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A near pair of George III mahogany commodes attributed to William Gomm, c.1760, which sold under estimate at £130,000. Apter-Fredericks had united the two chests, buying one in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2015 and another at Christie’s in 2016. Image copyright: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

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After a marathon five hours of selling at a ‘live online’ sale at King Street on January 19, the total for the 138 lots consigned by the Chelsea dealership was £2.7m (£3.4m including premium).

Almost 300 bidders (both established and new collectors and decorators) contributed to the Christie's sale with buyers from 15 countries, including Hong Kong and China. Just two lots were unsold.

Over three generations and 75 years Apter-Fredericks has built a reputation for selling pieces of fine quality, condition and provenance. The auction of stock marked the closure last year of the firm’s Fulham Road showroom and the decision to focus on dealing by appointment.

New dealing chapter

Owners Harry and Guy Apter said: “The results of [the] sale are a shot in the arm for the market. As a new chapter in our history begins, we are delighted to see that there is such a global market for the very best English furniture.”

The top lot of the sale was a mahogany library bookcase, c.1750, from a set of four supplied to Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor for Langley Park, Norfolk, by either William Hallett or the partnership of William Vile and John Cobb.

It had last been sold by Christie’s New York in April 2011 when it had made its low estimate of $150,000 ($182,500 including premium). Estimated at £50,000-80,000 here, it made £145,000 (£181,250 including 25% buyer’s premium).

‘A brilliant team’

Another of the most admired pieces was a George III sycamore, satinwood and fruitwood marquetry Pembroke table made in the Adam taste, perhaps by John Linnell.

Sold at £45,000 (estimate £15,000-20,000), it had come from the private collection of Bernard and Carole Apter who joined Alfred Fredericks in business in the 1940s.

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A group of George III ormolu mounted blue john and white marble urns and candle vases was well received at the Christie’s sale. This pair of 9in (22cm) high, blue john ‘goat’s head’ candle vases by Matthew Boulton took £32,000. Image copyright: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

“Our parents were a brilliant team,” recalled Guy. “Our father oversaw the buying, our mother 90% of the selling.”

It was under their tenure that the firm evolved from primarily dealing with the trade to supplying private clients and museums with pieces at the top end of the market.

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George III sycamore, satinwood and fruitwood marquetry in the manner of John Linnell – £45,000 at Christie's. Image copyright: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

The positive results of the auction underlined both the status of the Apter-Fredericks name and the power of the Christie’s marketing machine.

However, it also reflected attractive estimates pitched way below retail levels.

Few prices would have represented a significant increase on Apter-Fredericks’ investment.

For example, sold at £85,000 was a George II fustic and satinwood serpentine sofa almost certainly designed by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and probably supplied by John Gordon to John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-83).

It had sold for £100,000 (£127,000 including premium) at Christie’s Spencer House sale in July 2010.

Right to return at Christie’s

Dealers were given the opportunity to view the sale by appointment but, under Covid-19 restrictions, no members of the public could attend. Accordingly, the lots in the sale came under the legal provisions that give consumers the right to cancel a purchase without giving any reason.

Each online catalogue entry to the Apter-Fredericks sale included the special notice ‘Cancellation under the EU Consumer Rights Directive may apply to this lot’.

Christie’s terms and conditions for online sales also state that this ‘right to cancel’ is available ‘if you are a consumer and habitually reside in the European Union and the seller is not a consumer’.

The definition of a consumer essentially means a private buyer rather than a dealer, with the seller on this occasion a business.

The cancellation period expires 14 calendar days from the day after which the buyer takes physical possession of the lot (ie after shipping). Private buyers who choose to cancel will be reimbursed all payments to Christie’s, including the costs of delivery.