Castle-top card case made by Nathaniel Mills decorated with a view of Trinity Church, New York to one side, shown here, and an abbey to the other – $1900 (£1360) at Doyle.

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The final total at the auction on February 25 was $46,589 (£33,280), well over the pre-sale high estimate of $29,250, with many of the lots exceeding their guides.

The Posers spent around 40 years assembling their collection, buying from dealers on both sides of the Atlantic. It encompassed card cases (made to contain visiting cards) and vesta cases (or matchsafes as they are known in the US) for holding matches.


Another Nathaniel Mills castle-top card case, also from 1845, picturing Warwick Castle with an engraved cartouche to the other side – sold within estimate at $650 (£465) at Doyle.

This collection included examples produced by both British and American makers plus some Asian, mostly Chinese export items, and spanned the mid 19th to the early 20th century.

Examples ranged from some desirable early Victorian castle-top card cases by specialist makers from Birmingham offered as single items to group lots of card and vesta cases featuring several versions.


Many of the pieces in the Poser collection at Doyle were offered in group lots of more than one item. Pictured here are four novelty vesta cases. Three are in silver: a cigar shaped case with cutter measuring 4¾in (10.5cm) made by Robinson & Co, Birmingham 1893; a case marked Birmingham 1885 shaped as four cigars; another of rectangular ribbed form marked for Rolason Bros, Birmingham 1906. The fourth is a silver-plated case formed as a tied package of matches. The group sold for $700 (£500).

Such examples of silver smallwork have always been deemed highly collectable and the Posers’ collection drew international as well as home market interest. Of the successful bidders, almost 30% came from outside the US with 15% from the UK, 8% from Canada and 5% from Hong Kong.

The trade were in action here but over 50% of the sale went to private buyers.


An 1890s American rectangular matchsafe measuring 2½in (5.5cm) made by Gorham chased with a pattern of fish among waves – $550 (£390) at Doyle.

Stateside scene

Birmingham was a centre for manufacture of silver smallwork in the 19th century and Nathaniel Mills was one of the best-known producers for card cases.

The highest price in the auction was paid for an example from this maker, a rare English 3½in (9cm) castle-top card case of 1849 which depicted not a British but an American historical landmark: a view of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York. It was one of several lots in the sale that the Posers had acquired from Richard H Jenkins of Canton, Connecticut.

The $500-700 estimate was easily outstripped with the hammer falling at $1900 (£1360).

American scenes on British cases are relatively rare but a few other examples with Trinity Church are known – one by Mills from 1844 sold at Christie’s in 2005 for £1800 including premium.

Double depiction


Double castle-top card case made by Yapp and Woodward of Birmingham decorated with views of Windsor Castle and Lichfield Cathedral – $1100 (£785) at Doyle.

Among the other castle-top card cases in the Doyle sale were a double-top case from c.1850 marked for John Yapp & John Woodward, Birmingham, featuring a view of Windsor Castle in high relief to one side and Lichfield Cathedral to the other, which realised $1100 (£785).


Castle-top card case by Mills, 1845, decorated with a view of York Minster – $800 (£570) at Doyle.

Another Mills case, this one from 1845, was decorated with a high-relief scene of York Minister with an engraved cartouche to the reverse. Acquired in 2005 from the London silver dealer John Bourdon-Smith, it fetched $800 (£570).


There was very stiff competition for this 1890s American matchsafe decorated with a frog among foliage made by George Shiebler of New York which ended up making a multi-estimate $1700 (£1215) at Doyle.

Among the vesta cases/matchsafes the most sought after proved to be an 1890s American silver example measuring 2½in (7cm) long decorated with a design of a frog peering out from behind a leaf. It was made by George Shiebler & Co, a New York firm that was a large producer of silver novelties in the late 19th century.

This amphibian plainly attracted plenty of fans, the $200-300 guide was left far behind as the bidding sailed to $1700 (£1215).

£1 = $1.40