SILVER BOXES COIN IT AND STRONGBOX GIVES UP ITS SECRET IN THREE-DAY SALE AT THE CANTERBURY AUCTION GALLERIES

05/11/21

Collections of Anglo-Saxon coins and precious silver and enamel boxes were the highlights of the October three-day sale at the The Canterbury Auction Galleries. The former were discovered in a bank vault only after documents were found in the late owner’s park home and after attracting international interest from fellow numismatists, they sold for a staggering £185,000. The latter, a Canterbury lady’s lifetime collection, sold for £42,980. The two collections had been expected to realise £75,000 and £30,000 respectively

The coins were collected by pensioner John Cross, who died last year. He researched Anglo-Saxon and medieval history and was also interested in early buildings and churches. He attended lectures and even held a certificate in archaeological excavation, for which he qualified back in 2010 when he was in his sixties. He was born in 1949.

Records found in his park home near Canterbury showed he amassed his collection over a 20-30 year period, spending particularly freely between 2016 and 2017. It became so extensive and valuable that the coins were held in the bank for safe keeping. The proceeds from the sale will go to the The British Numismatic Society and Friends of Kent Churches, as was his wishes. 

Most valuable single coin in the collection was an extremely rare gold Thrymsa, or shilling, dating from 640-660 and minted in Northumbria or York, which was estimated at £8,000-12,000. It sold for £17,500.

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A silver penny minted in 757-796 showing, Queen of the Mercians and wife of King Offa, sold for £7,400 against an estimate of £1,000-1,500. Cynethryth is the only Anglo-Saxon queen known to have an image on a coin. Offa established his power in Kent in the mid-8th century until Egbert, King of Wessex, defeated the Mercian king Beornwulf in 825. A silver penny from Beornwulf’s short reign from 823-825 sold for £3,000.

Bidders in London, throughout England, Scandinavia, Europe and the United States competed for ownership of just over 100 lots of silver and enamel boxes. Among the most wanted was an elegant early 20th century French 18ct gold card case with chain, probably intended to hold dance cards. Set with an oval royal blue guilloche enamel panel decorated with a spray of flowers in an engine-turned and stylised engraved foliate border, it measured 3.75ins x 2.25ins x.375ins and had retained the cream ivorine fitted case in which it was retailed by Otto Waak of Santiago.

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The case sold for an above estimate £2,300, while another highlight was a charming continental silver gilt and enamel circular box with 1928 import marks for London silversmiths P.H.Vogel & Co., the lid decorated with a Watteauesque scene of lovers and a shepherdess seated in a garden with a dog at their feet, admiring a bird in a cage, watched by two children hiding in a rose bush. Inscribed "Much Love Vera May 1934" in the interior, the box, 5ins diameter x 1.375ins high, weight 12ozs, with pale blue enamel sides, sold on estimate for £2,000. 

The same lady vendor was the owner of an Elizabeth II cast silver stirrup cup by Richard Comyns, (London 1965, 9ozs) modelled as a hound's head, with plain polished collar and gilt interior. Measuring just five inches high, it sold to a North East of England bidder for £2,100 against an estimate of £500-600.

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There were further gratifying surprises for other private vendors in the sale. The owner of a late 19th century Ottoman silver, niello inlaid and engraved terrestrial table globe inherited the fine scientific and decorative piece from his grandfather and was delighted when it sold for £10,600, the London buyer ignoring the £6,000-8,000 guide price. The 12-inch high globe with visible meridian lines was supported in a crescent-shaped mount, supported by a peacock, on a tripod stand terminating in hoof feet on a circular base, fitted with a compass.

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Similarly, an early 18th century Chinese famille verte porcelain punch bowl enamelled in colours with figures and attendants in a landscape, 12ins (30.5cm) diameter x 6ins (15.25cm) high, from a local estate sold to a Far Eastern bidder for £4,100, a multiple of its presale estimate,

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The Canterbury auctions are a constant source of good and rare longcase clocks. A case in point was   a splendid late 17th or early 18th century walnut and marquetry clock, by Brounker Watts, a London maker who had been apprenticed to the great Joseph Knibb, which sold on estimate for £3,600.

