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If so, the 700 lots from Spetchley Park offered at Chorley’s (22.5% buyer’s premium) were the most nutritious of crumbs.

The first tranche of pieces surplus to requirements at the manor was sold at Sotheby’s in December (ATG No 2425), raising £3.1m towards restoration planned by the latest generation of Berkeleys to move into the family seat in Worcestershire.

The second 700 items were offered at Prinknash Abbey, Cheltenham, on January 28 in an Attic Sale.

That title perhaps understated the contents, which raised nearly £450,000 hammer with an enthusiastic 92% take-up in an atmosphere reminiscent of an old-style country house contents sale.

“What remains of those [increasingly rare] contents sales today is the excitement they can still engender,” said auctioneer Thomas Jenner-Fust.

“With historic collections under the hammer for the first time they are excellent opportunities for historians, collectors and locals alike to acquire a piece of British history with significant provenance.”

Well above hopes

Topping the day at £17,000 against a £1500-2000 estimate was the early 17th century Limoges enamel draw purse featured as Pick of the Week, ATG No 2428.

With interest from the trade and collectors and from the Continent as well as the UK, items across the range of collecting also went way above hopes.

“Estimates were intended to be tempting but the lure of the country house sale also meant generally increased prices,” said Jenner-Fust.

Among the horology was a rare 17th century silver pair-cased pocket watch signed Richard Masterson, Londini (fl.1630-53). Condition – ‘movement not working, dent and split to the case, badly rubbed shagreen outer case’ – kept the estimate down to £1000-1500 – but watch and case were completely original and went to the UK trade at £8500.


A Mughal sword with jade hilt – £7500 at Chorley’s.

Condition was also a problem with a Mughal sword found in the cellars at Spetchley. The jade handle was damaged and the gold-inlaid, 2ft 4in (71.5cm) blade bearing a Glagolitic inscription was rusted.

However, it was clearly once of great quality and interest from the US and the UK pushed bidding well past £600-800 before the sword sold to a central European dealer on the phone at £7500.

An earlier online battle between a German and a Spaniard pushed bidding way past the £400-600 estimate on a (probably 19th century Spanish) replica of a medieval gothic censer. The 10½in (27cm) high piece had minor condition issues, with five small pinnacles missing from the upper section. However, bidding was well into four figures before a UK dealer in the room stepped into the fray and took the censer at £7800.

Cellar stellar discovery

International rivalry accounted for the day’s biggest surprise – another piece to emerge in extremely dirty state from the Spetchley cellars.

This was a 14in x 3ft 7in (36cm x 1.1m) terracotta or plaster and wood relief of The Last Supper (illustrated in Bid Barometer, ATG No 2328). Catalogued as 17th century style, it had some damage including one head missing. Nevertheless, strong bidding emerged from the Portuguese and London trade before the relief, estimated at £60-80, sold to a French online bidder at £6000.

Another religious relief was a 19th century Italian ivory work after Algardi. In a 2ft (61cm) tall ebonised and giltwood later frame, it had minor condition issues, but a dealer won an all-Italian battle with an online bid of £3800.

The 10-times estimate bid on another overseas item was less of a surprise – it being a piece of Chinese porcelain. A 4¼in (11cm) long Qianlong libation cup with a bat to the lip and shou symbols in reticulated panels to the sides, it had only a couple of tiny chips and, against a Chinese online underbidder, went to a UK dealer in the room at £4800.

Quintessentially English, an 18th century needlework picture also went more than 10 times above top hopes.

The 10½ x 14in (27 x 36cm) slightly faded work, depicting a musician and companion beneath an oak surrounded by exotic beasts, drew bids from across the UK and sold to a dealer on the phone at £4200.