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JANUARY threw up encouraging furniture results for high-quality lots.

The 77 pieces offered at Locke & England (17.5%) buyer’s premium) at Leamington Spa on January 26 included a set of four late 18th century mahogany chairs in the Chippendale taste.

The two carvers (one illustrated on these pages) and two singles were worked with gothic arch splats and sides. They had obvious quality and bidding opened at the top £800 estimate. Two dealers then battled it out over the phone and the hammer went down at £8200.

“We knew the chairs were extremely interesting but they were in need of some TLC, ” said auctioneer Richard Gormley. “We are keeping our fingers well and truly crossed that this is showing an upturn in the antique furniture market but the adage that quality always sells remains true.”

Elegant tables

Three Pembroke tables were offered at Mallams (20% buyer’s premium) in Cheltenham on February 2 where specialist Robin Fisher was dispersing a large private consignment. Market values for these elegant tables, so fashionable and pricey three decades ago, have crashed vertiginously. Bids of just £40 and £85 secured two 19th century mahogany examples.

The third table was a different matter – a George III period table with a cocuswood quarter veneered top and ebonised handles pitched at a very tempting £1000-2000.

From Jamaica, cocuswood was always rare and expensive and in the 18th and 19th centuries was mainly used by makers of flutes and other wind instruments.

Its dark red/brown colour and bright yellow sapwood makes for a striking piece of furniture as the illustration (No 3) on this page shows, while its the cost meant that only master cabinetmakers would be entrusted with the amount of timber in this 3ft 2in wide x 2ft 5in tall (96 x 74cm) table.

Quality and extreme rarity assured, it sold to the trade at £6700.

Eurozone boost

At Bearnes Hamptons & Littlewood (19.5% buyer’s premium), auctioneer Nic Saintey credited bidders from the eurozone with helping the selling rate to 81% and the total to £673,000 at his 1200-lot, January 24-25 sale.

Much of the strength of the Exeter sale lay outside the furniture (of which more next week), but English elegance did find English buyers.

A private buyer went to a 10-timesestimate £4400 for a so-called apprentice piece – a 17in (43cm) wide 18th century walnut oyster veneered chest of drawers with sycamore inlay and crossbanding.

Also going privately was a staple of yesteryear – an early 19th century partners’ mahogany desk, 4ft 10in (1.47m) wide, with an extra attraction of 12 alphabetically labelled small drawers enclosed by a faux drawer door to one side. Estimated at £1500- 2000, it made £4200.

The UK trade got a look in when a dealer bought a William IV rosewood open bookcase.

The black variegated marble top to the 4ft 5in wide x 3ft 4in tall (1.34 x 1.02m) bookcase was cracked but it was an attractive piece with a pierced brass three-quarter gallery over two frieze drawers above adjustable shelves. It tripled expectations in selling at £3400.

Eastern furniture has been a case apart and led the field at Exeter as it did at Nicholas Mellors’ (20% buyer’s premium) sale at Newark on February 2 (see story below right).

Topping the English furniture, however, was a c.1680 Derbyshire oak chair. An imposing piece at 3ft 10in (1.17m) high, it had a panelled back gouge-carved with oak leaves and acorns, foliate scroll top rail and front rail carved with stylised leafage and shaped arms.

The castors were later and the chair had faults but it went to a private buyer comfortably over estimate at £4400.

A touch of the exotic from Europe was a pair of c.1880 Venetian ‘blackamoor’ figures.

Standing 4ft 2in (1.28m) high in gondolas and each holding an oar and a cornucopia, the polychrome and gilt figures went a shade above estimate, also going to a private buyer at £7000.

Question of taste

Decorative 19th century furniture in the 18th century taste has generally survived the furniture downturn better than most and six Louis XVIstyle pieces featured in the top 25 list at Bamfords’ (21% buyer’s premium) sale at Derby on January 17.

Leading the day was a c.1870 thuya wood commode à vantaux with a Carrara marble top.

The 5ft 5in (1.66m) wide commode with profuse ormolu mounts to the frieze drawers, sides and scroll feet, and the central cupboard applied with a roundel cast with a dove, was hugely decorative and estimated at £3000-5000.

The catalogue reference ‘possibly by Dasson’ – the renowned Parisian sculptor-turned-furniture designer Henry Dasson (1825-96) – undoubtedly added to its appeal and it sold at £17,500.

From around 10 years earlier came a Napoleon III mahogany library centre table.

Also featuring profuse ormolu mounts, the 5ft 3in (1.6m) wide table had a Breccia marble top with an acanthus border above a deep frieze on spirally fluted legs. Estimated at £2000-3000, it sold at £10,000.

Light from the East

The East can often be relied upon to supply a star to brighten brown furniture sales and did so at some of the January and February auctions.

At Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood at Exeter on January 24-25, this 18th century Anglo-Indian cabinet on stand, above left, was among the top sellers.

Decorated with peony blossom and foliage heightened in gilt on a black lacquer ground, the 1ft 6in (45cm) wide cabinet had an ivory inlaid fitted interior of nine drawers, candle slide and brass carrying handles.

Standing 3ft 5in (1.04m) tall overall on a stand with cabriole legs, it had seen some restoration work but, against an £800-1200 estimate, sold to a private Spanish bidder at £7500.

The Oriental star at Nicholas Mellors’ February 2 sale at Newark was a near pair of c.1900 Chinese hardwood wardrobes, one shown below left.

With stylised dragon surmounts, each 6ft (1.8m) tall wardrobe was ornately relief carved with a profusion of birds, rats, insects and plants.

Although catalogued as ‘with faults’, the two were estimated at £3000-5000 and went comfortably above that, selling to a US private bidder at £7200.