There were plenty of surprises at the two day Fine Art Sale on 22nd and 23rd March, including some interesting items with a local connection.
The opportunity to acquire an object that is a unique piece of Nottingham history is one not to be missed. That’s why it is so pleasing that the crude but evocative sword of local Luddite John Blackburn was bought on behalf of the Castle. At least two other museums were in the running at the auction, driving up the price to £1,900, nearly twice the upper estimate.
It is equally pleasing to report that other items which have featured in Under the Hammer over recent weeks all sold well. Except one that is. Even with live online bidding from just about everywhere it seemed, we could not elicit interest in the remarkable Jamaican-made mahogany cabinet of John Soulette, “a brown man”, that he made himself in Kingston in 1828. It was without doubt another museum-quality piece, but perhaps like most ‘brown’ furniture these days wasn’t considered exciting enough.
Jane Austen might not be the first author to spring to mind when you’re looking for excitement, but it was certainly exciting to sell a rare 1813 first edition of Price and Prejudice for £38,000. A huge price for hardly the most prepossessing object but it of course remains a landmark in English literature. The private buyer outbid a host of leading antiquarian book sellers and collectors from the UK, USA and Germany. Austen’s next book, Emma was the following lot and sold for £7,500 and the third, Northanger Abbey was offered next, realising £4,200.
A good price for the Good book was the £6,000 paid for an example of the 1613 Great ‘She’ bible. It’s called Great on account of the page size, almost 40cm high, as it was intended for preachers. The ‘She’ comes from a supposed error found in the King James’ translators of Ruth, Chapter III verse XV.
Doctor Thomas Sydenham who without a hint of false modesty titled his tiny 1694 book The Compleat Method of Curing Almost All Diseases would have been amazed to see it go for a triple estimate £1600, to a local bidder.
A little brown mug, in fact a ‘puzzle jug’ made in Nottingham in 1717 is one of the earliest examples recorded. 18th century Nottingham saltglazed brown stoneware is superior to that made elsewhere, including the great centres of Staffordshire and London. It is characterised by good design, fine potting and charming, naively incised decoration. An English bidder saw off competition from the USA to take it at £3,500.
The four Wedgwood jasperware portrait medallions sold well, taking £1500 because they dated from the 18th century and one was of George Washington, first President of the United States who by coincidence bears a slight resemblance to Josiah Wedgwood. As unlike either of them as it is possible to imagine was General ‘Hangman’ Hawley, the fierce foe of the Jacobites. This brutal soldier, the victor of the Battle of Culloden sat to the Edinburgh portrait painter Sir John Baptist de Medina in around 1710. The resulting, somewhat self-satisfied portrait, depicts Hawley in a long wig and armour. It sold for £2,800. It was also one of a large number of items sold by the family of the late Susan Dean who died in 2015. She lived near Grantham but her grandparents had once owned the grand Scottish baronial Fingask Castle in Perthshire and another ancestor was descended from Sir Charles Barry, RA, architect of the ‘New’ Palace of Westminster. Many of Susan’s items therefore had a distinguished provenance.
An Indian wooden model of a bungalow made and presented to Queen Mary by the children of Delhi at the famous Delhi Durbar in 1911 sold for £450, against an estimate of £300-500. It had an unexpected and particularly poignant history, having been given, I deduced, to some poor bereaved soul in the immediate aftermath of the Cadeby Colliery disaster, something which moved Her Majesty to tears.
(All hammer prices above subject to 24% buyers’ premium, including VAT).