True value re­vealed at auc­tion

If there were mul­ti­ple bid­ders for your lot and you didn’t get tempted into a crazy bid­ding war, then you can be fairly sure you haven’t paid too much, says Roger Field

The Field - - Country Estate | Under The Hammer -

Ac­cepted wis­dom is that an auc­tion is the best fo­rum for dis­cov­er­ing the true value of an ob­ject. Shop own­ers can ask what­ever they hope to get away with but while most folk are not fools and over­priced pieces usu­ally re­main col­lect­ing dust, on the right day who knows what some­one will pay? con­versely, if it was you who flashed your plas­tic in that em­po­rium, you may end up fret­ting that you were the only mug in the world will­ing to pay that price for that piece.

At least with an auc­tion, es­pe­cially if there were mul­ti­ple bid­ders, as long as you and the un­der-bid­der did not get into a crazy twop­er­son bid­ding bat­tle – it hap­pens! – you have the con­so­la­tion of know­ing that oth­ers wanted it at near the win­ning bid, which, surely, means you can­not be that bonkers? Or, if yours is the only bid on bot­tom es­ti­mate (or lower) then, given the auc­tion ‘ex­pert’ set a

sen­si­ble es­ti­mate, you should not have gone too far wrong. You may even have snagged a bar­gain.

Not nec­es­sar­ily, how­ever, be­cause what is any an­tique ac­tu­ally worth? prop­erty has a base value: we need some­where to live. cars: some­thing to drive. Fur­ni­ture, even: some­where to put stuff and some­thing to sit on. But – and ask the fe­male con­tin­gent in this house – do I re­ally ‘need’ a suit of 16th-cen­tury euro­pean armour or an an­cient Ja­panese sword?

though we clearly need de­cent guns in good work­ing or­der that fit us prop­erly to shoot safely and straight, fash­ions for guns change and with them their per­ceived value. Mean­ing that most of this won­der­ful stuff I tell you about each month is only worth what some­one is will­ing to pay on the day. In fact, some ar­eas of col­lect­ing are so es­o­teric that it only needs two com­peti- tive ob­ses­sives for them, prob­a­bly with­out real­is­ing it, to be­come the mar­ket. So, while the trade pa­pers trum­pet a me­te­oric rise in value of what­ever these col­lec­tors are fu­ri­ously fight­ing over – in the 1980s early wheel-lock firearms were highly soughtafter un­til some col­lec­tors went AWOL, and we are only now back to those long-ago prices – it might take just one of them to stop buy­ing for what­ever rea­son – death, divorce, a new pas­sion – for prices to col­lapse. What value those ob­jects then?

Or, Gov­ern­ment pol­icy changes. It looks as if the Ivory Bill, which will ban the sale of most ivory (see Ivory own­ers: a crim­i­nal class?, Oc­to­ber is­sue), will be­come law circa April 2019. Sworders are re­ported as say­ing

that ivory ob­jects are now fetch­ing be­tween 33% and 50% of what they were be­fore the ban was an­nounced. The sit­u­a­tion is stark. If you may need to sell your ivory heir­looms, do so now, while deal­ers can still buy them and ship them abroad, be­cause af­ter that date, un­less an ob­ject is prop­erly reg­is­tered un­der an ex­emp­tion, it will have no mon­e­tary value. Con­versely, it is pos­si­ble that reg­is­tered and thus trade­able ivory may end up be­ing worth even more be­cause of its rar­ity.

Whether the ‘ex­cep­tional’ pair of 12-bore J Purdey & Sons, Wez Tal­lett en­graved, sin­gle-trig­ger, ‘ul­tra-round’, over-and-un­der side­lock ejec­tors, which sold at Holts on 20 Septem­ber for a mid-es­ti­mate £160,000, were val­ued more highly for be­ing made for Eric ‘Slow­hand’ Clap­ton in 2004 is prob­a­bly moot. Clap­ton could af­ford the best and these were ab­so­lute beau­ties in su­perb con­di­tion.

How­ever, I can hardly imag­ine, had I bought them, con­fid­ing to the sort of shoot folk I mix with that these be­longed to the leg­endary rocker as no doubt ev­ery­one, beat­ers in­cluded, would be air-gui­tar­ing me wher­ever I went and then wet­ting them­selves laugh­ing as I demon­strated just how ‘slow’ my hands are com­pared with his. Nor, sadly, in the same sale, would my buy­ing Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s Colt .38, Model 1902, semi-au­to­matic pis­tol help me to pen words as ex­pertly as the great man once did. I wish it were oth­er­wise.

Sir Arthur had a younger brother, Innes, who joined the Army and served in var­i­ous wars. It seems likely that this weapon first be­longed to him and, on his death in 1919, it was given to Sir Arthur who then stored it with his so­lic­i­tor when the Firearms Act was first in­tro­duced in 1920. Whether that prove­nance helped it reach its £4,000 lower es­ti­mate is, again, a mys­tery, but I reckon it would be a fab thing for a sport­ing writer to own; much more fun than his desk or pen.

While we are still mired in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions – who knows what will, or will not, have hap­pened by the time you read this – we can thank the auc­tion houses for bring­ing us stir­ring re­minders of our glo­ri­ous naval past.

First out of the blocks, at Adams in Ire­land on 15 Oc­to­ber, and prov­ing that just be­cause some­thing is brown and made of wood it can­not be pi­geon­holed as ‘brown fur­ni­ture’, was the ‘Ar­mada Ta­ble’. Made from tim­bers, in­clud­ing heraldic lions and the fig­ures of Hope and Char­ity, taken from the stern of a Span­ish galleon that sank off the coast of County Clare in 1588, this splen­did 8ft-long re­fec­tory ta­ble spent the first 300 years of its do­mes­tic life in Dro­moland Cas­tle. It was es­ti­mated at €100,000 to €200,000, but some­thing this emo­tive will be trea­sured as long as we re­mem­ber the Span­ish Ar­mada. Lit­tle sur­prise it soared to €360,000.

