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Collectors' Corner

Pattern book tells a story

August 26 2017

IN THE years of writing this column I have never come across a pattern book from a Dundee textile manufacturer. Perhaps they were not required for ‘out-of-sight’ jute products, such as sacking, bagging and carpet backing, and possibly the linen lords, like Baxter Brothers, who preceded the jute barons, felt their exports spoke for themselves. The comprehensive collections of textile records at Dundee City Archives, the Wellgate Library and Dundee University Archives may hold samplers of this sort, but I cannot recall seeing Dundee jute/linen pattern books in the usual quorum of collectable showgrounds – auctions, dealers, fairs and the internet. So, while in York at the end of July, my antennae twitched when a rare set of 10 Victorian leather-bound designer pattern books for Sutton Mills in Macclesfield appeared at Rydale’s Auctions. Sutton Mills was owned by the silk manufacturers J. & F. Jackson & Co. Each of the Cheshire company’s design books showed a range of samples and hand-drawn pencil and painted design sketches dating from 1885 onwards, with many in vivid colours. The pages displayed all types of weaving techniques and designs of the period, as well as the fabrics used in the manufacturing process at the time. With pattern and design numbers, and information on designs and the materials used, the books offered a timecapsule of the weaving trade either side of 1900. More than that, they also provided extensive information on the weavers themselves. Sutton Mills’ silk products were also described. There were samples for silk scarfs and mufflers, including items for the 1897 Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee, animal and bird patterns, including lions, elephants, flamingos and peacocks, Paisley and Prince of Wales patterned items and the new 1924 muffler range. So this was a significant item of local history and probably the best pattern/sample books I have described here since 1999 and the remarkable Thomas Justice & Sons catalogue illustrating furniture from 1905 made by craftsmen at the firm’s workbenches in South Ward Road. This catalogue helped to prove that Dundee possessed its own Art Nouveau designers, many working in the Glasgow School style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Estimated at £5000-£8000, the J. & F. Jackson pattern books justified Rydale’s hopes by taking £7100. Picture: Silk mill pattern books, £7100 (Rydale Auctions).  

Collectors' Corner

Bone tool has had a whale of a time

December 10 2016

TO FAR-OFF Suffolk auctioneers Bishop & Miller and an item probably familiar in bygone Dundee. This was an unusual whale bone seam rubber, undated by the auctioneers, but probably belonging to the first half of the 19th Century. Some 11cm in length, the bone tool had a triangular end, gadrooned carved column with central ball, and the decoration of a rope twist knot at its handle end. Such implements were used by sail-makers to flatten and smooth the seams of heavy canvas sailcloth, where two pieces were joined or the edges were hemmed before they were sewn. Shipping records show regular connections from Dundee to Archangel for flax from the growing areas north of Moscow, large imports from St Petersburg when the White Sea was frozen, and quantities of cheaper flax from Latvia and Estonia, shipped through Riga. A boom in building mills capitalised on the demand for ships’ canvas, uniforms, tents and hammocks during the Napoleonic Wars – with Baxter’s of Dundee, in a PR masterstroke, providing the canvas to be made up into sail for Nelson’s Victory and other naval ships of the line. In 1821-22 alone, a dozen power mills were spun out across Dundee. Among them was the great Dens Works, begun by Baxter Brothers in 1821 for machine flax spinning. As an aside, I noticed the recent Courier story on the new Dundee Architectural Trail, listing 27 of the city’s ‘finest’ architectural landmarks. Not a mill among them – and, in my view, Dundee’s single most important contribution to British architecture ignored! Two great mid-century wars – in Crimea and the American Civil War – brought further orders to Dundee for sails for supply ships, tents for the armies and gun covers, and allowed the town to become the most important producer of coarse linen in Britain. Four million yards of sailcloth was produced in Dundee in one boom year alone. The Baxters, with the world’s biggest coarse linen factory by the 1850s, probably used such bone seam rubbers in sail canvas weaving – not least with Europe’s biggest whaling fleet at the harbour with its crews adept at fashioning decorative tools from the Right whales they culled. The smoothing bone appeared at Bishop & Miller on November 12 and took £1000.  

Collectors' Corner

Medal tells of Polish valour

May 12 2018

VISIT ANY high street and a Polish voice will seldom be far distant. With over 900,000 now living in the UK, Poles are Britain’s largest foreign-born community. Additionally, there are countless descendants of the over 200,000 Poles who settled here after the Second World War. The heroism of Poles during the war is remembered with awe and gratitude. Suffice to say that plaques marking their contribution are often placed at the very heart of our communities, on the walls of our civic chambers. With 381 graves, half of the war burials in Scotland, the beautifully-maintained Polish section of Perth’s Wellshill Cemetery is a timeless reminder of their sacrifice. Bravery in the face of adversity sums up today’s item. This was a group of three Second World War medals awarded to Sergeant Michael Kuzmicki of the 12th Podolski Lancers, 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division. The group consisted of the Polish Cross of Valour, Polish Armed Forces service medal and Monte Cassino Cross. Not often seen in salerooms, the medals were complete with ribbons and mounted on black felt display cloth. Michael Kuzmicki served as a medical orderly with the 12th Podolski Lancers at the famous battle of Monte Cassino. He was awarded the Cross of Valour for his actions in the battle, during which he dressed the wounded under machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. At Piedimonte, he was wounded in the left arm and was evacuated to Scotland. Following the end of the war he settled in Edinburgh, where he became a tailor. He died in December 1976. The medals sold at C&T Auctions in Royal Tunbridge Wells for a modest £170 – but they are, in a sense, beyond value.  

