This obituary, which was written by Richard Edgcumbe FSA, senior curator of the V&A’s Metalwork Collection, originally appeared in Salon – The Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter. It appears here as an edited version.
Charles rejected the destiny in law which had been mapped out for him, and worked as a volunteer in the archive of the furniture and woodwork department at the V&A, before winning a post as a museum assistant in the metalwork department in 1971.
He was promoted to assistant keeper in the ceramics department in 1977. He had eagerly taken the chance to work with Shirley Bury on the redisplay of the gold boxes in the jewellery gallery, and this led to his assisting Serge Grandjean of the Louvre in the catalogue published in 1975 of the gold boxes at Waddesdon Manor.
Four years later appeared a slim article in the Connoisseur on Reinhold Vasters, unmasking Vasters as a pre-eminent designer of fake Renaissance goldsmith’s work. “It is hoped, ” wrote Charlie, “that this article may bring to light more pieces attributable to this extraordinary workshop.”
It was a decisive moment in the reappraisal of 19th century faking. The reverberations continue in museums and auction houses to this day; any Renaissance-style jewel without a pre-19th century provenance meets a sceptical reception.
Charlie contributed further to the debate in sections of Princely Magnificence, an exhibition led by Anna Somers Cocks FSA at the V&A in 1980, and of the catalogues Renaissance Jewelry in the Alsdorf Collection (Art Institute of Chicago 2000) and The Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012).
Charlie moved from the V&A to head the silver department at Christie’s in 1984, the year he co-authored with Somers Cocks the catalogue of Renaissance jewels, gold boxes and objets de vertu in the Thyssen- Bornemisza Collection. He was made a director of Christie’s in 1985.
In 1990 he was appointed head of the antiques department at Asprey. He catalogued the gold boxes in the Gilbert Collection in two volumes, 1991 and 1999, and edited Sotheby’s Concise Encyclopedia of Silver in 1993. From 2000 he worked independently and as a consultant, the generous ally of many museums and collectors. He was a founder director of C&L Burman (Works of Art), chairman of the British Antique Dealers’ Association and of the Silver Society, and a liveryman of the Goldsmiths’ Company.
In the new Europe Galleries 1600-1815 at the V&A sits one of many examples of his remarkable visual memory: a French gold egg cup of 1762 which he recognised in an auction in 2002 as a close parallel to a large design in an album from the workshop of Jean Ducrollay in the V&A’s Print Room.
Charlie brought to his analysis of an object an acute mind and an experience gained over 40 years as a curator, auctioneer and dealer.
His books will live within arm’s reach of every curator of gold boxes, but he will be missed sorely as a witty, sometimes outrageous, colleague and a friend of enormous energy and great courage.