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It owed these very high selling rates in no small measure to the inclusion of a substantial single-owner property – 127 lots of textiles from the late Miss Elinor Merrell that made up the first half of the auction.
Elinor Merrell (1895–1993) was a grande dame of the textile world; a celebrated, much travelled and respected New York dealer, whose opinion was sought by academics and institutions. Her particular speciality was French copper-printed toile, of which she built up an impressively large and comprehensive collection.

Amongst the museums for which she acted as a consultant were the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum and the Cooper Hewitt Institute in New York. The latter was a substantial beneficiary of her textiles, especially her toiles, with two bequests made in 1973 and 1993.

But not everything in a vast textile holding with its inevitable duplications is suitable or necessary for museum display. The 3000-odd pieces offered at CSK, a mix from Miss Merrell’s shop stock and personal collection, ranged from crewel work and quilted fragments, Indian palampores and, of course, a large selection of French toiles, both block- and later roller-printed examples, both panels and bed hangings. Christie’s cataloguer Fariba Thomson assembled most of them as multiple lots, small collections of material which she themed or grouped by design.

Condition was not always good, many of the pieces were worn (or, as Christie’s put it, “in original condition”). Some of the embroideries were remounted and the palampores very fragile.

However, Christie’s had allowed for those condition problems by setting low estimates. Moreover, while French toiles turn up in France, they have probably never been offered in the UK in this quantity. This, together with Miss Merrell’s standing in the textile world, ensured there was plenty of interest. The audience was a varied mix. There were collectors and dealers hoping to spot a rarity or something that particularly took their fancy; museums and institutions wanting to fill gaps in their collections, and designers of furnishing fabrics. The latter frequently buy old textile samples to use as source material for new designs. In addition there were the usual contingent of decorators and private buyers looking for pieces to use as part of a fashionable interior (one lady at the sale was looking for pieces to furnish her French chateau).

For many of these groups, the bulk lots and theming by design was probably an advantage (although it may have been a less attractive option for someone who wanted a single gem amongst a larger group). Certainly there was enough demand to ensure that all but half a dozen lots sold.

Top price in the collection and arguably the biggest surprise in the sale, was the £7000 paid for a large 7ft 4in x 8ft 8in (2.2 x 2.6m) hanging crewel worked in coloured wools with scrolls of foliage and two kings and queens seated under canopies. Although dated to the 17th century, this had been completely remounted, which usually counts very much against such items with collectors, hence its much lower £600-800 estimate. But the piece was extremely attractive from a decorative if not a purist standpoint and that seems to have held sway here.

There were also five palampores in the collection, all with estimates modestly set in the mid hundreds on account of their fragility. Four of these ended up selling for sums between £1100 and £1800. Multi-estimate results certainly, but that said palampores in a good state of repair can easily make ten times those sums.

The most expensive of Miss Merrell’s toiles was a small group of 19th century roller-printed (as opposed to the earlier block-printed) panels featuring literary subjects such as Aesop’s Fables, or Don Quixote, plus a quilted bed cover of narrative toile and a collection of fragments and pelmets from a bed. This group realised £1700 against predictions of £300-500, one of the more dramatic results, but by no means an isolated instance.

One of the attractions of the toiles was the variety of subject matter. Anything that could be printed seemed to be a suitable subject for these textiles and as a result these pieces represent a sort of social commentary on the time, featuring popular plays and novels or historical events.

For example, one lot comprised a group of around a dozen 18th century monochrome copper-plate toile de Nantes fragments relating to the Port of Cherbourg and showing Louis XVI’s attendance at the construction of the sea defences in 1786. It featured one of the wooden cones that were immersed and sunk to help build the defences – a very rare depiction of these mammoth objects. The lot sold for £950. Another was a small group including a rare contingent of three late 18th century English panels, two of them featuring Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, which came in at a treble-estimate £1300, while a large group of 14 or 15 toiles and cottons of American interest proved extremely popular, leaving its £400-600 estimate behind to sell to a telephone bidder for £1600.

The latter were printed with scenes relating to historical events or expressing patriotic sentiments such as Liberty with a Phrygian cap and an American eagle, Liberty presenting medallions to her illlustrious sons, The Declaration of Independence and portraits of American Presidents.

The second half of the sale comprised the usual selection of costume and accessories, luggage, lace, linen and embroideries.
Unsolds were relatively low here in number too, although they included a couple of highly estimated failures: a crocodile Kelly bag and a Flemish tapestry.

There were also the inevitable elements of Louis Vuitton luggage up amongst the top lots: a 1920s trunk at £2400, and a wardrobe trunk at £2600.