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The contest at Alnwick took place over 15 days with public voting and a daily tally. Mob violence was encouraged by the candidates, two activists fought a duel (neither was hurt) and hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s money was spent on bringing in voters by land and sea then feeding and accommodating them.

All four candidates for the two county seats also splashed out on handbills, posters, engravings and propaganda ceramics – which became a private passion of leading Newcastle dealer, local auctioneer and six-times mayor of Alnwick Ian Robertson (1929-2009).

Entered from the estate of his widow, Ena, who died earlier this year, they comprised a 54-lot section at the September 3-4 sale.

With keen private bidding boosted by descendants of the candidates, all bar one of the lots sold, generally a little above estimate, totalling just shy of £10,000.

Rival Tories

Top-seller was a 5in (13cm) tall pink lustre mug with a coloured print of rival Tory candidates Matthew Bell and Thomas Liddell – both Tories who loathed each other – in a two-horse race at Newcastle Racecourse inscribed A heat between Bell & Liddell.

Like most of the ceramics, the mug was produced in the north-east. Pitched at £400-600, it sold at £880.

A similarly commemorative (rather than partisan) tankard was a 4½in (11.5cm) tall pink lustre piece with a colour print of all four candidates depicted as jockeys. Against a similar estimate, it took £820.

An example of the money candidates were ready to spend was a silver loving cup made by William Lister, Newcastle, 1826. Standing 7½in (18cm) tall, it was presented by Bell, one of the winning candidates, to the skipper of a ship which had brought freeholders to vote for him from 50 miles down the coast.

Engraved as a Mark of Regard for sterling Honesty & Independence, it sold on the lower £400 estimate.

Dispatch box


Victorian Government dispatch box – £5500 at Toovey’s.

Past politics at a higher level featured at Toovey’s (24.5% buyer’s premium) West Sussex sale in the form of a gilt-tooled red leather government dispatch box.

The 21in (53.5cm) wide box came from a local deceased estate and the vendor knew little of its history but the tooled crowned VR cyphers to each side and flanking the Royal Coat of Arms to the hinged lid put it into the Victorian era.

With gilt bronze drop handles to the sides and a green, leather-lined interior revealing the lockplate inscribed S Mordan & Co, it was plainly a piece of inherent quality as well as history.

Nevertheless, it was still a surprise when a collector bid £5500 – more than 10 times the top estimate – to secure it at the August 16 sale in the Washington rooms.