Managing director Nigel Hodson said this quarterly ‘fine’ sale – more than 600 lots totalling over £250,000 – provided “a gratifying result” that reflected “so much hard work both in recovering from the trauma of the flooding and putting together such a good auction”.
It was on October 13 when, in the wake of Storm Callum, the River Towy entered full flood and spilled into Carmarthen. The Towyside saleroom on Old Station Road was engulfed in nearly 4ft of river water with the sale floor, some stores, offices and the reception area all impacted.
Advisers and loss adjusters were quickly on site (the firm was fully insured) to be followed by professional cleaners and building contractors. Within two weeks the staff had moved into (unheated) offices upstairs, valuers were on the road making calls, the company van was out collecting lots for future sales and Friday valuations had returned.
However, the hiatus of 10 weeks between auctions (there were two mixed sales in January) was the longest Hodson could remember in his career. He described the events as “the most difficult period of my 46 years as an auctioneer”.
Back in the saleroom
The February sale – held before a new central heating system had been fired – included lots consigned prior to the inundation, new instructions and a few pieces of furniture that were offered for sale without reserve in water-damaged state.
These included a 2ft 9in (84cm) wide William and Mary burr elm chest that had been compensated by the insurers at £10,000. The water had caused much of the herringbone and crossbanded veneer to lift and the carcass to distort but it was restorable. It sold for £4000.
Another damp-affected item of furniture worthy of rescue, a French walnut and marquetry display cabinet with a straight front and serpentine sides, compensated by the insurers at £12,500, managed £3600, despite its deteriorating state. Probably made c.1875, it was inlaid with floral swags to the lower panels and mounted throughout with rococo style ormolu.
In rather better condition with a nice colour and patination was an unusual (probably 18th century) Welsh primitive child’s chair or back stool with a pierced back splat, bentwood arms and turned legs. Oozing folk art charm, it proved a favourite of many at £2300.
Eyes on an eagle
A spectacular natural history mount – an American bald eagle with curlew prey – was unsigned but bore many hallmarks of the celebrated Victorian taxidermist James Hutchings of Aberystwyth. This 3ft 4in (1.03m) high case display, mounted with rockwork with ferns and foliage, had been abandoned by the tenants of a local home and was sold by the new occupants. In good condition, it went to a collector in north Wales bidding on the phone at £3650.
A rare 9in (23cm) geometric Yo-Yo vase – among the most adventurous of all Clarice Cliff designs decorated here in the Rodanthe pattern – improved on hopes to realise £2300. It was the first example of the daring Deco form (shape 640) Hodson had seen since he sold a larger pair for almost £10,000 when working for Biddle & Webb in Birmingham in his youth. A large Orange Roof Cottage plate, 13in (33cm) diameter, with some minor paint flaking, sold at £650.
A group of late 19th century Bavarian cuckoo clocks from a local collector were a near sell-out. An example in the ‘Black Forest’ taste, heavily carved with hunting trophies and a massive 4ft 6in (1.35m) high, took £1250. Two similar clocks of around half the size with a two-train musical movements, one housed in a case carved with a stag hunt and an eagle surmounts, the other as a cottage trailed with vines, were bid to £1300 and £1400 respectively.
A small early 20th century Russian kovsh with typical cloisonné enamel decoration and Moscow marks well exceeded its estimate to bring £2000 while a massive solid silver table centrepiece modelled as a swan (London 1972) weighing 190oz brought £3600.
More than 800 bidders had registered online for the sale (a record) alongside a large number of phone competitors. It was an online bidder who secured two Continental European ivory reliefs at an unexpected £3600.
The panels, catalogued at 19th century but quite probably from two centuries earlier, were each in period ebonised frames and depicted similar classical scenes – one a study of Diana the huntress, the other a Bacchanalian group. They measured approximately 5 x 6in (12 x 15cm) and were in good condition save the need for a full clean.
The hammer price, tendered via thesaleroom.com, was many times the pre-sale estimate of £150-250, but it could well prove modest should the 17th century attribution be confirmed.
Sales at Peter Francis will now continue every fortnight with extra online-only auctions. The contents of a domestic life museum is planned for later in the year – when the central heating should be functioning.