Both a boxwood screw-action nutcracker (estimate £60-80) and an oak plaque carved with an owl among flowering vines (estimate £80-120) sold way above these modest hopes.
Probably a century earlier than catalogued, the nutcracker is inscribed with the name Margreat Merrill and an abridged version of the famous passage from the Song of Solomon: Set me as a seale upon thine heart, as a signet upon thine arm; for love is strong as death and cruel as the grave. To the edge is the name Raphe Merrill.
Nutcrackers are traditionally thought to have been given as love tokens to mark an engagement or a marriage (Henry VIII gave one to Anne Boleyn).
Screw-action nutcrackers were popular throughout the 17th century, but appear to have been superseded by those which worked on the lever principle in the following centuries.
Inscribed pieces such as this are particularly rare. A dated Charles II screw-action nutcracker dated 1664, also with Biblical verse (paraphrasing a line from Corinthians), sold for £7000 at Bonhams 2013 while another that is dated 1631 was sold by Christie’s in November 1998 for £4500. Thought to be the earliest known dated screw-action nutcracker, it is illustrated in Robert Mills’ Nutcrackers (2001).
The earliest dated brass example is that inscribed Ruth Gifford 1676 sold for £7000 at Bonhams in March 2017. All these examples are now in the Nutcracker Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, the most active recent player in the market.
This latest piece, part of a collection consigned to the Hampshire auction house and offered on May 25, sold to an online bidder at £6000.
The oak tile or plaque, measuring around 12in (30cm) square, sold at £3200. It might well be a late 15th or early 16th century roof boss. Square carved oak bosses are a feature of some West Country houses including those in Congresbury in Somerset and Sampford Courtenay in Devon.
Another, also worked with an owl, sold for £7000 at Bonhams Oxford in January 2014.