The clock had an 11ins square brass dial with silvered chapter ring, matted dial centre with subsidiary seconds dial and date aperture, and cast gilt brass winged angels head spandrels interspersed with engraved leaf ornament. The case sported a hood with overhanging moulded cornice above a fretted frieze and with spiral turned columns, while the door face and moulded edge were inlaid with trailing leaf and floral marquetry, as was the matched panel door with crossbanded borders and circular glass lenticule. Brounker Watts was apprenticed to Knibb from January 1684 to February 1691 and Free of The Clockmakers Company in 1693. He is recorded working in Fleet Street. In 1711, he avoided Stewardship of the Company as he was "Out of Town", He died in 1719.

A timekeeper of smaller proportions but at least as desirable was a stylish Jaeger Le Coultre "Reverso" manual wind wristwatch in an 18ct rose gold case, the black dial with white Arabic numerals, still in its in original box with papers and outer box. It sold on estimate to a local buyer for £3,100.

The vendor of the silver boxes and stirrup cup also consigned the most valuable piece of jewellery in the sale: a modern ruby and diamond ring, the 18ct gold setting featuring a central 5 carat stone flanked by 10 brilliant-cut round diamonds, of approximately 1ct total weight, which sold to a local buyer for £3,000. Another private seller was rewarded with a £2,700 bid from the South of England for an aquamarine and diamond pendant, also modern, the 18ct setting holding an 80ct stone surrounded by 26 square-cut diamonds, of approximately 1ct, while a modern three-stone diamond ring, with three old European cut diamonds, approximately 2.25ct in total, set in 18ct golds sold to another local buyer for £2,200. 

Landscapist John Northcote Nash (1893-1977) has a strong following among collectors, one of whom picked up two watercolours to add to his collection. More valuable of the two was a view of  “Ben Tiannavig”, on the Isle of Skye, signed, 13ins x 17.75ins, which doubled its estimate to sell for £3,000, while an unnamed scene of a hillside track with leafless trees, 8.75ins x 11.75ins, sold on top estimate for £1,500. The latter came from the Laurence John Lee Collection.

Contrasting pieces of furniture showed the diversity of the Canterbury auctions and the buyers they attract. Sold for £3,600 was an early George III beechwood-framed "Gainsborough" library armchair, which, with another example from a later date, came from the 1983 Christie’s sale of the contents of Godmersham Park, Canterbury. They were sold with a guide price of £1,500-2,000, together with a copy of the sale catalogue, and were purchased by a buyer from the South of England. 

Heading in the same direction, and from the other end of the sale’s timeline, was a set of three ergonomically designed chairs designed by Robin Day (1915-2010) for London’s Royal Festival Hall, the concert venue built as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. The chairs, with their plywood backs and wing-like armrests and black lacquered spindly steel rod legs, sold above estimate to another southern buyer for £1,800. The owner had asked for a valuation based on emailed images and was given a guide price of £1,000-1,200.

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Happiest seller over the three days, however, was the visitor to one of the saleroom’s free Friday valuation mornings who arrived carrying the two halves of a giant clam shell (Tridacna Gigas) each over two feet wide and weighing several kilograms. They had been discovered when his aunt’s garden was cleared on her passing and they sold to a West County buyer for £2,700 against an estimate of £1,200-1,800. 

Entries of good quality furniture, antiques, works of art, jewellery and collectors’ items are invited for the pre-Christmas two-day weekend fine art sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries, which is on November 27-28. Public viewing will be on each Wednesday (12.00 to 17.00), Thursday (12.00 to 19.00) and Friday (12.00 to 17.00) prior to each sale (government restrictions allowing), however in line with new working practices the sales will be online only with no viewing or saleroom access on sale days. Bidding is by live internet bid platform, commission bid or telephone (see website). Free saleroom valuations can be arranged, either in person with an appointment or by email (accompanied by good quality images). Valuations for probate purposes are carried out under strict safety conditions. For further information, please contact the saleroom, telephone 01277 763337 or general@tcag.co.uk.

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