The art collector, plantation owner and gentleman architect William Beckford is best remembered for Fonthill Abbey, designed in collaboration with the architect James Wyatt.
Just occasionally do some of the many objects used to decorate this Gothic fantasy come for sale.
An extraordinary Regency milk jug emerged at Christie’s (27% buyer’s premium) on July 7 as part of the Bayreuth collection of English silver and gold boxes.
This very fine assemblage had been pieced together by an oil executive who, 20 years ago, was a strong buyer in the market. Items in the sale were subject to import tax of 5% on the hammer price in addition to the buyer’s premium.
The Beckford jug combines a turquoise glazed Meissen porcelain jug made in Dresden, c.1740, with silver gilt mounts by James Aldridge of London in 1816.
Aldridge made the majority of the mounts for Beckford’s porcelain collection. The design of this flamboyant mount, which is applied with the Hamilton cinquefoil and the Beckford Latimer cross, is probably derived from one of the many 16th and 17th century nautilus cups Beckford owned.
The jug, last sold at Sotheby’s in 1994 as part of the collection of Sir Michael Sobell, had an estimate of £8000-12,000 and made £13,000.
The Bayreuth collection featured items from the early Georgian to the late Victorian period – some of them best-in-class objects. It is thus more indicative of current market conditions than the quality of what was on offer that prices on or below the low estimate were the norm.
There were some undoubted bargains.
The three-piece monkey condiment set made by Edward Charles Brown is a favourite Victorian novelty.
On the Origin of Species had been published a few years earlier and Darwinian theories on evolution were changing the way people thought about our nearest relatives. The 4in (10cm) high mustard pot is modelled as a bespectacled primate in oriental attire with pipe in his mouth. The two smaller pepper pots wear similar dress.
This version was the most lavish version Brown produced. A handful of examples have appeared on the market in recent years, but they lack the detailed parcel-gilding and the fitted case found on this one that has London hallmarks for 1867 and registration mark for February 1868.
The set had sold for £21,000 when it was offered at Bonhams in 2006. This time out it was estimated at £10,000-15,000 and got away at only £7500.
Also pictured here is a large George IV silver-gilt ‘memento mori’ snuff box with the mark of William Ellerby, London 1815. Modelled as a 5in (13cm) coffin form, it is applied with a coat-of-arms, skull and cross bones, and the crest of the James family and the initials LGN.
Last sold at Woolley & Wallis in 2006 for £5800 when it had a guide of £4000-5000, this time out against a similar estimate the snuff box was allowed to sell at just £2000.