WHEN valuing a piece of furniture in the clutter of a client’s poorly lit home, quality can be difficult to gauge. Like most auction house specialists, James Lees, at Banbury-based Holloways (15% buyer’s premium) admits there have been times he has subsequently doubted his initial appraisals.
One such occasion was when he recently viewed the pair of Regency simulated bamboo library armchairs and matching footstool, right, in the home of a private Oxford vendor.
Although Mr Lees could find no reference to the F.McKe stamp on their frames, he felt sure a master London craftsman had made them as a special commission.
Fashioned to imitate 2 1/2in (6.5cm) thick knuckled bamboo shoots, this turned, gessoed, painted and parcel-gilt birch furniture was, Mr Lees felt, something special.
Nevertheless, he put a modest £800-1200 estimate on the furniture before he alerted a number of potential buyers, sure that bidding would go considerably higher. “The vendor didn’t like the chairs because she thought they were uncomfortable,” he said, hinting at why his tempting estimate had been acceptable. “But,” he added, “I was always going to be disappointed if they made under £4000.”
For a while, it looked as if he was going to be disappointed as his enthusiasm did not appear to be shared by collectors and dealers during viewing. But on the day there was enough interest from the local trade for a London dealer on the phone to have to go to £11,800 to secure the set.
The chairs were the undisputed highlight in the 377-lot Oxfordshire outing on March 9, but a notable £2300 was also bid by a private buyer for a large decorative Victorian Gothic architectural bookcase fitment.
Recently purchased at a local auction for £150 by the private vendor, it needed extensive restoration, but was a perfect fit for the buyer’s office.
A major London period furniture dealer went to £2300 for a Heals Art Deco walnut desk for his personal collection, while one of the most unusual entries was an Ashanti tribe ceremonial stool from Africa’s Gold Coast. Originally made for a Mma Dora – an unmarried female official of the tribe – it took a winning £460 from an Oxfordshire buyer.