Meiji parquetry cylinder desk – £9000 at Sworders.

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At Sworders (23% buyer’s premium) in Stansted Mountfitchet on December 3-4, furniture, decorative arts and ceramics took most of the top prices.

Leading the furniture was a large c.1880 Japanese parquetry cylinder desk inlaid with various timbers in geometric designs, typical of the pieces produced in the Meiji period to showcase the skills of Japanese craftsmen to the European market.

At the Essex sale, the 4ft 8in (1.43m) wide desk was pitched at £3000-5000 but sold to a London collector at £9000.

French connection

A Louis XV-design kingwood and vernis Martin bureau de dame was one of the surprises of the auction.

Probably made in the late 19th century when leading Parisian cabinet-makers were championing the rococo revival, it featured a painted genre scene panel to the hinged fall. Standing 3ft 11in (1.26m) high on cabriole legs, it went to the UK trade via at £5000 – which was 10 times the lower estimate.

Another example of French revivalism went similarly above expectations.

This was a c.1910 elaborately carved French walnut bed, c.1900-20, with a pair of matching marble-topped bedside cabinets, each carved with acanthus, masks and (to the bed) a pair of caryatids. Against a £400-600 estimate, the suite sold to a Canadian buyer at £5400.

A more exotic item was a silver – or rather ‘white metal’ – mounted piece from India, a coco de mer water carrier made in Kutch c.1890.

With a cow’s-head spout, pierced foliate mounts and cobra handle, the 14½in (37cm)goumukhi lacked its cover and was pitched at £400-600 but sold to a UK-based collector at £3700.


One of a pair of 18th-19th century Italian pietra dura panels – £8500 at Sworders.

A pair of 18th or early-19th century pietra dura cartouche-form panels attracted several bidders from Italy, no doubt tempted by the £500-800 estimate. Each measured 2ft (60cm) tall and was worked with all-over stylised foliate decoration and a shell decorated base. The pair went back to Italy at £8500.


One of a pair of c.1870 German vases – £3000 at Sworders.

Germany provided the top-seller among the ceramics: a pair of c.1870 vases which triggered unexpectedly high interest.

On pierced gilt bases, the 19in (48.5cm) tall vases supported by four hounds were painted with game to each side and applied with Parian heads of deer and boars. They sold to a London collector at £3000 against a £400-600 estimate.

Among the horology Continental interest emerged for a thoroughly British George III inlaid mahogany musical bracket clock and bracket. Inscribed to the white arched dial and engraved backplate Layne Bath, the 2ft 3in (68cm) tall clock had a triple fusee 13-bell musical movement playing seven airs including God Save the King and Roast Beef.

A UK dealer beat European rivals to take the clock at a triple-top-estimate £4600.


Early-17th century Elias Allen sundial – £3300 at Sworders.

However, a rare work by one of the great names of 17th century English time-keeping – Elias Allen (c.1588-1653) – went to the Continent. Allen entered the Clockmakers’ Company in 1633 and became Master in 1637-38 but he was also a scientific instruments maker – a signed brass astronomical compendium he made for King James I in 1717 is in the V&A. His specialty was sundials.

An 8½in (22cm) wide, early-17th century brass octagonal sundial offered at Sworders, signed Elias Allen, Fecit and featuring months of the year complication and a solid gnomen, was estimated at £300-500 and sold at £3300.

Votes for women


Suffragette memorabilia – £4500 at Sworders.

Suffragette memorabilia has been a target for Australian buyers at UK provincial auctions recently but a mixed lot at Sworders relating to the campaigner Winifred Suffield remained in the UK.

A rare belt featured a 2½in (6.5cm) brass-plated belt buckle showing newspaper illustrator David Wilson’s Haunted House image of a woman holding a Votes for Women sign. It was a £2000-3000 item on its own.

Entered by Suffield’s great-niece, the lot also included a Women’s Social and Political Union enameled brooch, a Suffragette pennant and the medals relating to Suffield’s service in the First World War and her work as a nurse.

The impressive collection sold on to an English collector at an above-estimate £4500.