Every year, hundreds of auctions are held nationwide, from the glamorous Christie’s and Bonhams in London, to the welcoming premises of top regional salesrooms such as Sworders, Tennants, Lyon & Turnbull and Cheffins. The internet has provided valued new customers to the auction world, but still plenty of clients like to attend in person on the day of a special auction to witness a little piece of theatre unfold! Here, we’ve asked some top auctioneers to reveal the best pieces they sold in in 2019…
Christies – Arlene Blankers, Head of Sale Management Decorative Arts
The sale: Silver & 19th Century Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art, 23rd May 2019
Arlene Blankers became an auctioneer in May 2018. ‘I feel privileged to take auctions across Christie’s, including everything from books and wine to post-war art and Old Master drawings,’ says Arlene, who channels her inner Beyoncé before stepping up onto the rostrum, listening to the singer’s music beforehand. An auction in The Collector series stood out for its homely feel that attracted bidders worldwide. ‘The sale, which covered antique silver, furniture and decorative arts, was very inviting.’ Lots she sent on their way included a 17th-century German silver cup and cover with the mark of Hans Emmerling that fetched £7,500 (est £2,500-£3,500) and a pair of late 19th-century Meissen porcelain parrots, sold for £13,750 (est £6,000- £10,000). ‘I’m a massive fan of animals and I love Meissen, so I hoped these birds would fly.’
Woolley & Wallis – Clare Durham, Associate Director & European Ceramics Specialist
The Sale: The Warner Collection of British Delftware, 17th September 2019
The Sale The Warner Collection of British Delftware, 17th September ‘I got to know the late Sir Frederick Warner by unpacking his collection. It represented 50 years of his life,’ says Clare, who nursed the 163-lot sale of antique English delftware. ‘On the day, we had 25 collectors and dealers in the auction room, and 53 bidders online.’ The sale ticked along nicely until lot 32, a rare mug c1740, got ‘an astonishing price’ of £1,800 (est £300-£500), then lot 33, a glassbottomed mug c1780-85, did even better, making £3,000 (est £250-£350). The pièce de résistance, however, was lot 163, a rare Fecundity dish, made for a wedding in 1638, which took £17,000 (est £8,000-£12,000), leaving the salesroom buzzing.
Fellows – Stephen Whittaker, Managing Director
The sale: Fine Jewellery, 12th September 2019
‘This was our first Fine Jewellery sale of the autumn and a showcase for the very best jewellery we have to offer,’ says Stephen. ‘There were a lot of people present in the room, online, and phone bidding. Since the introduction of our own bidding platform [Fellows Live], online bidding has gone from strength to strength and this sale was no exception, with bidders joining from across the globe.’ Special things included lot 24 and lot 450; brooches both estimated at £450-£650. The early 19th-century diamond crescent brooch made £2,169, while the diamond and pear cherub fetched £1,914. ‘One of the most alluring pieces was by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co – a mid 20th-century gold, demantoid garnet and enamel Dauphin brooch.’ The piece sold for £10,208 (est £6,000-£8,000), much to Stephen’s satisfaction.
Catherine Southon Auctioneers – Catherine Southon, Director
The Sale: Summer Antiques Sale, 17th July 2019
‘The summer sale is always a favourite – we open the patio so people can sit outside and have a drink by the lawn in-between bids, plus my children are off school so I have a few extra pairs of hands,’ says Catherine, who this year also hosted BBC’s Bargain Hunt. She started the bidding with a collection of Scandinavian furniture. The prices set the tone – five Wishbone chairs by Hans Wegner went for £2,432 (est £400-£600), and a 1960s round lounge chair by Jørgen Baekmark made £1,155 (est £300-£500). ‘We also had a large collection of jewellery and vertu, which came to us in 12 dusty cardboard boxes, with earrings separated, necklaces tangled, and bracelets fragmented. It took my team several weeks to unpack, catalogue and photograph it, and I was delighted that it sold for £40,000.’ Gems included a mid 19th-century French scent bottle that made £120 (est £80-£120) and a collection of 19 Georgian and Victorian hard stone intaglio novelty fob seals that made £550 (est £200-£300).
