Our November 2022 edition of Five Centuries featured an exciting selection of rare and unique furniture, paintings and works of art and included specialist collecting areas encompassing clocks, bronzes, ceramics & glass, rugs & carpets.
Ahead of the sale our team chose a few of their favourite things to share as highlights that featured in our auction...
When confronted with a Five Centuries sale so full of variety as our current offering, there are many things that elicit an enthusiastic reaction from me, but the stand-out piece has to be the Jupe’s Action dining table, lot 29. Jupe’s-Action tables are something you see illustrated in furniture history books, and hope one day you might be lucky enough to come across. My delight in bringing this example from Careston Castle to auction is authentic, and I’ve relished the opportunity of exploring the cleverness of the design first-hand. There’s something pleasingly sculptural and modern about the table’s mechanism, and to see it in its open skeletal form reminds me of the wonderful work of the contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, albeit seen through the lens of 1830s Britain. It looks like a table exploding away from its centre, a rather centrifugal kaleidoscope that’s pleasing to the eye, or my eye at least. You can read more about Robert Jupe and the origin of the table design in the note that accompanies the lot description.
- Douglas Girton, Head of Fine Furniture and Works of Art
I’m often drawn to items with a nautical theme, and I was taken with these two Trinity House boxes as soon as I saw them. Presumably by the same maker, one is a rosewood money box, the other a walnut tea caddy. Both are inlaid with two stained marquetry panels. The lower panels depict boats at full sail, with mountains and quaint architectural details in the background. The top of each box is inlaid with a paddle steamer and one flies a flag bearing the name ‘Jane’, while the other flag is inscribed ‘James’. This is a lovely personal touch and suggests that these boxes were specially made or commissioned as gift for two particular people.
The boxes were typically made in the Victorian period by lighthouse keepers, when they had spare time on their hands. They were made to be sold through Trinity House, which was the authority responsible for providing aid to navigation when lighthouses around Britain were manned. Hence the name Trinity House boxes. They were often bought by captains or sailors as a gift for loved ones or sweethearts, after long months spent away at sea. The carcass of the boxes is made of pine which is then applied with attractive veneers in rosewood, walnut, maple or mahogany. The colours of both the veneers and the stained panels in lot 260 are still rich and vibrant. If I owned these boxes I would take such pleasure in them, as they are not only beautiful and finely crafted, but they are functional and could be used and enjoyed in daily life.
- Katherine Wright, Specialist
My favourite item in our forthcoming Five Centuries Sale is Lot 370, a fascinating late 18th / early 19th century brass equinoctial ring dial by Dollond. Not only is it a beautifully crafted tactile object but when used correctly it holds the power of time itself.
In the modern world time is a fixed and constant presence in our lives, it is told to us by our phones and devices whenever we glance at them. So much so in fact that many of us would not even have noticed the changing of the clocks a few weeks ago. In previous centuries however, time had to instead be regularly calculated from nature and then captured in mechanical clocks that tried to preserve it. This was done by using the regular rotation of the earth, marking the movement of the sun through the sky on to a sundial.
A sundial is a device that indicates time by using a light spot or shadow cast by the position of the sun on a reference scale. As the Earth turns on its polar axis, the sun appears to cross the sky from east to west, rising at sun-rise from beneath the horizon to a zenith at mid-day and falling again behind the horizon at sunset. After the invention of the mechanical clock the sundial still maintained its importance well until the 19th century, as it was used to reset them. Before the coming of the railways in the 1840s local time from sundials was used by the government and commerce in that area, making time relative to your location.
The two-ring equinoctial ring dial was invented by the mathematician William Oughtred (1574-1660) and described in his 1652 book on the subject. Unlike horizontal fixed sundials, that are designed for use at a fixed latitude, it can be used anywhere on earth. Leading them to also be known as a traveller’s sundial.
To use the dial, you first have to set the sliding hanger on the top of the outer equinoctial ring so that the index pointer marks the desired latitude. The sliding pinhole gnomon on the bridge is set to the day of year on the calendrical scale and then the bridge positioned to face the sun. With the inner chapter ring fully opened to be perpendicular and holding the device by the hanger (usually on a cord), you rotate it until a beam of sunlight shines through the pinhole and strikes the inside edge of the inner ring. The local solar time is then read directly from the hour scale, indicating the time of day.
The ingenious property of this dial is that it is ‘self-aligning’. If you have set the latitude and calendar sliders correctly, when you rotate it so the beam of light indicates the local solar time it will also be pointing to true north. John Hammond in his book The Practical Surveyor (London, 1725) noted that several types of scientific instrument could calculate time “… but none more readily, more easily or more exactly, than by the Universal Dial”.
As travel around the country increased throughout the 18th into the 19th century, keeping track of time was of great importance for wealthy land owners, merchants or politicians. A traveller could easily find the local latitude in a town hall, tavern or could carry them on a small printed standard table of latitudes for their destinations. By holding an equinoctial ring dial you had the most accurate way to set time within your grasp.
- Harry Fletcher, Specialist
One of my favourite lots is 496, the group of perpetual calendars. This lot is by no means the most expensive, but it appeals for a couple of reasons. They are part of the Bellamy Collection, and the client told me that it was very much part of her morning routine to go round the house and turn each of the calendars, marking the start of a new day. This is nostalgic for me, as it reminds me of my father, when I was growing up, he would wind the clocks every Sunday morning. The second reason is, we live in an age where everything is automatic, there is something therapeutic and refreshing about manually signalling the beginning of another day. The lot includes four good examples in varying styles and materials.
- Katie Hannah, Furniture, Clocks & Works of Art
This is a lovely object that slowly reveals more of its history the longer you look at it. The beautifully carved fruiting vines are very typical for early Imperial Roman urns, which frequently imitated other forms and materials. Urns like this one would have been used for the ashes of the deceased and be displayed in the niches near the family tomb. Vines and fruit such as these are often used to symbolise the defiance of death.
The inscription found on one side seems original at first, honouring Aurelius Timocrates. But if you look into it – or are very familiar with Roman inscriptions - it turns out that this has been copied letter by letter from a plaque in the Villa Corsini in Rome. This likely happened in the 18th century, and as such it bears witness to the growing awareness of and interest in epigraphy among scholars and collectors. Until the cataloguing of ancient inscriptions began to be systematic and comprehensive in the early 19th century it was quite common for antiquities to be enhanced by the addition of false inscriptions. And while it would be unthinkable today, it does add another layer of history to this piece, showing how the treatment of ancient artifacts has evolved over the years.
- Kerstin Schaeffer, Junior Specialist