It’s been a year to trea­sure

Nottingham Post - - UNDER THE HAMMER - with Nigel Kirk, of Mel­lors & Kirk auc­tion­eers

AS we get ready for our last sale of 2018 on Wed­nes­day, this week I look back at some of the items that have fea­tured in Un­der the Ham­mer re­cently, high­lights from the Au­tumn Fine Art Sale, and con­sider the ups and downs in de­mand for an­tiques and col­lecta­bles in an un­cer­tain cli­mate.

The most talked-about item to go un­der the ham­mer in the auc­tion was also one of the small­est.

Selling for a huge £8,000 to a Dutch col­lec­tor, a tiny brass sim­ple mi­cro­scope - so small it sat in the palm of my hand - was made in 1743.

True, it may not look much like most peo­ple’s idea of a mi­cro­scope but in its day it was far from cheap. It is, un­usu­ally, a com­bi­na­tion of brass and sil­ver, the pre­cious metal used for the scale of di­vi­sions and name­plate of the maker Ge­orge Lind­say of Lon­don.

An ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery at a re­cent val­u­a­tion event in Mel­ton Mow­bray our ini­tial, on the spot cau­tious es­ti­mate was £800-£1,200, made be­fore notic­ing, al­most hid­den from view, its early se­rial num­ber 16. It was in­tended to be mounted on a stand and would orig­i­nally have had a num­ber of ac­ces­sories.

Vin­tage op­ti­cal in­stru­ments of all ages are selling for high prices and in the same sale a small group of Vic­to­rian to mid-20th cen­tury cam­era lenses sold to a host of English and for­eign buy­ers for al­most £8,500. Not so long ago the whole lot would have been worth £300-£500.

An­other auc­tion lot to soar, if no longer lit­er­ally, was the 1939 pro­pel­ler from a World War Two RAF Hur­ri­cane aero­plane. From a gar­den shed in Long Ea­ton, where it had been since the early 1960s, it fetched £2,000.

Not in the great­est con­di­tion, it was bought by the lead­ing spe­cial­ist re­stor­ers of vin­tage air­craft Hawker Restora­tion, a fit­ting home.

Won­der­ing if it will ever take to the air again, I was re­lieved to hear the buy­ers con­firm that it will not. With sym­pa­thetic con­ser­va­tion the pro­pel­ler will be­come a trea­sured and totemic sym­bol of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

Raleigh de­signer Alan Oak­ley’s fa­mous ‘back of en­ve­lope’ sketch for the best­selling Chop­per bike sold for £850 to a West Mid­lands col­lec­tor. The same col­lec­tor also car­ried off the fol­low­ing lot, a se­lec­tion of Raleigh fac­tory re­ports, blue­prints, let­ters and even a pho­to­graph of Alan show­ing Princess Mar­garet the firm’s gleam­ing range of mod­ern cy­cles on a royal visit to Not­ting­ham.

The fa­mous late restau­ra­teur Imo­gen Skirv­ing, who trag­i­cally died in a road ac­ci­dent in 2016, had a keen eye for fine art and in­te­rior de­sign, as any­one who has been to Lan­gar Hall will tell you.

A lovely bright pic­ture of the sunny gar­den at Charleston (the Sus­sex home of the Blooms­bury Group in the early 20th cen­tury) by Vanessa Bell was ac­quired by the 26-year-old Imo­gen from a Lon­don gallery in 1963. It was snapped up by an on­line bid­der for £14,500.

I hardly imag­ined one of Mel­lors & Kirk’s cat­a­logues would fea­ture a glo­ri­ous pic­ture by Rubens but the op­por­tu­nity came when a pair of sil­ver can­dle­sticks made in An­twerp in the 1630s ar­rived at The Auc­tion House.

Bought re­cently at auc­tion for al­most a song, the coat of arms with which they were en­graved was that of the Goubau fam­ily, pa­trons of the great painter, lead­ing cit­i­zens and Burge­meesters of An­twerp with sev­eral homes.

Noth­ing is known of the can­dle­sticks’ his­tory for the in­ter­ven­ing 350 or so years but the con­di­tion was so good that they could have been made last week. They would have adorned the al­tar of a pri­vate fam­ily chapel of the Goubau and sold to a phone bid­der for £11,000.

A fear­some weapon from a house in Not­ting­ham Park was the Fi­jian root­wood-beaked bat­tle ham­mer or to­tokia. Known to date from be­fore 1900 when it was ac­quired by an an­ces­tor of the seller, it made £1,800.

One very lucky lit­tle boy (I as­sume) would have been thrilled with a top qual­ity Bas­sett-lowke lo­co­mo­tive.

Not just any old en­gine but the Fly­ing Scots­man and nor was it clock­work pow­ered but the most ex­pen­sive ver­sion with an AC elec­tric mo­tor.

Still in its box I doubt it had ever been run round a lay­out. It went to an ap­pre­cia­tive new (very grown-up) owner for £800.

Low in­ter­est rates and fi­nan­cial in­sta­bil­ity have driven up prices for fine art and many col­lec­tors’ items and that looks set to con­tinue. So too does the con­tin­ued ar­rival of items of greater and lesser value, his­toric or artis­tic in­ter­est and just the odd and un­usual from down­siz­ers or fam­i­lies in­clud­ing those try­ing to fund care for the el­derly.

But with much bet­ter in­for­ma­tion, own­ers de­mand not only a friendly, pro­fes­sional ser­vice but con­sid­er­able ex­per­tise, which is es­sen­tial for per­suad­ing those that buy on­line to bid with con­fi­dence.

Auctions are end­lessly in­ter­est­ing, ex­cit­ing and of­ten very en­ter­tain­ing in a the­atri­cal way but not or at least should not be chaotic or com­i­cal.

This is an in­dus­try, as are many oth­ers, which can­not pre­pare for Brexit or non-brexit what­ever dire warn­ings to do so em­anate from the Bank of Eng­land or politi­cians.

Auc­tion­eers ex­ist to ob­tain the high­est pos­si­ble price for the seller and it is (usu­ally) up to them when they de­cide to sell!

■ See more from the auc­tion house at www.mel­lor­sand­kirk.com

Left, this paint­ing of the gar­den at Charleston by Vanessa Bell was owned by Imo­gen Skirv­ing. Above, the early Alan Oak­ley sketch which be­came the Raleigh Chop­per. Right, This brass sim­ple mi­cro­scope was made in 1743. Be­low, This Hawker Hur­ri­cane pro­pel­ler found in a Long Ea­ton shed sold for £2,000. The two-bladed pro­pel­ler was suc­ceeded by a three-blade ver­sion.

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