine on August 25-26, it sold at $650,000 (£500,000) (plus 20% buyer’s premium) to a Chinese buyer.


Study of the German battleship Graf Spee by Airfix designer Roy Cross – £8500 at Vectis.

The artist responsible for many of Airfix’s most memorable box designs was Roy Cross (b.1924). A collection of his original artwork – saved from a skip when Airfix’s London factory was closed in 1981 – was sold at Vectis on August 28.

The 2ft 5in x 19in (73 x 49cm) watercolour and gouache study of the German battleship Graf Spee – part of Airfix’s Famous Warships Series 4 released in 1971 – sold at £8500 (plus 20.83% buyer’s premium).