The best treen boxes have attracted some very competitive bidding in recent years, particularly the novelties that offer so much in terms of amusement and variety.
However, few boxes have proven quite as desirable as a 19th century fruitwood box carved in the form of a sole or plaice offered as part of the Fine Silver sale at Anderson & Garland (25% buyer’s premium) in Newcastle upon Tyne on March 21.
It was no masterpiece – the carving was average at best – but it had naive charm in spades and a flatfish is a very rare subject. The box was estimated at £200-300 but two parties kept going until the bidding reached £6200.
There were other lots in this private collection that chimed. Particularly finely carved was a George III box in the form of a boar’s head with silver mounts and inset bone eyes. It sold at £2100 against a guide of £500-700.
A collection of caddy spoons offered in the same session met a more selective response.
Specialist Alex Butcher, who recently moved to the north-east firm after tenues at Woolley & Wallis and Lawrences, said: “Some spoons were really sought after. Others not wanted at all.”
He drew the comparison between the multi-estimate sums bid for Arts & Crafts and 20th century spoons (particularly those with enamel or hardstone inlays by Liberty and Omar Ramsden) and the lacklustre bids for the more typical George III spoons that were once guaranteed sellers. Minor damage is now a major deterrent.
After the heady days of the Norrie collection sales (held at Woolley & Wallis in 2004), the collecting audience is certainly changing if not necessarily contracting. Butcher added: “I understand the Caddy Spoon Society has signed up five new members this year alone, but it seems the newest members are not looking for traditional spoons.”
Some classic lightweight 19th century rarities such as the eagle’s wing (£800) and the anemone (£480) took decent sums although “compared to years past these prices have halved”.
Provincial silver collectors did push up the prices in what is still a relatively strong niche. A spoon that combined good quality workmanship with a York silver mark took £720 while those for Exeter and Paisley made £220 and £320.
However, demand for spoons from early years of the Birmingham and Sheffield City assay offices that were once of great interest to academic collectors is now lukewarm at best.
The next batch of the collection comes for sale on July 18.