Solid furniture results in the pre-Christmas sales gave some reassurance ahead of the new year that the market is no longer struggling – although the gap between the best and the rest remains a wide one.
“Our final Fine Art sale of 2018 saw some strong prices paid for the best and rarest examples of antique furniture, as well as collectors’ items and works of art,” said Cheffins auctioneer Luke Macdonald.
“Buyers have become increasingly discerning and while aesthetics and taste still play a large part in prices, the best in class of Regency furniture has continually risen to the top throughout 2018.”
Macdonald was speaking after the November 28-29 sale at Cheffins (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Cambridge where a prime example of ‘best in class’ was a ‘manner of Gillows’ rosewood and brass inlaid library table.
As with much of the London and Lancaster firm’s output, it was not stamped or signed, but other such tables were supplied to wealthy clients. It was believed to have been made for the library extension at High House, Westacre, Norfolk, between 1824-29.
The 6ft 11in (2.14m) wide table was, unusually, designed in two halves, each with a leather-lined top and inlaid overall with panels of scroll and strapwork cut brass.
It was estimated at an attractive £10,000-15,000, but sold at £40,000.
Play your cards right
November and December sales included some solid prices for standard favourites with that extra touch of class.
A pair of 18th century mahogany card tables with acanthas carved legs and ball and claw feet were offered at Tennants (20% buyer’s premium) at Leyburn on November 17.
The 3ft (91cm) wide rectangular pair with hinged leaves enclosing baise-lined interiors and with long frieze drawers were estimated at £1500-2000 but sold at £8800.
The premium put on Irish furniture was evident in the case of a single fold-over card table at Sworders (23% buyer’s premium) in Stansted Mountfitchet on December 5.
The 2ft 8in (81cm) wide table was undated and of rather rudimentary construction.
However, it was profusely carved to the frieze and had a provenance back to the Flood family of Kilkenny and it was consigned from a historic Suffolk house: the Priory at Walsham-le-Willows. Estimated at £400-600, it sold at £4100.
By contrast, an elegant, but English, mahogany George III mahogany card table with foldover rectangular top, frieze drawer and cabriole legs, also from the Priory, doubled the top estimate but only to bring £720.
...and Irish house buys
There was some good furniture among the contents of Milford House, Carlow offered by Irish auction house Fonsie Mealy (23% buyer’s premium inc VAT) on November 20.
As well as the €23,000 (£20,470) skull and antlers of an extinct giant Irish elk (see ATG, No 2371), there was a €7400 (£6365) bachelor’s chest. A great size at only 2ft 6in (75cm) wide, it was estimated at €1500-2000.
A reminder that there is still plenty of private money in Ireland came with the bidding on a set of 18 Victorian balloon-back mahogany dining chairs, each stamped Jones & Co, London, and on a fine mahogany extending dining table attributed to the same highly regarded maker.
One might have thought the two lots would have gone to the same bidder. However, the chairs, estimated at €3000-4000, went to one private bidder at €7000 (£6230).
The 5ft wide (1.52m) table, extending to 14ft 10in long (4.53m) and with its cabinet for the six leaves, went at the same sum at the Castlecomer sale to another private buyer against an estimate of €1500-2000.
A good early 18th century walnut and crossbanded chest appeared at Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) in Winchester on November 21.
Another attractively small piece at 2ft 6in (76cm) wide, it had a moulded rectangular quarter-veneered caddy top. It was estimated at £1000-1500 but with seven bidders on booked phone lines coming up against fierce bidding online and in the room, the chest eventually went to a UK private buyer in the room at £7200.
Seven examples of another long-standing favourite, the Windsor chair illustrated the size of the quality-price ratio when offered at Sheffield Auction Gallery (18.5% buyer’s premium) on November 30.
Six were undistinguished 19th century chairs and sold at between £55 and £480. The seventh, however, was a mid 18th century ‘Gothic’ example – the most developed and most desiraable of the many English forms of the Windsor chair.
Made of yew with an elm seat, it was catalogued as possibly Thames Valley and, against a £500-800 estimate, it sold at £4800.
Syrian saleroom visitor
Very different from the ranks of English furniture and appealing to a different market, a Syrian hardwood table consigned to Dreweatts (24% buyer’s premium) was included in the Fine Furniture sale at Donnington Priory on November 21.
Inlaid overall with a mother-of-pearl geometric design, the 3ft (93cm) wide rectangular table on shaped trestle supports was ascribed to the 19th or early 20th century.
“It was not in perfect condition but its potential was clear,” said the auctioneers.
Against a somewhat speculative £1200-1800 estimate, the table sold at £4800.