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In these days of MP3 players, Ipods and mobile telephones loaded with thousands of songs, spare a thought for the music fan in the 1930’s. In the glory days of the traditional gramophone record, most owners had to wind up a cumbersome machine and adjust a huge flared horn for the best sound. So Colibri, a Belgium manufacturer, devised the innovative portable gramophone in about 1930.
One such machine from a Devon owner will be included in Lawrences’ sale of collectors’ items in Crewkerne in the autumn. “About the size of a box camera, the device measures about 5 inches by 4 inches and weighs a hefty 2 pounds, so the thick leather carrying handle is a necessity,” explains specialist, Simon Jones. “The sturdy metal case opens upon a hinge to reveal a miniature two-part arm which is assembled and mounted upon the sound box. The record is then placed upon a tiny spinning turntable, secured in place with a locking nut to stop it slipping off, the small crank handle is used to wind up the device – and the record player is ready to go!” The auctioneers expect this to make £75-100 but remember that you still need to get hold of some of those old 10-inch acetate records aswell.
A vesta case is a small box for holding matches and a huge collection of them, gathered by a gentleman over a period of nearly half a century, will be a highlight of Lawrences’ silver auction in October. They date from the late 19th Century up to the 1930’s and come in a remarkable variety of shapes. “The Victorians adored novelty silver items,” explains the Crewkerne firm’s silver specialist, Alex Butcher. “Makers loved to devise eye-catching designs. Novelty pieces gave the silversmiths an edge in a competitive marketplace, the unusual cases appealed to the collectors’ love of whimsy and the more unexpected forms gave their owners a curious talking point. Most have a ribbed grille on one edge for striking the match so they are easy to identify.”
The owner is selling his entire collection, totalling almost 700 items. Alex expects to make them into about 150 lots so that similar pieces are grouped together. “The collection began with a single example, given to the owner when he was just a boy, by a doting grandfather,” says Alex. “Since then, it has grown every year with many rare and unusual items adding variety and distinction. There are examples in pure silver, others with enamelled decoration for wealthy collectors, examples made of base metals such as brass and copper which were more affordable, examples made in refined Japanese styles, striking Art Nouveau styles and many bizarre pieces which are not immediately recognisable as vesta cases at all. There are even some vesta cases with saucy themes from the `naughty nineties`. Some of the more inventive designs include cases shaped like a sheep’s head, a revolver, an addressed envelope, a baby in a shawl, a little batch of cigars and a piglet.” [see image]
Estimates range from just a few pounds each up to about £500. “Everyone has room in their collection for a little vesta case,” concludes Alex. “Many are small enough to fit inside a modern matchbox and the awesome variety ensures that there will be something for every taste and every pocket – and a pocket is where a vesta case belongs!”
Two superb pieces of jewellery are expected to sparkle at Lawrences in October. A magnificent cushion-shaped sapphire pendant of a beautiful cornflower blue weighs a mighty 17 carats and the central stone is surrounded by diamonds. “Sapphires are not always inky blue,” comments the firm’s specialist, Miranda Bingham. “This one is a delightfully pale, clear colour and it is also unusually large. We are hoping that it will make £15000-20000.”
“As collectors and investors seek ever more secure ways to invest money in this changeable market, diamonds continue to demand attention,” continues Miranda. “The finest – in terms of colour, clarity, cut and carat weight – are performing remarkably well. An eye-catching 4-carat brilliant-cut solitaire diamond, set on a platinum band, will be amongst the star lots in the same auction. It is estimated at £12000-15000.” Each item comes from West Country vendors and further entries are invited until late August.
Lawrences’ sales of books and manuscripts often reveal the intensity of collectors’ passions and rarity is now the principal determinant in establishing a strong price for something at auction. However, it is not always the academically serious lots that attract the keenest buyers. A group of assorted paper cut-outs, depicting quaintly detailed subjects including a meticulously transcribed Lord’s Prayer, soared to £2500. A similar delight for a child was “The Fairy Favour”, a children’s story from 1791 with lift-up flaps to show the narrative, which made a multiple-estimate £3340. A first edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” (1886), with presentation inscription from the author, took £1970.
In a well-received selection of maps and atlases, a 16th Century map of Palestine by Balthasar Jenichen made a mid-estimate £6200. John Speed’s “The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain” (1676) contained 67 double-page maps. Despite being in rather poor condition (with tears, wormholes, creasing and stains), this lot was bought for £8360. Natural History subjects performed well: James Bolton’s “Harmonia Ruralis” of 1794-1796 made £3340; Lindley & Sweet’s “The Ornamental Flower garden” of 1854 contained 288 colour prints and made £2150; and J. F. Royle’s “Illustrations of the Botany ..of the Himalyan Mountains” was bought for £2680. Robert Sweet’s study of Geraniums (1820-1828) contained 400 hand coloured engravings and blossomed to £2500 [see image 2220].
Other highlights included a 1630 Bible (£1550); a collection of small printed pamphlets relating to Dr. Samuel Johnson (£1900); an album of letters to Col. Sir William Owen (1842-1887) that included examples from the Duke of Wellington, Anthony Trollope, Sir Henry Irving and 160 others (£1910); and an album of assorted printed small military crests from 1893 (£1790).
The real excitement was saved for the final section of the 380-lot sale when a selection of items from the family of Sir Arthur Hodgson (1818-1902) drew keen interest from collectors across the world. Sir Arthur was a pioneer settler in Australia. He travelled to Sydney from Hertfordhsire in 1839 and became a sheep farmer as well as an ambassador for Queensland. His archive included rare and early drawings of Brisbane by his wife Eliza [see image of one, 2381]; numerous early photographs of Australia, showing sheep farming, copper mining and engineering schemes; photographs of Sydney harbour looking undeveloped and effectively deserted, c.1845; Daguerrotype photographs of his family; his account books, lectures and journals; and even his medals, awarded for his prize sheep rearing. Divided into seven lots, the archive attracted intense bidding and exceeded all expectations to realise a total of £49,800