Secretaires

When our habits change the furniture and furnishings we surround ourselves with also change. A sad truth of modern life is that many eat their meals in the comfort of an arm chair beside the television and so demand for the dining table diminishes. A similar fate effects the secretaire and the bureau. In the age of emails and the internet few need the writing surface or book storage they provide any more.

I fully appreciate that in the modern home a large piece of ‘brown’ furniture that serves no useful purpose will not be on many lists of intended purchases, but it just seems such a shame for the poor old secretaire. What a wonderful piece of furniture it is.

During the 18th century the most fashionable item of writing furniture was the bureau, but the chest with a straight fronted writing drawer continued to be an alternative. Two buttons at each side of the drawer dropped the front to reveal a writing interior every bit as exciting as that of the bureau. The secretaire drawer gradually increased in depth and the chest was often surmounted by a bookcase.

The usefulness of the secretaire bookcase or secretaire cabinet ensured that it continued to be made throughout the 19th century, with infinite variations of detail in the style of pediments, glazing patterns and surface decoration.

The French developed the secretaire à battant in the late 18th century and it is generally considered more sophisticated than the British version. It was a full, flat, fall front cabinet, resting on a chest of drawers or cupboard, often constructed as one piece rather than two separate. As with everything though, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Pembroke Tables

The Dowse Chest. This is a chest of drawers named after a twentieth century auctioneer from Sheffield who commissioned a chest of drawers with special handles and a new design of drawer closing. Through the following centuries the chest was always referred to as the Dowse Chest, with auction house catalogues using its proper name. I wonder just how special that would be. My grandfather has a street named after him, but this would be a piece of furniture.

All fantasy (except Dowse Avenue) but it makes you wonder how excited Lady Pembroke must have been, or perhaps she took it all in her stride. The history books never tell us that do they.

The use of a proper name in the description of a piece of furniture usually derives from an original commission and in this case the Countess of Pembroke required a “type of breakfast table with small drop leaves” and that is what she ordered. Eating breakfast from her table must have done her a power of good, because born in 1737, she continued to eat breakfast until her death, in her nineties, in 1831.

The Pembroke table is exactly as the Countess described. The drop leaves are usually about half the size of the top and four legs support the top, which usually boasts a drawer and a dummy drawer. Later, in George III reign, some Pembroke tables had a centre pedestal instead of four legs.

The Pembroke table is a very useful and an often underrated item. It can be used as a decorative side table, displaying ornaments and photographs, or as a small dining table seating four in comfort. This table was made from the mid 18th century and continued through the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Marbles

In the Forsyte Saga I remember Soames arriving home from a stroll and bemoaning the fact that nobody wore the correct hat for walking in the park anymore. Standards are slipping he said. I wonder what Mr Soames Forsyte would feel about my baseball cap and more to the point what would he think about the fact that nobody plays marbles anymore.

As a schoolboy I loved playing marbles and I worry that today’s child is missing the breathtaking excitement of the roll. However marbles have now become a popular collectors item.

Collectors look for marbles displaying complex patterns, the more complex and colourful, the more valuable. Symmetrical patterns and size also add a premium. Sulphides, which are clear marbles with a figural insert, are amongst the most popular

Probably the most desirable marbles are handmade, mostly German, from circa 1850 until World War One. They were made from brightly coloured glass rods that created swirling patterns of colour. The different patterned marbles created are known by different names including swirls, onionskins and corkscrews.

The telltale sign of a handmade marble is the slightly rough area called a pontil mark. This is the mark left when the marble is removed from the glass rod. It is important to distinguish these from the machine made examples coming from America after World War Two.

Machine made marbles are still very popular today, partly due to the scarcity and expense of handmade examples but also because of childhood nostalgia; many of today’s collectors played with these American marbles when they were young.

Manufacturers to look out for include Akro Agate Company, M. F. Christensen & Son and the Peltier Glass Company, but the exact value of individual marbles can vary enormously. Collectors are also beginning to take an interest in the innovative marble makers of today, especially as the Internet auction market booms.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Burleigh Ware Jugs

I have noticed lately that in many ‘trendy’ coffee shops these days there are very few handles on the milk jugs. Being brought up on handled jugs and had the importance of the correct use of a handle drilled into me from a toddler, I find this trend rather disconcerting. Also, as an auctioneer and valuer there is nothing I love more than a good handle. Take Burleigh Ware handles for example.

The period of the 1930s and onwards is generally considered to be the golden era for Burleigh Ware. During this time the factory employed over 500 people and among them were some of the most highly skilled potters and artists available.

During this highly productive era Burleigh Ware expanded into the very recognisable brightly coloured tableware, which sold in vast quantities. Probably some of the best known of these pieces were the bright yellow jugs with sculptural handles in the form of animals and humans. The jugs were all hand painted so each one was slightly different, with the most attractive being the most sought after.

Designers Charles Wilkes and Ernest Bailey are credited with much of the design work on these iconic jugs. They made a huge variety of animals from parrots and kingfishers to butterflies and squirrels and even dragons.

All these jugs can be purchased for very reasonable sums at auction these days, with the animals being particularly affordable. The human characters tend to be more sought after with examples such as the rare guardsman and the sporting designs of the golfer and cricketer being particularly popular.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Floral Enamelled Buttons

Valuable curiosities can crop up when you least expect them!

Jewellery Specialist Sarah Clark writes….

Having set myself the task of ‘learning something new today’ – information that I could perhaps pass on to someone else or store up and bring to the fore, should something similar cross my path in the future, I unfortunately realised that today was not going to be that day… The priority of seeing visiting Clients, valuing items and preparing for our forthcoming auction was clearly going to keep me busy for much of the time.

However, whilst carrying out a valuation with a Client, another lady came in. I noticed she had a picture and a plate (not my area of expertise) but she also had a small wooden box. Similar boxes I have seen contain pens or small mathematical instruments… nothing unusual there, but intriguing nonetheless. The lady was seen by a colleague and her items we consigned for auction.

On further inspection the box was very light, a bit tired, the small fastening catch didn’t fit properly and appeared to me to be of no particular value. To my astonishment when opening the box, I was amazed to see a set of six beautifully enamelled buttons. Each depicting flowers, highlighted in pinks and purples, with vivid green stems and leaves. Not what I was expecting from such an unassuming case!

Set of Six beautifully enamelled buttons
Set of Six beautifully enamelled buttons

The buttons date from the late 19th/early 20th Century and are decorated using a technique called Gin Bari or Gin Bari Foil. Developed in Japan, it involves using a colour tinted enamel over a sheet of embossed foil. Similar in appearance to Cloisonné enamel, the decoration can be found on vases and ornaments, novelties and collectors pieces, much produced throughout the 20th Century.

You just never know what is going to come through the Auction Gallery door!

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Written by Specialist Valuer Sarah Clark, B.A.(Hons.)