The combination of England’s old, rich and varied store of artefacts and today’s international online access once again provided the formula for success at a provincial sale.
At Clevedon Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) on June 13, items from around the world were a major contributor to the £210,000 hammer total. Of the total 577 lots on offer, 81% got away.
The top-selling piece of furniture was Italian, the best of the silver was Maltese, post-war furniture came from Brazil and India provided an eastern touch among the ceramics.
The oldest, and most unusual, offering was a single consignment of 15th-16th century Spanish tin-glazed earthenwares which emerged from the probate valuation of a London flat.
Spanish dealers competed determinedly for an 8½in (22cm) c.1500 floral-decorated lustre dish and a 14 x 17in (35 x 44cm) blue and white heraldic painted tile of similar date. However, both lots went to a collector from the Midlands.
Both had condition issues associated with age but the estimates were modest. The tin-glazed dish pitched at £80-120 sold at £1500 and the tile, estimated at £600-900, made £5000.
India and Malta
Appealing to a similar aesthetic but probably made in northern India in the 19th century was a near pair of jars and covers with blue, green and yellow ‘fabric’ decoration.
Both were in pretty dire condition – the covers had been broken and crudely repaired and one base had a large crack – but, standing 22½in (57cm) and 23in (59cm) tall, they had both academic and decorative appeal. Against a £200-300 estimate they went to the London trade at £1400.
Best of the silver was a baluster-shaped hot water jug, with scroll thumbpiece and three ‘hoof’ feet bearing the maker’s mark MA beneath a crown and star and an engraved crest. The 7½in (19cm) tall jug was catalogued as French but later believed to be Maltese.
After a London dealer took it at £2900 – 19 times the mid-estimate – it was thought the jug would soon return to the island (where collectors have been buying back its heritage for years now).
The top price of the day came among the furniture: a revivalist Florentine ebonised, pietra dura and micromosaic-inlaid cabinet-on-stand in the late 17th century style. Standing 6ft 5in (1.96m) tall overall, it was a riot of gilt bronze figures, lapis lazuli Corinthian columns, pietra dura panels of birds, butterflies, flowers and musical trophies and micromosaic panels depicting classical Rome. It was inscribed G Castagnola 1872, suggesting an association with the jobbing Florence artist Gabriele Castagnola (1828-83).
Some of the smaller figures to the balustrade were missing and minor cracks and repairs were evident, but the condition could have been worse had it not been for timely intervention by auctioneer Toby Pinn.
Saved from fumigation
Solicitors acting for the estate had instructed Rentokil to give the Weston-Super-Mare basement flat where the cabinet was found a thorough spraying before items were removed. Pinn was just in time to stop this health and safety measure before rescuing the treasure.
Despite its location, the cabinet had a fine provenance. Its late owner was a descendant of East Anglian gentry, the Capel Cure family, and the lots came with a handwritten note from an inventory of one of their homes in Suffolk dated June 1935 together with the price of £45.
The estimate was £8000-12,000 and competition between an American and a Parisian dealer left that behind, victory going to France at £22,000.
The 20th century furniture included a five-lot consignment of pieces by Percival Lafer (b.1926).
Hugely admired in his native Brazil and a prolific producer of furniture aimed at the middle market in the 1960-70s, Lafer is relatively unknown in the wider world. He is undoubtedly a ‘best-kept secret’ of mid-century design.
He was, however, known to a London lady who was making her first excursion into the auction world and made frequent phone calls to Clevedon to check exactly when the pieces would come up.
More than happy to welcome a new face to auctions, Pinn reassured her and guided her through the bidding.
She got the pieces she was after: two c.1970s rosewood and yellow leather easy chairs each estimated at £200-300. One sold at £1200, the other at £900.
Her bidding rival took the other three, two rosewood and yellow leather stools at £80 and £140 and a rosewood coffee table with glass-top and leather surround at £160.
Lafer will now be better known and, remember, what Somerset sells today London will latch on to tomorrow.