Under starter’s orders on November 29 at Bonhams Knightsbridge (27.5/26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) was the 1926 trophy designed by Charles Sykes (1875-1950) at the behest of King George V.
Estimated at £150,000-200,000, the 18ct gold cup and cover, Sebastian Garrard, London 1926, sold on the low estimate.
The king had voiced his dissatisfaction with the stagnation within the gold and silver industry, particularly in trophy design, which, in the era of mass production, had relied on traditional styles.
In response, The Goldsmiths’ Company launched an open design competition for the three Ascot cups (gold, silver and bronze), pledging “to do everything possible to restore the ancient tradition of the silversmith’s craft in this country”.
More than 300 sketches were submitted by 91 firms and craftsmen to a panel of judges, among them architect Sir Edwin Lutyens; founder of bookseller WH Smith, CH St John Hornby; and artist Muirhead Bone.
To the frustration of the king’s spokesperson, Lord Churchill, he rejected all entries, and the crown jeweller Garrard’s had to hurriedly present two alternatives.
The Yorkshire-born Sykes had been a littleknown employee at Garrard’s until the monarch selected his design. Primary a sculptor, he had won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art to study art, sculpture and metal casting. He was, however, already known for his model of the Rolls- Royce car mascot, the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’.
The Ascot Gold Cup – established in 1807 as the most prestigious prize in flat racing – is the showpiece event of Royal Ascot week. The 1926 edition was won by Solario, owned by Sir John Rutherford. The horse went on to command the highest stud fee in the land and was duly immortalised in oils by Sir Alfred Munnings.
As a brewing tycoon, Rutherford was wealthy enough to afford to turn down the Aga Khan’s offer of £100,000 – equal to more than £3.2m today – for Solario after it won its first classic, the St Leger in 1925.
Ellis Finch, Bonhams head of silver, said: “The cup had never been offered on the open market before, having stayed within Sir John Rutherford’s close family and thence been handed down by descent to the present owners.”
The magnificent trophy awarded to the owner of the winning horse is one of only three at the royal meeting that are able to be taken away and kept on a permanent basis, along with those of the Royal Hunt Cup and the Queen’s Vase.
Meanwhile, on the same day over in Mayfair, an 1877 Ascot Gold Cup was in the running at Noonans (24% buyer’s premium) with an estimate of £100,000-120,000. It sold for £110,000.
The 18ct gold vase-shaped trophy centrepiece by Charles Frederick Hancock, London 1876, the cover crowned by a finial of a rearing stallion attended by a classical youth, stood 18½in (47.5cm) high.
Frances Noble, associate director and head of jewellery at Noonans, said: “The cup’s magnificence recalls the glory days of Victorian horse racing when wealthy landowners and the aristocracy dominated the turf.”
The young St George Henry Lowther, later 4th Earl of Lonsdale, (1855-82), a keen student of racing from his youth, had bought Petrarch, a promising three-year-old bay colt, from Viscount Dupplin in 1876.
Earlier that year Petrarch had won two of the three Triple Crown events: the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the St Leger at Doncaster. Only the prestigious Derby had eluded him, although he had been the favourite. He also won the Prince of Wales’ Stakes, making him the leading British money winner of the season.
Petrarch was to continue his winning streak under his new owner, culminating in the Ascot Gold Cup in 1877. Petrarch had been the even money favourite for the race and won by four lengths. The day was also notable for the royal presence of the Princes Albert Victor and George (later George V) at their first race meeting.
Petrarch was retired the following year and went on to sire classic winners.
Music Hall joy
Noonans also sold the 1922 Grand National Trophy silver centrepiece, which took a within-estimate £24,000. Prince Albert, the Duke of York (later George VI) and Prince Henry (later Duke of Gloucester), were at Aintree to see Hugh Kershaw’s nine-year-old hunter Music Hall win by 12 lengths at odds of 100/9.
The 18in (46cm) high trophy by Elkington & Co, Birmingham 1921, was offered together with a signed and dated large oil on canvas portrait of the winning horse and rider by Cecil Wilson from 1922, a signed and dated watercolour of the victor passing the winning post, the winning jockey’s framed silks and a framed and glazed horseshoe bearing the inscribed plaque: MR HUGH KERSHAW’S ‘MUSIC HALL’ WINNER OF THE GRAND NATIONAL MARCH 24th 1922.
Both trophies at Noonans – bought by private collectors – were consigned alongside several others from a leading private collector.