The set of 12 c.1795 mahogany chairs that took the top spot on November 6 at the 25 Blythe Road saleroom in west London were made for a ship of the line. They were placed probably in the great cabin high on the stern where the captain lived and entertained, or possibly the wardroom, as the navy calls the officers’ mess.
More likely, given their quality, the former, but in either case they were capable, with their concertina action, of being folded flat as the room was cleared for action – becoming a gun placement within minutes.
Given the life of the chairs, surviving the rigours of the sea throughout the Napoleonic Wars, it is exceptional for them to have survived and indeed this set, recently discovered in a Spanish cellar, is the only such set of 12 known.
HMS Victory at Portsmouth has a similar group in Nelson’s cabin but some are reproductions.
The set at Charles Miller’s auction, including two carvers, derived from Sheraton’s Cabinet-Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, 1791-94.
Estimated at £10,000-15,000, the set took £13,000, going to a UK private bidder at the November 6 sale.
Models steam in
Intricately detailed ship models produced by yards for clients are the steadiest of sellers, even for the least glamorous sort of vessels – such as two workhorse merchant vessels offered at West Kensington.
One was a 5ft (1.52m) long model of the MV Bonnington Court, a 5000- ton ship built by R Duncan & Co, Glasgow for the Court Line in 1929
A large vessel for her day and an early example of oil rather than coal-fired engines, she was sunk by Luftwaffe bombers between Harwich and the Tyne in January 1941 with the loss of two crewmen.
The model sold within estimate at £6500 to a collector.
A second ship model was of SS Cyanus, a 1600-ton ship built by Edward Withy & Co of Hartlepool for Steel Young & Co of London, which also met a tragic end.
The first iron ship to be built at Hartlepool and a ‘transitional’ steam/sail vessel with fully rigged, if generally redundant, masts as well as her engines, she struck rocks near Ushant in thick fog in 1897.
Only one of the 21-strong crew survived, picked up a day later clinging to an upturned boat.
The 3ft 11in (1.2m) model was in fine and original condition and sold to ‘an international private museum’ within estimate at £4800.
Equally popular ship models of a different nature are the bone and wood pieces traditionally made by Napoleonic prisoners-of-war.
The three-masted first-rate ship of the line offered at Charles Miller was cautiously catalogued as ‘style’ rather than period but it was unusually large at 2ft (61cm) long, skilfully carved and minutely detailed down to the rope coils, fire buckets and belaying rails.
It went to an Asian collector at a lower-estimate £6000.
Scientific instruments maintained the maritime theme with the Bristol museum ship SS Great Britain buying a solid silver miniature surveying quintant with a good family provenance to its first owner, the ship’s great builder, Brunel.
Made by Cary, London, c.1830, the quintant had a 3in (7.5cm) radius and was signed to the T-bar Cary London. A brass plaque to its box was engraved HM Brunel, for Isambard’s son Henry Marc. Passed down through the female line of the family, it took a mid-estimate £4200 at Charles Miller’s sale.
A rare universal theodolite by Pistor & Martins, Berlin c.1860, attracted international interested.
Constructed in lacquered brass with an 8½in (21.5cm) main sighting telescope, the 11in (28cm) tall instrument came with a brass case and went to an Australian collector within estimate at £6000.
Also going overseas was one of the earliest scientific instruments in the sale: a c.1780 Dutch triple Leiden Jar cell.
In the original 2ft 1in (63cm) triangular ebonised pine box, the silvered jars with brass universal conductor were in fine original condition and it sold to a European collector on the lower £8000 estimate.