Telling tales and mak­ing sales

If you know where to look in the sale­room, there are plenty of lots with in­trigu­ing pasts, from loyal toasts to royal boats

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

AL­MOST noth­ing to do with the col­lier Betsy Cains is clear cut, ex­cept her end; she struck the Black Mid­den rocks off Tynemouth on Fe­bru­ary 17, 1827, and broke up, helped by sou­venir hun­ters, soon af­ter­wards. The name is some­times given as Bet­sey Cairns. By some ac­counts, she was orig­i­nally Charles II’S yacht the Princess Mary, which per­haps be­came the Saint Anna, oth­er­wise known as the Anna Will­helmina, and, thanks to cap­tures, saw ac­tion in Bri­tish, French and Prus­sian ser­vice dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary and Napoleonic Wars.

The rea­son that the Betsy Cains still ex­cites buy­ers of those sou­venirs is the claim that, in 1688, the RY Princess Mary had car­ried Wil­liam of Orange to Tor­bay when he in­vaded Eng­land.

In July, one of the snuff­boxes carved from sal­vaged tim­ber from the wreck by Fran­cis John­son of North Shields for mem­bers of Tynemouth town coun­cil (Fig 2) was sold for £1,612 by Lawrences, Crewk­erne, fol­low­ing con­sid­er­able in­ter­est from North­ern Ir­ish Orange Lodges. It had been es­ti­mated to £160 by the auc­tion­eers, who noted that the leg­end was ques­tion­able.

In­deed, it is. Wil­liam is clearly doc­u­mented as hav­ing in­vaded aboard the frigate Brill. Fur­ther­more, it was es­tab­lished as long ago as 1911 that there never was a RY Princess Mary. There were, how­ever two Marys. The first, built in 1660, had ac­tu­ally been used by Wil­liam on vis­its to his un­cle, Charles II, but had been wrecked off An­gle­sey in 1675.

Two years later, a new Mary was launched and this one did bring Wil­liam’s wife, by then Queen Mary, over from Am­s­ter­dam in 1689.

Un­for­tu­nately, even though she sur­vived to a great age, this sec­ond Mary can­not have be­come the Betsy Cains ei­ther, as she was bro­ken up in 1816. It is more likely that the Betsy Cains had for­merly been the much cap­tured Anna, which also seems to have been a Mary at some point. The adage that it is un­chancy to change a ship’s name seems to be borne out. How­ever, the sec­ond Mary yacht is still mak­ing waves. She was painted sev­eral times by the van de Veldes and, a week be­fore the snuff­box sale, the younger Willem van de Velde’s 49¾in by 70in can­vas The English Royal Yacht Mary about to fire a salute (Fig 1) was sold for £812,750 at Sotheby’s in London. It is an el­e­ment in a court case be­fore the Supreme Court of the State of New York in­volv­ing the widow of the 4th Vis­count Ham­ble­den, great­grand­son of the founder of the re­tailer W. H. Smith.

The court is seek­ing the ex­tra­di­tion of Ti­mothy Sam­mons, a May­fair art dealer and for­mer Sotheby’s spe­cial­ist, who is ac­cused of run­ning a ‘Ponzi scheme’, ac­quir­ing paint­ings, in­clud­ing the van de Velde, against an ad­vance, and then sell­ing them for much more with­out in­form­ing the clients.

Lady Ham­ble­den claims the van de Velde was among at least 14 of these works. Mr Sam­mons, who has been de­clared bank­rupt, de­nies all charges and is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion.

Two un­doubted royal relics also came to auction dur­ing the sum­mer. In Ed­in­burgh in mid Au­gust, Lyon & Turn­bull took £25,000 for a bro­ken wine glass (Fig 4). It was a sim­ple 18th­cen­tury teardrop glass from which Bon­nie Prince Char­lie is said to have drunk a toast to his fa­ther while on his way to take Ed­in­burgh in 1745.

The stem was then snapped so that no lesser toast could be drunk from it, but Pa­trick Mur­ray, a gold­smith in nearby Stir­ling, was com­mis­sioned to pro­vide a new sil­ver foot, which was en­graved ‘God blis King James the Eight’.

Mur­ray was not only a smith —a hand­ful of marked pieces are known—but also a JP and Sher­iff-clerk of Stir­ling. He was also a Ja­co­bite and signed up with Lord Ge­orge Mur­ray’s Brigade, how­ever, he sur­ren­dered or was cap­tured soon af­ter and, on Novem­ber 15, 1746, he was among the last batch of pris­on­ers to be hung, drawn and quar­tered on Harraby Hill, Carlisle.

Pre­sum­ably, the sever­ity of the sen­tence was due to his hav­ing held public of­fice. He was buried with his fel­lows in St Cuth­bert’s, Carlisle.

No blood at­tached to a Vic­to­rian am­boyna wood and spec­i­men mar­ble ta­ble (Fig 5) sold for £6,720 by El­dreds of Ply­mouth in July. It came from the very crowded house of the late Sir Owen Mor­shead, Royal Li­brar­ian from 1926 to 1958— at first, a stamped crown, in­scrip­tion ‘VR 1866 Wind­sor Cas­tle Room 233’ and in­ven­tory la­bel un­der the pedestal were over­looked. When they were no­ticed, the ini­tial £500 es­ti­mate was dou­bled.

The Mor­sheads had lived in a grace-and-favour house while at Wind­sor and their own fur­ni­ture was stored by the Lord Cham­ber­lain’s de­part­ment. How­ever, some pieces were lost and this ta­ble was given them in compensation.

An­other item that did well de­spite dam­age was in a July sale at Halls in Shrews­bury. An 18th-cen­tury, 141 ∕3in-di­am­e­ter Chi­nese ex­port ‘Hongs of Can­ton’ punch­bowl (Fig 3), finely decorated en gri­saille with the bustling wa­ter­front and the be-flagged Euro­pean Hongs on the Pearl River, had been dropped at some time and, in the auc­tion­eer Jeremy La­mond’s words ‘pass­ably re­stored’.

Among the na­tional flags was an early Stars and Stripes, which boosted in­ter­est and pushed the price to £33,480.

Next week A very long bow in­deed

Fig 1: Willem van de Velde’s The English Royal Yacht Mary about to fire a salute. £812,750

Fig 2: Snuff­box made from the sal­vaged tim­bers of the Betsy Cains. £1,612

‘Hongs of Can­ton’ punch­bowl show­ing an early Stars and Stripes. £33,480

Wine glass bro­ken af­ter use by Bon­nie Prince Char­lie with added sil­ver foot. £25,000

Fig 3:

Fig 4:

Fig 5: Vic­to­rian am­boyna wood and spec­i­men mar­ble ta­ble orig­i­nally from Wind­sor Cas­tle. £6,720

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