One of the pair of Royal Worcester plaques painted by Harry Davies which led Andrew Hartley’s sale at £27,000.

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"Between the highs and lows there were plenty of inconsistencies making it difficult to tell what the immediate future might hold," said Mr Hartley.

As at other salerooms, one of the patchiest areas was furniture. The section comprised 140 lots of the sort of honest, straightforward pieces currently hard to shift even with tempting estimates.

There were, however, a number of successes. Georgian material included an oak settle with hinged box seat which took £1800; a 6ft 1in x 4ft 1in (1.85 x 1.14m) mahogany linen press at £1600 and an early walnut chest of drawers with herring bone crossbanding, brass drop handles and bracket feet, at £1300.

Moving into the 20th century, an Edwardian mahogany and inlaid cylinder-top bureau made £1800. Later still was an adzed oak panel dresser, with four multi-pane glazed doors over six drawers and flanking cupboards, by R.G. Heap, the "Rabbit Man" of Driffield. This one took £1500.

The sale's real strength, however, lay in the smaller decorative pieces, most notably two pairs of Royal Worcester plaques entered by a gentleman who had inherited them - along with the security worries they posed.

First up was a 1921 pair by Harry Davies. The 9 x 51/2in (23 x 14cm) oval plaques in gilt foliate moulded frames, were painted with typical Highlands scenes populated by the artist's famous sheep and were of a quality to justify the £14,000-16,000 estimate.

More than merely justify, in fact, for a dealer had to go to £27,000 to secure them.

Going further over estimate were a pair 9 x 53/4in (23 x 14.5cm) oval plaques by Davies' equally famous contemporary James Stinton. Dated 1922, these featured pheasants in woods - a Stinton favourite. Estimated at £3000-5000 the pair went to a collector at £13,000.

Other Royal Worcester material to do well included a 1909 9in (23cm) high tyg raised on a pedestal foot and painted by Chivers with fruit panels within gilded borders. Estimated at up to £1000-£1500, it sold at £2500.

More predictable prices among the ceramics included £2000 on a pair of Royal Dux porcelain figures of half-naked Moorish water carriers modelled by Hempel. Unusually large at 2ft 71/2in (80cm) tall, the pair made £2000.

A 61/4in (16cm) Art Deco ivory figure by Chiparus depicted a barefooted young girl in a shift titled Innocence. It sold to a private bidder at £1400, twice the upper estimate.

Also nearly doubling top hopes was a rather more wholesome figure - a 71/4in (18.5cm) Japanese inlaid bronze of a traveller carrying his bag over his shoulder. This signed 19th century piece on a hardwood stand, sold to the trade at £2300.

Giving the auctioneers great satisfaction, was a curious 33/4in (9.5cm) diameter brass tobacco box inscribed Alex Robertson 1709. Mr Robertson obviously valued his baccy for the box had a combination lock which the vendor had never managed to crack.

After what Mr Hartley described as "a lot of fiddling" the auctioneers got the box open and it sold at £610 against top hopes of £400.