Although guided at just £150-200, the gem signed for Edward Burch (1730-1814) sold for £10,000.
Burch, who started life as a waterman on the Thames, was the foremost gem-engraver in England at the time. He became an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1770 and a full member the following year; his gems were shown regularly at Royal Academy exhibitions. His pupil was the equally celebrated engraver Nathaniel Marchant (1739-1816).
Among Bunch’s known works is a cornelian intaglio finger ring carved with the head of the Apollo Belvedere which belonged to the Prince of Wales and is now in the British Museum. The composition (the bust of Apollo set over his lyre) matches this intaglio. It had been mounted as a Georgian fob seal, the openwork cage later adapted to become a finger ring.
Good examples of the glyphic arts continue to excel in the saleroom. The subject of unexpected bidding at Taylor’s (24% buyer’s premium) in Montrose on January 13 was a lot of intaglio carnelian seal fobs guided at £30-50.
One was Victorian, engraved with a crest and a monogram, the other more speculative, finely worked with the profile bust of a bearded man . The inscription in ancient Greek translates as Trophonios – the Greek hero with a rich mythological and cult tradition. In the classical tradition, ‘to descend into the cave of Trophonios’ became a proverbial way of saying ‘to suffer a great fright’. This fine example of the glyphic arts will require research to ascertain if it is a Grand Tour piece, a Renaissance copy or perhaps an ancient Hellenistic or Roman gem. Speculating it might be the latter, it was pursued to £9500.