Set of 12 Elizabethan painted sycamore post trenchers, £14,000 at Dore & Rees.

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"Vinaigrettes in snuff boxes, the snuff boxes stored in tea caddies. Every drawer, every space from the cooker to beneath the floorboards was used to store his collection.”

Although he began trading antiques in his teens, George Withers (1946-2023) was something of a reluctant dealer.

He had shops in Bath and a stand on Portobello Road, but it was rare he could bear to part with anything. Instead, his home at Ye Grange, Bathampton and a property in the Somerset village of Peasedown became the repository for a huge collection displayed in an unconventional fashion. Blanket coverage of floorspace allowed visitors only a narrow ‘corridor’ to traverse.

For security reasons, the hood of a longcase clock would be in one room, the base in another and the movement hidden somewhere else. Teapots and lids were stored separately. As his partner Joy explained, even his oven was considered an acceptable storage space for antiques. She would simply cook for them in her home.

Clearing Withers’ estate was a gargantuan effort. It took eight members of staff from Dore & Rees in Frome almost a month to move more than 25,000 objects into a warehouse for cataloguing. Additional nearby space was rented for viewing (Silk Mill Studios and Galleries) and 1000-plus lots referred to partner saleroom Wincanton Auctions.

But the rewards were always going to be worth it.

Dore & Rees managing director Lee Young says: “I had never seen anything like this in my lifetime. I was actually having a dialogue with George in my head as I was going through it all and uncovering the extent of his collection.

"It was a real treat working through it all with my Antiques Roadshow pals [including Marc Allam, Duncan Campbell, Steven Moore and Lisa Lloyd]. At so many points we were exclaiming ‘oh my god, look at this!’.”

There were items here – notably a set of 12 Elizabethan posy trenchers (£14,000) – which Young conceded he was unlikely to see again in his career.

Three days to sell

Holding some individual highlights back for future specialist sales of silver and Asian art, precisely 2274 lots were offered at a marathon sale at Dore & Rees (25% buyer’s premium) on February 21-23.

Some 4500 bidders were welcomed across five online platforms and the room was packed, right through until past 9.30pm.

The decision to offer everything without reserve ensured a ‘white glove’ affair while estimates set well below ‘reasonable’ level allowed for the impression of a feeding frenzy. In truth, there were countless items here estimated at £100-200 that dealers and collectors would have queued up to buy at £1000-plus.

The result was a total that with buyer’s premium added was £1.28m. Plenty of interest came from overseas – a group of three sabretaches went to a US buyer at £11,000 while an Anglo-Indian table went back to the subcontinent for £5600 – but UK dealers and collectors were the dominant force.

Members of the trade visiting during viewings days told the auction house that the sale was “the sole opportunity to acquire things they’d never seen before” while collectors bought multiple purchases in their collecting fields.

Many commented that the prices achieved were often way above what similar items would have made at any other provincial sale: a pair of reproduction Regency style pier mirrors, usually selling at £200, went for £700 at the Withers sale.

Name recognition

Timothy Millett, a specialist in historical medals and related works of art, knew Withers and was an underbidder on several items at the sale. He says: “Items do better in a named sale like this. I was astonished at some of the prices. I bid highly for a couple of examples and was completely blown out of the water. I would say that I never bought anything cheaply from George but I was always pleased with what I bought. I am glad he will be remembered.”

One Midlands auctioneer drove for three and half hours to view the sale. Having met Withers in his shop and at sales, he described the dispersal as a “auctioneer’s dream” with “fabulous things in untouched condition, in quantity”.

He adds: “It shows a good conservative estimate brings in bidders. I bought for my personal collection including ceramics, caddies and boxes and I am very pleased with what I got.”

Old school taste

As a dealer-collector in the second half of the 20th century, Withers’ taste was very much of the old school. Traditional antiques. Very little post-1900.

Lee Young summed it up: “The collection was a snapshot of what all dealers were buying at the time – what was fashionable to buy over the past 50 or so years. He bought the volume and the same things as other dealers at the time; he just didn’t sell them. So, what we have here has not seen the light of day since as early as the 1960s.”

Withers may have been a reluctant seller, but he had been a strong bidder. Mark Rees (now Dore & Rees ambassador) has fond memories of him as a regular buyer at the saleroom. He would prefer to avoid the busy sale day and instead left commission bids with the porters that far exceeded estimates. “If he wanted it, he got it.”

This tenacity – and the access to family money – allowed him to acquire some rare objects of the type that were at their collecting zenith in the 70s and 80s.

Playing with food

Leading the sale at £14,000 (estimate £2000-3000) was a set of 12 painted sycamore post trenchers (pictured top) contained in a turned wooden lacquered box.

They were accompanied by a modern handwritten note suggesting a connection with Stockton House, near Salisbury.

Before the puritan ethic killed the party games, these posy trenchers, or ‘roundels’, were a common sight at the Tudor and Stuart banqueting table.

George Puttenham described trenchers in his The Arte of Englishe Poesie (1589), noting these “little epigrams which we call ‘poesies’, and do paint them now-a-days upon the back sides of your trenchers of wood”.

