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When it comes to the world of antiques and collectables, it’s not always old paintings and imposing pieces of furniture that perform at auction. Here MD and Head Auctioneer at Staffordshire’s Cuttlestones Auctioneers and Valuers, which has sale rooms in both Penkridge and Wolverhampton, unveils some of the more unusual lots to have sold under his gavel…


Head Auctioneer and MD Ben Gamble

Head Auctioneer and MD Ben Gamble

One of the best things about my job is the sheer diversity – you never know what’s coming through the door next for valuation; or what treasures you’ll uncover during a routine house clearance. Discovering items that go on to perform spectacularly well at auction is a real thrill, but equally exciting is the work that goes into promoting such items to what can often be a very niche target market.


With the advent of the internet, provincial auction houses have been able to spread the word globally regarding unusual or particularly valuable lots and our sale room in certainly no exception, with international bidders using our live online bidding service making up a significant proportion of buyers in our Fine Art and Specialist Collectors sales.


In this feature, I recall just a few of my favourite lots – who knows, perhaps you have something similar hidden away in a drawer somewhere or languishing in the loft?


Traditional treasures

This category covers what most people’s vision of antiques and collectables; items of great beauty, considerable age – or both. From decorative ceramics to paintings, pieces of furniture, jewellery, glassware and items made of precious metals, these object d’art are highly sought after for their aesthetic appeal.


One outstanding piece of this type was an 18th Century mahogany inlaid specimen table discovered during a house clearance. Beautifully inlaid with specimen marbles to the table top, these pieces of furniture were popular during the 18th and 19th century as interest in the natural world and sciences gathered pace. This particularly handsome example realised an impressive £5,800.


Also selling for £5,800 was one of my all time favourite lots; a 16th Century bible published during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. Printed in 1585 by Royal Printer Christopher Barker the leather bound volume, entitled ‘The Holy Byble, the Newe Testament’ was of exceptional quality and a fine example of a family bible of the era.  In addition to being rare it was also a particularly beautiful piece featuring exquisite calligraphy. As such, it attracted International interest and eventually sold to a bidder on the phone.


While not many families can claim an Elizabethan bible as an heirloom, smaller pieces of value such as silverware can attract just as much interest. One such example was a collection of 24 silver babies’ rattles some Victorian, some Georgian and all originating from a single private collector. Split into fifteen lots, they achieved a total in excess of £5,000.


'Nude Girl with Death’s Head’ by renowned Scottish artist David McClure sold for £8000

‘Nude Girl with Death’s Head’ by renowned Scottish artist
David McClure sold for £8000

Modern masters

While classification as an antique can certainly add to an item’s appeal, there is still a healthy market for more modern pieces; the deciding factor when it comes to success at auction is quality and rarity as opposed to age. This is illustrated perfectly by a modern painting by the 20th century Scottish artist David McClure that was consigned to auction with us in May 2010. Entitled ‘Nude Girl with Death’s Head’ the 102cm x 127cm canvas, which had been in private hands since the vendor purchased it at an Edinburgh exhibition in 1971, achieved £8,000; one of the highest prices ever paid for a piece by this prolific artist.


Items with a tale to tell

For many collectors, an item’s provenance is as important as its age or beauty. These lots with a tale to tell make up some of the most interesting we have the privilege to sell, and their sheer diversity is as fascinating as their individual back stories.


Proving that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder a fairly innocuous looking stoneware pig, discovered in a drawer during a house clearance in Stoke-on-Trent, sold for a cool £3,800. While opinion among most who viewed the item was either ‘love it or hate it’ given its folk art styling, what set this piece apart from the crowd was that it originated from the Anna Pottery in Union County, Illinois in the US.


Run by brothers Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick, the Anna Pottery produced folk art between 1859 and 1896, with the pigs in particular used as ‘messengers’ with opinions on Politics, Corrupt tax revenuers and the temperance movement engraved on them.


Each pig was unique and, in this particular example, the topic centred around the Railway Industry with the motto “St Louis the future capital in a latest and only reliable Railroad and River guide with a little good old Bourbon in a hogs by ‘Anna Pottery’” inscribed on its side. As with any item dating to the Civil War era US, the lot generated huge interest on the phone lines and internet and eventually sold to an American bidder.


Auctioneer Ben Gamble with the Machin cast, which sold for £18,000

Auctioneer Ben Gamble with the
Machin cast, which sold for £18,000

Closer to home the clearance of Garmelow Manor, the Staffordshire base of the late British artist and sculptor Arnold Machin, uncovered a truly iconic item. While Machin’s name may not be broadly known, he created the most reproduced piece of artwork in the world; the cameo image of Queen Elizabeth II as it appears on stamps across the UK and commonwealth. A plaster cast of the image that has appeared on over 2 billion stamps since it was originally crafted in 1967 was discovered in Machin’s studio and sold for over £15,000 to a London institute.


Following the success of this sale a second, almost identical, plaster cast was consigned to us for auction by a friend of the late artist and sold for the princely sum of £18,000.


Another example of items celebrating a local hero was a collection of medals awarded to 1920s footballer Charlie Wilson for his achievements both on the pitch and in battle as a pilot during WWI. Born in Atherston, Derbyshire and later residing in Stafford Charlie played for Tottenham Hotspur, Huddersfield Town and Stafford Rangers during his remarkable career. The unique collection attracted huge pre-sale interest, with some seventy telephone lines booked and over a hundred registered on-line bidders and, split into five lots, achieved a total of £16,550.


Last, but certainly not least, of my favourite lots with a history are those related to the White Star Line; the company that, during the heyday of ocean liner cruising, counted the ill-fated Titanic among its fleet. While items directly linked to the Titanic are incredibly rare and, as such, command astronomical sums some of the great ship’s tragic romance has rubbed off on anything related to the White Star Line. Since we initially sold a set of six cups on behalf of a charity in 2010 for just under £1000 we have been approached by vendors up and down the country looking to sell White Star Line items; including a set of four egg cups that sold earlier this year for £1,800.


Exotic delights

While the word ‘souvenir’ has, over time, developed unfortunate associations with cheap, mass-produced items aimed at tourists there are items originally brought as mementoes from travels overseas that are real exceptions to the rule.


One slightly macabre example is a pair of Fijian war clubs which, crafted from solid hard wood, would inflict serious damage on anyone unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a blow. They sold for £900and £1,100 respectively.


On a somewhat lighter note, a beautifully intricate Vizagapatam Anglo-Indian ivory and horn games box, believed to date from the mid-19th Century and taking the form of two closed books; intricately decorated with ivory and carving sold for £6,500 to an online bidder from the US.


When you consider the sheer diversity that this tiny cross section of the lots we see come through our doors represents, it’s well worth taking a second look at that dusty old painting or piece of pottery that you inherited from a great aunt but can’t bear to have on display – you never know what it might be worth!


For further information on Cuttlestones’ range of services or to arrange a free valuation call 01785 714905.

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