I’m not particularly tall. In fact, I’d say I’m of well below average height for an auctioneer. But my vertically challenged friends reassure me on a regular basis that all good things come in small packages, and as far as our last antiques sale was concerned, I’d have to agree with them.
These ‘good things’ came in the form of a fairly ordinary looking cardboard box filled with scrumpled tissue and newspaper, part of a large consignment. The newspaper was yellowing, and it looked to have been packed a number of years ago, and left mouldering in a loft through lack of usefulness, or perhaps for safekeeping.
As I began to unwrap, the first thing that struck me was how very tiny its contents were: miniature tea sets with cups the size of thimbles, pocket sized porcelain boxes decorated with bumblebees and curling leaves, an exceptionally petite, brass, Clanny type miner’s lamp – items which would not have looked out of place in an expensively furnished Doll’s House.
My particular favourite were a pair of Worcester porcelain extinguishers (or candle snuffers if you want to use the charmingly old fashioned terminology). Slip cast in plaster of paris moulds, the two ‘Town Girl’s were exquisitely painted in pastel colours, with bright eyes and rosy cheeks, their cuffs and the tips of their fans delicately enhanced with gilding.
They were stamped with both the Worcester and the diamond registry mark, allowing us to accurately date not just the year, month, and day of their design, but even the package number. Having sat in the box for so long, they were in perfect condition, and ended up selling for £1,130 plus 15% buyer’s premium.
The next treasure was an unassuming glass casket. Less than 10cm long, it was made of translucent, ochre-coloured glass and decorated with red, white and black enamelled fleurs-de-lis. It was unusual, and undoubtedly lovely, but it wasn’t until we turned it over to reveal the signature of Emile Gallé that we realised just what a curiosity it was.
Most famous for his floral glass vases of the early 20th century etched with bold, naturalistic designs, our little chest was an example of his early work. Though it had none of the refinement of the pieces he was to go on to produce, its unusual design and bold repeating pattern saw it fetch £220, considerably exceeding its estimate.
The real jewels in our rather petite crown were four stoneware figures, tightly packed and tucked away at the very bottom of the box. Two were of cheerful, salt-glazed ‘Merry Musicians’, one, a cherub playing a violin perched on a pink seat, but the most interesting of the four was a model of Henry VIII, pompously throned above the inscription ‘One who found marriage a failure and liked it to be so’.
The style of modelling was very distinctive, and the interlinked ‘GT’ to the back of each confirmed out assumption that they were by George Tinworth, the most accomplished and thus the most collectable of Royal Doulton’s designers. Each figure measured only 10cm heigh, but the four combined went on to fetch over £6,000 – firm evidence that in the world of antiques, bigger isn’t always better. There’s hope for me yet.