Lawrences – Richard Kay, Director, Pictures
The Sale: Pictures, 5th July 2019
Lawrences holds four mammoth fine art sales a year. ‘When I’ve catalogued every lot in the paintings section, I like to bring it all to a conclusion up on the rostrum,’ says Richard. Despite soporific heat, bidding was brisk, with prices ranging from £100 to over £20,000. Highlights included lot 1419, an 1839 watercolour of Venice by William Wyld, consigned by a local hospice, estimated at £600-£900. ‘It sailed to a remarkable £3,000 and the charity was overjoyed.’ Richard had first seen the final lot, a watercolour by Dame Laura Knight, at a client’s house 15 years ago. ‘Lamorna Cove in south Cornwall was the ideal image for a summer auction in a West Country salesroom,’ he says. It made £11,250 (est £10,000-£15,000).
Rosebery’s – Bill Forrest, Head of Asian Art
The Sale: Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art sale, 21st May 2019
An extra frisson of excitement was added to the first of Roseberys’ Asian art sales this year by the presence of a film crew from China Global Television Network. One of the main focuses was a collection of Chinese scroll paintings. ‘A 19th-century ink and watercolour hanging scroll by Ren Yi, depicting a red crested crane (est £1,000-£1,500) received a volley of bids, taking the final price to £25,000,’ says Bill. The lot of the day came later as he opened the bidding for a set of 14 Korean paintings by Kim Jun-Geun, depicting everyday life in Korea in the late 19th century (est £15,000-£20,000). ‘Only three bidders were interested in this set of paintings, one of whom was in the room. After bidding had risen to £35,000, two phone bidders took seven minutes to get to the hammer price of £92,000.’
Tenants Auctions – Jane Tennant, Director
The Sale: Summer Fine Art Sale, 13th July 2019
Jane Tennant learned auctioneering from her uncle, John and her father, Rodney. ‘I use a rosewood gavel given to me by my father, and every time I climb up to the rostrum I’m immensely proud to be carrying on a family tradition.’ A collection of portrait miniatures from the estate of Mary, Countess of Gainsborough, piqued her interest. ‘Miniatures were carried close to the heart as love tokens, celebrating romantic love or mourning a death.’ For her, the highlight of the 34-lot collection was number 330, a 17th-century oval miniature of a lady with her hair falling over one shoulder by artist Peter Cross, who worked at the royal court and was one of the last miniaturists working in watercolour on vellum. Estimated at £2,000-£4,000, the miniature sold for £5,500 on the day.
Sworders – Guy Schooling, Chairman
The Sale: The Principal Contents of Alderley House, 23rd July 2019
Guy was sitting by a pool in Vietnam when an email arrived asking whether Sworders would be interested in conducting the sale for Alderley House, ‘a dreamy Cotswold country house’. A few weeks later, 60 storage containers turned up at the Essex auction house, containing over 350 items of 19th-century antique furniture, carpets and accessories. On the day, fewer people than normal had registered online and he was a little concerned, but it soon became apparent that the principal bidders were all in the room, attracted by the beauty of the house and its interiors. Highlights included lot 39, an early 19th-century mahogany extending table by J Alder of Cheltenham that made £6,000 (est £2,000-£4,000), and lot 55, a pair of giltwood pier mirrors that went for £5,600 (est £2,000-£4,000), and lot 206, a Kirman carpet c1930, sold for £1,900 (est £200-£400).
Lyon & Turnbull – Theodora Burrell, Specialist in Fine Furniture, Works of Art and Decorative Arts
The Sale: Five Centuries: Furniture, Paintings & Works of Art from 1600, 4th September 2019
Theodora has been auctioning since 2012 at Lyon & Turnbull’s deconsecrated church salesroom, and always uses a small silver gavel owned by one of the directors. Fully equipped, she stepped up to the rostrum to auction around 150 lots in the Five Centuries sale, a quarterly smorgasbord of high-quality old furniture, art and decorative antiques. The sale included a selection of 18th-century glass consigned by the collector Mr G S May. ‘Lot 133, a large Duke of Cumberland engraved glass goblet of the mid 18th century with an anti-Jacobite theme, was special because it was sold by the highly regarded glass dealer and author, Arthur Churchill,’ says Theodora. A tussle ensued with an online bidder winning out after a couple of minutes, paying £18,750 (est £6,000-£8,000) for the gem. ‘I felt really pleased that the goblet was going to a good home in Scotland, to someone passionate about this period of glass.’ A gorgeous Welsh carved fruitwood betrothal wall shelf (lot 212), dated 1778, also caught her eye and sold for £2,750 (est £800-£1,200) to a Welsh collector.
