The bookends, carved in the form of elephants (one with a recessed carved mouse signature), were thought to have been commissioned by John Weston Adamson (1904-77) in the 1930s or ‘40s to reflect his interest in African wildlife.
Adamson, who lived at Oldstead Hall in Coxwold, Yorkshire, was buried in Kilburn churchyard, just a stone’s throw from the Thompson workshop.
The 6½in (16cm) high adzed oak models had passed by descent to the Somerset vendor who entered them to the auction on July 4 with an estimate of £800-1200.
Nine phone lines competed for the lot before it sold to a UK collector at a record price that, with fees added, was over £12,500. They were underbid by Barnard Castle dealer Ingnet Decorative Arts.
Auctioneer Simon Jones said: “We have sold some wonderful pieces of Mouseman furniture over the years, but these were almost certainly the rarest items we have ever handled.”
Charlie Ing of Ingnet told ATG the bookends – probably made by the woodcarver Stan Dodd – were not unique but certainly very rare. Both had some impact damage.
Prime-period Mouseman is enjoying a saleroom purple patch
Helped by the sense of a rising market and the input of three or four serious collectors (including a celebrity chef with a taste for mice), prime-period Mouseman continues to enjoy a saleroom purple patch.
Landmark bids in recent months have included the £35,000 bid for a dresser dated 1930 sold as part of the Horlicks collection at Sworders last October and a £31,000 refectory table from a dining suite made for Brigadier Hargreaves of Castlegarth, Wetherby, near Leeds c.1927 at Wilkinson’s in Doncaster the following month.
Smaller-scale bookends typically bring smaller-scale prices, with a standard pair of pre-war single mouse bookends priced between £500-1000 dependent upon colour and patina.
However, the design featuring three mice burrowing through cheese now costs considerably more and so too whimsical ‘made to commission’ rarities featuring other woodland animals.
A pair of Mouseman bookends modelled as squirrels eating nuts sold at £3500 at Tennants of Leyburn in March this year while Mallams in Oxford took £3200 in December 2016 for a pair depicting owls with claws firmly gripped around the unfortunate rodent.
Other forms originally made for an ecclesiastic audience include praying monks and the curious pair carved with the bust of a tonsured monk and an Aztec-inspired horned devil.
A pair of the latter made ‘for the Mother Superior’ of St Joseph’s Convent at Haunton in Staffordshire appear in the Kilburn account book of 1932 priced at £3. They were sold by Richard Winterton of Lichfield in 2010 for £2200.
Read ATG's in-depth Guide to Mouseman