Quality counts - even if it is furniture in the parlous condition of the ebonised centre table offered at Dreweatts’ (25% buyer’s premium) fine furniture sale on June 30.
If viewers who saw the 2ft 6in (76cm) high table in pieces at the Newbury rooms before the June 30 sale wondered at the £7000-10,000 estimate, further catalogue notes explained all.
The form of the table was to the goût grec design by Thomas Hope (1769-1831) for his Mayfair home on his return from his Grand Tour. The original drawing is now in the V&A and features in Hope’s 1807 A Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.
Condition problems to the table (catalogued as English or French c.1815) included cracks to the marble top, detached or missing gilt metals mounts, opening joints and losses to flaking gesso.
Auctioneer Ben Brown’s confidence in its fundamentals was more than justified when the table sold at £12,000. “A major restoration project but it will be worth it,” he said. It could yet be a six-figure piece.
While UK private buying dominated the upper end of the sales sheet (augmented by a high-spending Continental bidder who may have been a dealer), the table was a challenge only the trade could take on.
Class over condition
Another example of how class outranks condition was a c.1735, 5ft 9in (1.76m) tall burr walnut chest-on-chest in the manner of Giles Grendey.
“It’s easy enough to find and sell chests-on-chests at £3000-4000 but the quality here stood out,” said Brown after it sold at a mid-estimate £11,000. “Selling pieces of real quality is never a problem; finding it is the hard part.”
He had amassed sufficient items for this sale. The 408 lots of the 504 on offer which got away took a hammer total of over £1.27m.
Topping the day was a pair of 21in (53cm) globes by J&W Cary, the terrestrial globe dated March 1st 1813 with papers for 1829, the celestial March 1st 1799.
Consigned by a charitable foundation, each globe stood 3ft 11in (1.19m) tall on rosewood pedestal stands and, against an estimate of £20,000-30,000, sold at £70,000.
Georgian globes will often carry a maker’s name. Seldom does Georgian furniture come with such information, however.
A c.1820 rosewood library drum table with gilt-brass mounts was catalogued as ‘possibly by John McLean’ (1770-1825) sold to the Continent at a mid-estimate £19,000.
Typical of the highly regarded Soho and Marylebone firm John McLean & Sons, it featured a 3ft 2in (98cm) diameter top wreathed with ormolu ribbon above the frieze drawers fitted with stylised lion-head hinged handles.
It also had a plaque for Antique Furniture from Norman Adams Ltd, 8-10, Hans Road, London, SW3. A similar table from the Norman Adams Collection had taken a premium-inclusive $35,750 (then about £25,000) at Sotheby’s, New York back in 1985, while even a decade ago tables of this ilk could bring close to six figures.
Mahogany furniture ‘in the manner of’ Chippendale included a c.1760 serpentine commode which went to the Continent at £12,500, a c.1750 pedestal partners’ desk at £9500 and a pair of c.1770 folding tables, one for cards the other for tea, at £9000.
Also in the Chippendale taste was a c.1780 breakfront library bookcase. The 8ft 9in (2.66m) tall bookcase had undergone some minor old repairs but was in good condition for its age and doubled the mid-estimate at £17,000.
Living it large
Large bookcases lost their appeal during the furniture slump but demand was there at Newbury.
Also doubling mid-hopes was a c.1690 walnut example standing a more manageable 6ft 8in tall x 3ft 10in wide (2.03 x 1.17m). Catalogued as ‘in the Pepysian taste’, it was similar to the ‘Pepys Bookcases’ made for diarist and naval administrator Samuel’s vast library at his London home and which he bequeathed, along with about 3000 books, to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where they now stand.
The Newbury example had old chips, splits repairs and replacements, and sun fading to the front had prompted some 19th century simulated figuring with a dark stain/varnish to some other areas. Restoration work will be needed but the bookcase sold at £15,000.
Easier to accommodate in modern homes was a 4ft 1in high x 3ft 4in wide (1.24 x 1.03m) ‘waterfall’ open bookcase from c.1820. Made of line-inlaid pollard oak, it required some skilled restoration in parts but against a £6000-8000 estimate sold at £11,000.
Estimates were generally a shrewd assessment of what an improving furniture market will bear but there were surprises.
The biggest unexpected result was a c.1815 padouk, ebony and satinwood crossbanded Pembroke games table. The centre of the top could slide to reveal a backgammon board, above a divided drawer. A similar example (potentially a Chinese export piece) took a premium-inclusive £16,730 at Christie’s in 2002 when the market was much stronger.
This Newbury table, with a large split to the top, triggered a trade versus private battle before selling to the latter at £15,000, ten times the lower estimate.
Another surprise was a c.1800 Irish mahogany dining table with a circular concentric extending top measuring 6ft 3in (1.9m) diameter with six additional leaves. These radially-expanding tables are so much more commercial than traditional rectangular wind-out models.
Stamped to the base R&Js, 14 George St Limerick, it had minor condition problems including imperfectly aligned leaves and some old splits and chips but tripled the mid-estimate selling at £22,000.
From the same north London home was a reverse-painted wall mirror from the third quarter of the 18th century that brought the day’s second-highest bid. In a later, possibly fairly modern, George III-style carved giltwood frame, the 3ft 2in high x 3ft 8in wide (96cm x 1.12m) plate depicted figures in traditional dress and various animals in a river landscape.
Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it sold at £38,000.