1. A Monkey Business School Painting – £17,000
A fine example of mid-19th century Company School art was hotly contested at Roseberys Antiques, Indian and Islamic Art sale in London on April 1. This 10 x 9 inch (26 x 22 cm) painting of a monkey circa 1850 is based on a Mughal painting of the same subject.
The original, attributed to the “Stipple Master” and dated 1705-10, is held by the Art Institute of Chicago. According to an inscription on the reverse, the monkey was named Husaini and belonged to Daud Khan Panni, a faujdar (military commander and territorial administrator) who served the Mughal emperors from Aurangzeb (1658-1707) to Farrukhsiyar (1713-19).
In this later version, some details, such as the grass and the rope from the monkey’s neck, are removed in favor of a characteristic simplicity of the time. Such a striking and well painted picture guided at £2000-3000 was still likely to sell above estimate. It sold for £17,000.
2. Royal Crown Derby Sauce Boat – £5500
The March 30-31 sale at Bellmans in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, included three pieces from the Royal Crown Derby Judge Gary service.
The famous porcelain dinner and dessert service, adorned with flowers by Albert Gregory and rich gilding by George William Darlington, was one of the most expensive sets ever made in Derby. Comprising over 400 pieces, it was commissioned in 1903 by Tiffany & Co, New York for Judge Elbert H Gary (1846-1927), an Illinois lawyer, county judge, financier, and business executive whose best remembered as founder of US Steel, as well as with JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Charles Schwab. The steel town, Gary, Indiana is named after him.
Gary’s tastes were notoriously ostentatious and he chose a design that evoked the grand French porcelain services of the Ancien Régime. It was meant to complement a 566-piece solid gold service that Gary also commissioned from Tiffany.
Derby took several years to fill the order with most of the pieces dated 1907-10. The service remained in the family until it was sold at Sotheby’s in New York in October 1998 in eight lots. Since then, many pieces have appeared for sale piecemeal.
The gravy boat and the stand offered at Bellmans are perhaps unique. It impressed brands for 1908. It sold for more than double its low estimate of £2500 to £5500, followed by a pair of small plates at £4500 (estimate £1000-1500) and a goose eggcup at £480 (estimate £150-250).
3. Japanese Export Cutlery Boxes – £12,000
In 1799, the ship chartered by the Dutch East India Company, the Franklin of Salem, arrived in Nagasaki on a trading mission. The captain’s personal account books still survive and indicate that he brought back a considerable amount of Japanese lacquerware, all apparently made in contemporary European forms. The shopping list included “22 missing knife boxes”.
Following classical Georgian designs, these boxes are known in two general forms (freestanding urns and hinged boxes with sloping fronts) and several different lacquer treatments. All are rarities.
The furniture sale at Dreweatts in Newbury, Berkshire on March 30 included a pair of slant-fronted boxes in black lacquer set with mother-of-pearl designs of foliage and exotic birds. The hinges, clasps and handles are in perforated and engraved white metal.
Dated around 1800, they were largely in their original condition, retaining the matrix and the green velvet lining inside, with some signs of old repair work and retouching on the surface. Auctioneers have highlighted a single example which sold at Christie’s in December 2007 for £1750 as part of the collection of Giorgio Marsan and Umberta Nasi but this pair fetched £12,000.
4. Frances Wolfreston Collection Book – £11,000
Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677) is a rare example of a woman appointed from the ordinary echelons of society who, we know, formed an important collection of books. Focusing on English literature and drama, the majority of its library remained in family ownership until 1856, when most were sold at Sotheby’s. The Bodleian holds its copy of Shakespeare Venus and Adonis1593, making her one of Shakespeare’s earliest known female readers.
Books associated with Wolfreston occasionally hit the market. And today, her status as a named 17th-century book collector adds greatly to their commercial appeal. This copy of Thomas Lupton A thousand notable things of all kinds… printed in 1631 is inscribed in ink ”Frances Wolfreston, her bouk’ and also with the name of her husband Francis (the couple married in 1631).
Formerly part of the library of Dr Wyndham Smith, Inkberrow, Worcester (and dry stamped on the free flyleaf), it also has the armorial book plate of J Timothy Kenrick. Against an estimate of £2,000-3,000, it fetched £11,000 at Forum Auctions in London on March 31.
5. Yellow Metal Toadstone – £4200
Toads are now understood to be the button-like palatal teeth of lepidotes, an extinct genus of ray-finned fish from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. However, throughout the Middle Ages and well into the 18th century, they were thought to be in the heads of living toads and were highly prized for their supposed magical powers.
In particular, they were believed to be used as an antidote to poison and were commonly worn around the person as amuletic rings and pendants.
Loose toadstools were discovered among other gems in the Cheapside Hoard while William Shakespeare referred to them in As you like it (1599) writing: ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which like the toad, ugly and venomous, Yet carries a precious jewel in its head.’
The subject of a heated auction at Reeman Dansie in Colchester on March 29 was a 16mm toad stone in a yellow metal setting inscribed on the reverse Pierre Todé. Certainly in the 17th century style, it was estimated at £100-150 but sold for £4,200.
6. Cook Islands Polar Clubs – £38,000
Carved into the heart of the toa or ironwood shaft, long clubs with scalloped blades (akakatara) are associated with Rarotonga and Atiu in the Cook Islands.
The ship’s surgeon, William Anderson, recorded them on Cook’s third voyage to Atiu in 1777, writing: “The clubs were about six feet long or more, made of a spear of black hard wood fashioned at the end but much wider, with the edge nicely scalloped and all carefully polished.
This 7ft 4in (2.25m) example went on sale at the Wessex auction houses in Chippenham on April 2. It showed signs of having been stored dry in an outhouse for many years – bird droppings included – but it may well be a surviving 19th century. If the guide of just £30-40 struck potential buyers like a late-April fool, then the final offer of £38,000 was certainly no joke.