Chiswick Auctions – Adrian Biddell, Head of Paintings & Fine Art
The Sale: British and European Fine Art, 6th March 2019
‘This was my first auction for Chiswick Auctions, after joining in January 2019, and the owner was sitting in the front row,’ recalls Adrian, who is ex-Sotheby’s. This quarterly sale, with its variety of art, is always popular, but interest intensified thanks to lots 114 (pictured) and 115 – two pen and ink sketches of a woodland glade, c1832-35, by John Constable. ‘Part of their appeal was their size (2in x 3in), yet they’re so expressive.’ The artworks belonged to the late playwright Christopher Fry and, after much detective work involving leading Constable experts, their provenance was proved. Two UK phone bidders battled over the treasures. The first sold for £40,000, the second for £75,000 (est £5,000-£8,000 for both).
Special Auction Services – Thomas Forrester, Director
The Sale: Photographica, 23rd July 2019
Thomas, who you’ll recognise from TV’s Bargain Hunt, has been an auctioneer for over 20 years and one of his specialisms is cameras. Last March, he was approached by a Swedish family wanting to consign a very rare 1930s Leica Gun – a camera attached to a rifle-shaped support made at the suggestion of African explorer and wildlife filmmaker Attilio Gatti. ‘The late owner had built up a fantastic collection of Leica and Hasselblad cameras and accessories during the 1950s and 1960s,’ says Thomas. Weighing over 200kg, there was only one way to get the collection to the UK – by car. ‘A colleague and I spent two days getting to Stockholm.’ The family thought the Leica Gun was worth €1,000, but Thomas valued it at £100,000. They were sitting in the front row when he brought the hammer down at £138,000 to a Hong Kong collector.
Cheffins – Martin Millard, Director of Fine Art
The Sale: The Principal Contents of Mawley Hall, 11th September 2019
When the family who owned early 18th-century Mawley Hall in Shropshire decided to sell up, they consigned the principal contents to Cheffins. ‘We see lots of grand houses with beautiful things but to be instructed on such a magnificent property as Mawley Hall was a huge privilege,’ says Martin. Under his hammer went saloon chairs, gilded wall mirrors, desks, consoles, a D-end dining table and cabinets of all kinds. Early on, lot 555, a late 19th-century Ziegler carpet, went way over its estimate of £10,000-£15,000 to make £46,550 – an exciting moment. But it was trounced by lot 601, a George III green lacquer Pembroke table with chinoiserie decoration. ‘It was in less than perfect condition and had a very modest estimate of £200-£400, but bidding quickly escalated,’ says Martin. The little table made an astonishing £26,960, due to speculation that Thomas Chippendale was its maker.
Dawson’s Auctions – Peter Mason, Auctioneer and Valuer
The Sale: A Collection of Martin Brothers Ceramics, 21st September
Back in the summer, Peter Mason told his boss that finding a room full of Martin Brothers ceramics was his holy grail. A week later, his dream came true when he uncovered over 50 pieces in the attic of a Surrey property. ‘Art pottery of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is my thing, and this auction was by far the most thrilling of my career,’ says Peter. On the day, a room full of people and dozens of online bidders steeled themselves to do battle over the 48 lots. The first item (lot 201), a tall mask jug dating to 1912, fetched a buoyant £4,848 (est £1,000-£1,500). A Wally Bird tobacco jar lid c1891 attracted a buyer with a lidless Wally Bird tobacco jar, but sadly wasn’t a match – instead a collector paid £3,062 to add the bird’s head to their hoard. ‘The biggest sale of the day was the Triple Bird Group, c1904, with articulated heads and beautiful glazes,’ says Peter of the star piece that made £40,832 (est £25,000-£35,000). ‘When I came off the rostrum, I phoned the vendors straight away to tell them that the collection had made £152,000 in all. They were delighted, and so was I.’
Bonhams – Charlie Thomas, Director House Sales
The Sale: The Christopher Hodsoll Collection, 1st October 2019
In the autumn, a sale that Charlie had worked on for over six months came to fruition – a hoard of antiques consigned by the interior designer Christopher Hodsoll, from his home, Morville Hall in Shropshire. ‘His collection was full of wonderful treasures, and when I met him in his study he was surrounded by piles of books, Georgian antiques and Victorian curiosities.’ People love a single-owner collection and over 80 bidders turned up on the day, with 11 phone lines booked. Of the 297 lots, two stood out for Charlie. One was lot 154, a naïve painting of Ned Baldry’s ‘shell’ (skewbald) horse dating to the mid 18th century, which made £87,562 (est £40,000-£60,000). And the other, lot 172, a set of six 18th-century glass and brass hurricane lamps that fetched £16,312 (est £600-£800). ‘They were lovely quality and four people wanted them. Auctions are unbelievably unpredictable.’