A c.1730-40 embroidered silk skirt for a robe à la Française – £3200 at Dominic Winter.

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Provenanced to the Farquhar Collection, Redlynch House, Salisbury, it was said to have come into the possession of the wealthy banking and art-loving Farquhar family in 1871 when the exiled Napoleon III sought refuge with Sir Walter Farquhar.

To help pay some of his huge debts, the emperor had treasures from his palaces carted to England, among which was valuables from French royal palaces.

The skirt for a robe à la Française, made by the highly regarded British silk workers, comprised five cream silk panels, each 2ft 4½in (72.5cm) wide, four of which were elaborately embroidered in polychrome silk threads depicting an abundance of flowering and fruiting meandering stems.

Pitched at £800-1200 at the July 21 sale in South Cerney, it went back to France via selling at £3200.

Ariel grounded


A c.1843 linen handkerchief marking The Flying Steam Company – £1700 at Dominic Winter.

The 67-lot fabrics section – from tapestries to samplers – also featured another international eye-catcher, a satirical commemorative linen handkerchief printed in c.1843 marking the patenting in 1842 of Ariel, the steam-powered flying machine by aviation pioneers William Henson and John Stringfellow.

In fairness, the design of the craft was basically sound and indeed in 1848 an example actually took off the ground for a short distance in a hangar. But the power to weight ratio was, of course, hopeless and the projected Aerial Transit Company to airfreight goods around the world remained grounded.

The 18in x 2ft (45 x 60cm) handkerchief reflected the public’s justified cynicism.

Titled The Flying Steam Company, To China in Twenty-Four Hours Certain, it was printed with the aircraft, freight and passengers descending by parachute to stops along the way and with the comments of people in the plane and on the ground. These handkerchiefs do appear at auction from time to time but are rare and this example, estimated at £1000- 1500, sold to a US bidder at £1700.