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The calls, or whistles, which were due to be sold at London coin auctioneers Baldwin’s on May 7, were pulled just at the eleventh hour after the authenticity of some was called into question.

The collection was formed over 35 years ago by Garth Doubleday and includes British and Continental specimens. It appears that members of the Antique Plate Committee, the expert body of silver specialists that advises the Assay Office on the question of fakes and forgeries in antique British plate, were first contacted after someone who had seen the collection had doubts about the authenticity of certain items.

The week before the sale, two separate visits to the saleroom were made on May 1 and 2 by an independent dealer and two Antique Plate Committee members. On the basis of their advice the Assay Office notified the auction house that they had suspicions about a substantial proportion of the pieces.

According to the Assay Office, “there were several different reasons why the articles were believed to be suspect, namely that some had very suspicious fake English marks, Chinese marks, some had keels that appeared to be adapted from hallmarked dessert knives, and others appeared to have other types of illegal adaptations”.

They requested the whistles be withdrawn from the sale in their legal capacity as the watchdog for authenticity of hallmarking and quality control of precious metals and consumer protection.

Dr Robert Organ, deputy warden at the Assay Office, first contacted Baldwin's on Friday, 2 May and communicated with them all last week.

Shortly before the auction the Assay Office sent Baldwin’s a list of 51 of the whistles whose authenticity it was questioning and, in the light of this, Baldwin’s decided just before the sale to withdraw the entire collection.

Edward Baldwin, chairman of the auction house, said the next stage will be to submit the pieces to the Antique Plate Committee for scrutiny and assessment. The Committee meets four times a year at Goldsmiths’ Hall for the purposes of assessing items over which questions have been raised.

Mr Baldwin said that he hoped to be able to re-offer the whistles at a later date. “I will only offer the items that the Plate Committee approve”, he said but added that in his opinion this would be a substantial proportion of the collection.

He told ATG that at the pre-sale view there were different opinions as to which were right and which were wrong. He felt two issues had raised questions about the collection: that no-one had seen so many and that they were being sold by a coin specialist.

Early, pre-19th century, bosun’s calls are rare collectors’ items and in short supply. Baldwin’s do not normally sell antique silver smallware but their vendor was also a numismatist and Baldwin’s client.

Mr Doubleday formed the collection between 1965 and 1972, buying the whistles through various members of the silver trade but also, according to the auction catalogue, using the services of an antique dealer whom he described as “a knowledgeable elderly antiquarian who haunted the antiques shops in the Lanes of Brighton, the London Silver Vaults and other likely sources, where he snapped up all the calls on offer”.