A seal by Charles Brown supplied to Catherine II of Russia – £19,000 at Hartleys.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Alongside various trinkets was a very dirty cornelian seal. After cleaning she found the crimson stone had a fine intaglio engraving with the signature C Brown.

Following further research the West Yorkshire firm catalogued the seal as by the celebrated Georgian gem worker Charles Brown (1749-95).

Brown and his brother William both exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1770-85.

William was the more prolific of the two, producing gems with classical themes and contemporary portraits, while Charles, who showed fewer gems at Burlington House, favoured animal subjects.

However, the brothers ceased exhibiting from 1786-95 when most of their work was produced on commission for the court of Catherine II, Empress of Russia.

Ultimately, perhaps half of their total output - 200 cameos and intaglios - was sent from the Browns’ London workshop (first in Gloucester Street and then in Pall Mall) to St Petersburg and these remain together in the Hermitage.

After Charles died William continued supplying the Russian court intermittently but also resumed publicly exhibiting his work.

Stubbs scene

The intaglio gem mounted in a gold scroll, pictured here (featured in Previews, ATG No 2570), is finely carved with a version of George Stubbs’ famous work Horse Frightened by a Lion (1770).

While another is in the Hermitage, Hartleys said “an outside expert suggested that this example may be the original and the one in the Hermitage was the second to be carved”.


A seal by Charles Brown supplied to Catherine II of Russia – £19,000 at Hartleys.

The vendors, who had owned it for at least four generations, believed it had passed down from the Mellish family of Victorian merchants.

Estimated at £20,000-30,000, the new discovery was hammered down at the Ilkley saleroom on December 7 for £19,000 (plus 21% buyer’s premium inc VAT). It sold to a London buyer.