For the final course, a trencher with a sugary delicacy would be put in front of each guest on a sycamore roundel with the painted side down. After eating, the trenchers would be turned over to reveal a verse – amusing or improving – that would be read or sung aloud. John Donne joked in 1669 that “[Aesop’s] fables and fruit-trenchers teach as much”.

Sets of trenchers were suitable gifts for a marriage or New Year’s Day celebration. A set in the V&A has verses from The Twelve Wonders of the World that were written by John Davies for trenchers at a New Year party given around 1600 by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset and published in 1608.

Relatively few complete sets of Elizabethan roundels have survived but a number have appeared for sale in recent years. A set of 12 given as a wedding gift to Roger Simpson and his bride Mary in 1625 sold for $16,000 as part of the Vogel Collection at Sotheby’s New York in January 2019 while a set offered at Sotheby’s Bond Street in May 2021 brought £30,000. A dozen formerly owned by the inventor Charles Babbage (1792-1871) were offered by The Pedestal in Oxfordshire in July 2020 selling at £8000.

Withers’ set sold online to UK buyer via

Henry Clay caddy


George III papier mâché tea caddy by Henry Clay c.1780, £3400 at Dore & Rees.

Some good Georgian tea caddies, most of them guided under £200, included a neoclassical papier-mâché hexagonal caddy with the impressed crowned London mark for Henry Clay of Birmingham and Covent Garden. He made a fortune through his 1772 patent for a ‘new improved paper-ware’ that involved pasting sheets of paper together and then oiling, varnishing and stove-hardening them.

Appointed ‘Japanner to His Majesty’, Clay also appears to have had a working relationship with both Josiah Wedgwood and Robert Adam: this caddy with Etruscan style printed ground was one of a number set with jasperware medallions. In the 1780s it would have been the height of fashion on a tea table in polite society. It sold at £3400 (estimate £300-500).


George III polychrome and parcel gilt hexagonal form tea caddy c.1790, £3800 at Dore & Rees.

Withers had a particular eye for 18th and 19th century English pottery and porcelain with an eye for documentary pieces and rarities. An English (probably London) blue and white delftware flask or hand warmer modelled in the form of a book. These come in a number of models (with an open end or just a small hole for liquid as here) and a range of types of decoration. This example, inscribed AC 1706, commanded a premium for its date and took £3800 (estimate £100-200).

Etruscan revival


Early 19th century Etruscan revival part dinner service by Nicola or Biagio Giustinani, Naples, £5200 at Dore & Rees.

The leading ceramics lot was a creamware part dinner set made in the Etruscan revival taste with marks for the Giustiniani factory in Naples.

The neo-classical style shapes and decor of this service is derived from archaeological excavations at Nola, Herculaneum, Pompeii and in other parts of what was then known as the Kingdom of Naples. Its exemplar was the celebrated service made in the 1770s by the Royal Porcelain Factory.

Comprising two square covered dishes, two sauce tureens and cover and 12 plates, it overcame some damage to hammer at £5200 (estimate £300-400) – selling to a European buyer.

One of the last items to be unpacked from the Withers hoard was a Qianlong copper red lantern vase – one of several pieces of Ming and Qing porcelain, glass and bronze that Dore & Rees will include in its May sale of Asian art.


Qianlong period ‘European subject’ hexagonal form vase, 14in (35cm), £3600 at Dore & Rees.

However, whetting the appetite was a Qianlong period ‘European subject’ hexagonal form vase, 14in (35cm), decorated with panels of figures in 18th century dress in landscapes and Chinese flowers and foliage. In good condition, save some rubbing to the areas of gilding, it took £3600 (estimate £300-500)

Items from Withers’ large holdings of edged weapons and militaria also sold well.

Sabretache trio


Group of 19th century British sabretaches, £11,000 at Dore & Rees.

Among the flamboyant accessories you would need as a stylish cavalryman was the sabretache.

Though originally designed with a practical purpose, to hold orders and maps, by the mid 19th century this satchel hanging from an officer’s belt was for decorative appeal. Sabretaches were first adopted by British regiments at the end of that century, initially for light dragoon regiments but then the use spread.

A group of early 19th century British sabretaches estimated at £300-500 took £11,000 from a US buyer. This trio was catalogued as Royal Horse Artillery sabretache with protective leather cover, an 11th Light Dragoons sabretache and another 11th Light Dragoons example.

The lot value could lie in the 11th Light Dragoons sabretaches as rare, short-lived versions. The cypher is for Queen Victoria who came to the throne in 1837 but the regiment became hussars just three years later. With the battle honour Salamanca, which was granted on July 26, 1838, included it narrows the timeline further.

Troops using a sabretache included the RHA. The motto Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt seen on this example was adopted in the 1830s. By 1872 the sabretache was redesigned to include a breach-loader gun rather than the muzzle-loader.

Another highlight was an 18th century officer’s sword sold to a UK bidder for £4200 against a guide of £100-150. Lacking the scabbard, it featured an ornate gilt hilt with wired ebony grip. The ‘captured’ curved Persian blade with panels of script on both sides measured 3ft (92cm) long.