Charles Miller on 6 Novem­ber had a re­minder that Pres­i­dent Trump might have had some­thing of a point – though he doubt­less for­got that France sup­ported rev­o­lu­tion­ary Amer­ica – when ad­mon­ish­ing Pres­i­dent Macron in a tweet for want­ing to build a Euro­pean army to ‘pro­tect’ it­self from Amer­ica. There was a rather jolly oil paint­ing – though rather ‘flat’, which might ex­plain it sell­ing for £3,500, un­der its £4,000 lower es­ti­mate – de­pict­ing The Cap­ture of the USS

Pres­i­dent by HMS Endymion, 15th Jan­uary, 1815, known as the War of 1812 be­tween the US and Bri­tain. If you think we are hav­ing spats with our cousins over the Pond to­day, this paint­ing puts a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on that spe­cial re­la­tion­ship.

A Union flag that should stir the hearts of all good Brits was hauled past its top £2,500 es­ti­mate to sell for £3,600. Its hinged wooden box had a brass plate that states: “This en­sign was worn in HMS Duke of York on 26th De­cem­ber 1943, dur­ing the ac­tion in which the Ger­man bat­tle cruiser ‘Sharn­horst’ [sic] was sunk.” This was the bat­tle of North Cape and Duke of York was the flag­ship of the Bri­tish, Nor­we­gian and Cana­dian Force hunt­ing the mighty Ger­man bat­tle­ship. Fought up in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, I can hardly be­gin to imag­ine the hor­ror of a bat­tle to the death in such hos­tile wa­ters. Of the Scharn­horst’s crew of 1,968, only 36 sur­vived. A flavour of what the Ger­man ship might have looked like in all her ter­ri­fy­ing glory came from the paint­ing used by Air­fix (re­mem­ber those mod­els we all used to make?) on the box of the Graf Spee, which was de­feated (and sub­se­quently scut­tled) by the Royal Navy in 1939 at the Bat­tle of the River Plate, be­tween Uruguay and Ar­gentina. There is noth­ing ‘flat’ about this all-ac­tion paint­ing by Roy Cross and, prob­a­bly be­cause a cou­ple of ‘boys’ re­mem­ber glu­ing that ship to­gether, it trounced its £2,000 to £3,000 es­ti­mate at Vec­tis on 28 Au­gust, sell­ing for £8,500.

There is some­thing time­less about an an­cient and beau­ti­ful coin and Mor­ton

& Eden did not dis­ap­point on 24 Oc­to­ber. What horse lover would not covet the ‘Greek’ (al­beit from Si­cily), circa 320BC to 300BC sil­ver tetradrachm (the size of a 10p piece) with the sen­su­ous de­pic­tion of three­quar­ters of a horse’s head on the re­verse?

In ‘ex­tremely fine’ (al­most per­fect) con­di­tion, it looks as if the head was drawn yes­ter­day by a fine equine artist. How­ever, it is coin col­lec­tors rather than art en­thu­si­asts who buy these things and it sold un­der its £4,000 bot­tom es­ti­mate for £3,800.

Or, from Italy, circa 390BC, one for cat­tle con­nois­seurs: a sil­ver stater (smaller than a 20p piece) with a de­pic­tion of a charg­ing bull on the re­verse – that bull is right there, stomp­ing and strain­ing, 2,400 years later.

With this ex­am­ple there is the ad­di­tional de­light of the hel­meted god­dess Athena star­ing re­gally from the front of the coin, a por­trait that would look thor­oughly con­tem­po­rary on our coinage to­day, though made at a time when our an­ces­tors had yet to work out what a coin even was. That was to take an­other cou­ple of hun­dred years and the ar­rival of the Ro­mans. It too sold just un­der its low es­ti­mate for £14,000.

I’ve al­ways thought of the Ti­betans as peace-lov­ing Bud­dhists, how­ever, a splen­didly grue­some ob­ject at Duke’s on 12 Novem­ber got me wondering: a 19th-cen­tury ‘ka­pala’ – a hu­man skull, mounted with sil­ver dragon and skull mo­tifs. This though is no head-hunter’s tro­phy; in­stead, the skull would have come from a sky burial site – where dead bod­ies are bro­ken up and left for the vul­tures and scav­engers to de­vour and, in so do­ing, re­turned to the cy­cle of life – and used in re­li­gious cer­e­monies. It popped its top £1,000 es­ti­mate to sell for £1,100.

The ‘Ar­mada Ta­ble’ is carved from tim­bers from the stern of a Span­ish galleon that sank off the coast of County Clare in 1588

Above: Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s Colt .38 Model 1902 Right: J Purdey & Sons’ 12-bore, sin­gle-trig­ger, overand-un­der side­lock ejec­tors made for Eric Clap­ton

Clock­wise from top: Union flag from HMS Duke of York; Graf Spee paint­ing by Roy Cross; coins de­pict­ing god­dess Athena and a charg­ing bull; a paint­ing of The Cap­ture of the USS Pres­i­dent by HMS Endymion in 1815

This 19th-cen­tury ‘ka­pala’ – a hu­man skull fea­tur­ing sil­ver dragon and skull mo­tifs – was taken from a sky burial site. It fetched £1,100 when sold at Dukes in Novem­ber

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