Figure of Mercury

Figure of Mercury, believed to be 17th century, £550,000 at Reeman Dansie.

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On August 8, two lots sold for six-figure sums in Cheltenham and Colchester: an Elizabethan embroidered linen cover bringing £120,000 at The Cotswold Auction Company and a bronze figure of Mercury taking an astonishing 1571-times top estimate at Reeman Dansie.

At Duke’s in Dorchester on the same day a blue and white porcelain jardiniere sold after seven minutes of bidding for £80,000.

In a 15-minute bidding battle at Reeman Dansie, sculpture specialists (one on the phone and the other in the room) pushed a figure of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, to £550,000.

Estimated at £250-350 at the August 8 sale and described as a Grand Tour piece, it is in fact believed to be a north European Mannerist sculpture from the 17th century.


Detail of a figure of Mercury, £550,000 at Reeman Dansie.

The 2ft (58cm) high bronze had belonged to Harold Taylor, a former headmaster of Cheam School, Berkshire (a favourite of the royals), and was consigned by his family along with items of royal memorabilia.

Sculpture dealers contacted by ATG believe it was made by a Dutch artist c.1600. Names mentioned included the master Adrian de Fries (Vries) (1556– 1626) and Willem Danielsz van Tetrode (1530-87).

However, there was some consensus that it is a work by Caspar von Turkelsteyn (1579- c.1648), after de Fries.

Von Turkelsteyn cast bronzes for the court of the Archduke Albrecht of Brunswick in Brussels until 1621 and a number of pieces attributed to his workshop are in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick.

The price, £698,500 including buyer’s premium, is a house record for the Colchester auction house (surpassing its September 2019 record of £260,000 for The Murillo Velarde map of the Philippines, as reported in ATG No 2411).

Reeman Dansie auctioneer Jonathan Benson said the bidding contest was “a career highlight”.

Superlative condition

On the same day at The Cotswold Auction Company in Cheltenham, a c.1600 embroidered cover was hammered down at £120,000 (plus 28.8% buyer’s premium inc VAT) to Witney Antiques.


Elizabethan embroidered linen cover, £120,000 at Cotswold Auction Company.

The saleroom originally gave it an estimate of £3000-5000 which was raised to £10,000-20,000 ahead of the sale.

The needlework, in coloured silks with silver and silver gilt threads, is in exceptional condition and features Tudor roses, cornf lowers, yellow daisies, pomegranates and other fruit with eight pairs of blue silk and silver ribbons for attaching it.

Becky Scott at Witney Antiques, who will now thoroughly research the embroidery, said: “This is probably the best piece of work of this type of this period that I have seen in my whole dealing career. The condition is superlative.”

It is likely to have originally been commissioned as a gift either for or from a very wealthy family.

Elizabethan cover

Detail of the Elizabethan linen cover sold for £120,000 at The Cotswold Auction Company.

It had been catalogued by the auction house as a cushion cover. However, examples such as this have been described in late 16th century wills as ‘sweete bags’ or sachets and it is most likely to be a cover for a folio of important documents or a bible or prayer book.


A detail of the label on cover at The Cotswold Auction Company.

A late 19th or early 20th century label on the reverse of the cover states Lent by Viscountess St Aldwyn, Coln St Aldwyn, a reference to a village in the Cotswolds and Lady Lucy Hicks Beach (1851-1940), Viscountess St Aldwyn and first Countess St Aldwyn.

St James’s textile specialist Simon Franses of S Franses was the underbidder at the auction. He said: “There is growing interest in textile art, really a renaissance of interest among col lectors and museums. Prices are beginning to reflect the beauty, history and scarcity. This was a piece fresh to the market and it had been exhibited during the first decade of the 20th century.”

Franses added that the opportunity to buy a piece this good at auction was rare. More typically textiles of this age are acqui red privately by institutions rather than dispersed through the market.

Auctioneer Elizabeth Poole said the firm was “delighted with the outcome. This was a truly exceptional example of Elizabethan embroidery. Fabrics usually fade over time, but the colours are as vibrant as when they were first stitched.”

800-times top guide

Blue and white jardiniere

Blue and white porcelain jardiniere, £80,000 at Duke’s.

Also on August 8, at Duke’s Avenue Auctions in Dorchester, a blue and white porcelain jardiniere took £80,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £50-100. Bidding had started at just £30, taking another 170 bids to be concluded.

Although catalogued as Arita style it was more probably Chinese with Ming-style decoration of fruiting vines.