Collectors' Corner

Memorabilia is on the ball

June 25 2016

Euro 2016 gets down to serious business this weekend with the remaining 16 teams taking to the French stage. Football memorabilia is as hot as the on-field competition. Earlier this month, the auction of Pelé’s personal collection became the most lucrative sale of football memorabilia in history. The 2000 items totalled £3.6 million, with 100% of the lots sold. The Brazilian legend’s 1970 World Cup winner’s medal made £280,000 in the London sale, another record, and that eclipsed the £220,000 paid in 2014 for Stanley Matthews’ 1953 FA Cup Final winner’s medal. The best football-related auction across mainland Europe is taking place in Spain this weekend to coincide with Euro 2016. The Spanish, of course, are football daft. Titled ‘El Mundo Del Fútbol’ the sale at Duran Subastas in Madrid features a glittering array of football trophies, jerseys, programmes, posters, flags and club merchandise across a 72-page catalogue. Among several British rarities is the ball used at the 1904-1905 Scottish Cup Final between Third Lanark and Rangers (illustrated). This was the 32nd season of Scotland’s most prestigious football knockout competition and the cup was won by the ‘Hi Hi’ when they beat Rangers 3-1 after a replay. Sadly, though, this once-great club of the Scottish game folded in 1967, despite finishing third in the First Division just six years before. One of 200 lots at Duran Subastas, the ball is estimated at 4000 euros and – mature readers will wince at the recollection – is one of those heavy leather types that  left a painful imprint of laces after a dunt from a headed clearance. The ball is painted in Third Lanark’s colours of red and yellow and is inscribed with the team’s Scottish Cup win. ‘New Hampden’ refers to the opening in 1903 of the national stadium, which was also the season that Thirds won the Scottish League. Scotland may not feature at Euro 2016 but, up until 1950, Hampden Park was the largest football stadium in the world and to this day it holds every major attendance record within European football. I should finish by mentioning that my beloved St Johnstone offered Thirds no opposition 111 years ago. We were undone by seven offside Airdrieonian goals in the first round!

Collectors' Corner

Highly regarded painter offers a snapshot of the times

April 7 2018

THE LOWER ground-floor area of Perth Museum – my favourite place – is where the city’s permanent art collection finds a home. A handful of Old Masters grace the left-hand wall, including the magnificent maybe-Caravaggio Prometheus, while the free spirit right-hand surface is presently hung with oil paintings of Perth. One of them, Perth from Boatlands, takes its viewer across the Tay to the North Inch and the town beyond. It was painted by David Octavius Hill in 1826. Hill (1802-1870), a son of Perth, was a highly-regarded landscape painter before turning to the new medium of photography. Intrigued by Henry Fox Talbot’s experiments, Hill formed a brilliant partnership with the St Andrews engineer Robert Adamson between 1843 and 1847 to develop many aspects of photography. Today, Hill-Adamson photographs are considered among the most important and valuable in the world. Now to Dominic Winter’s auction of early photographs in London on March 9. ‘Portrait of David Octavius Hill’ was a very early photograph of the Perth Academy FP. Dated to around 1845 by the auction house, it was, I think, taken by Adamson two years earlier. Measuring 8in x 6in, it was mounted on pale grey paper with a pencilled title inscription. It was additionally identified ‘D. O. Hill, RSA’ to the lower-right corner of the mount. The image is well known and has appeared in important works on early photography, including Dr Sara Stevenson’s seminal David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, (Edinburgh, 1981). It sold within estimate at £1600. Boatlands may have been painted before photography was around – but it captures like a snapshot Perth’s ‘Northern New Town’ of splendid Georgian terraces.  

Collectors' Corner

Sideboard with a story to tell

February 24 2018

COTSWOLDS AUCTIONEERS Chorley’s offered a mahogany sideboard with an exemplary provenance two weeks ago – yet it remained unsold. A few years ago, such a fine late 18th century serpentine-front sideboard, carrying a maker’s label as this example did, for ‘T.Willson, 68 Great Queens Street, London,’ would have been untroubled by its £5000-£7000 hopes. Times have changed. Salerooms and dealers are selling quality Georgian furniture for less than half of what it achieved a decade ago. Furnishing an Edinburgh New Town property or an apartment in Perth’s fine Georgian terraces would cost a fraction of what it once did. Can provenance help? You’d think so. Chorley’s sideboard was once the property of Ethel Gordon Fenwick, a prominent nurse and suffragist, whose house in Upper Wimpole Street, London bears a blue plaque. Fenwick was born in Elgin, the daughter of a doctor. Moving to England after the death of her father, she trained as a nurse in Nottingham and Manchester, then moved to London to work in hospitals at Whitechapel and Richmond. She was then appointed matron of St Bartholomew’s. She was the founder of the Royal British Nurses’ Association in 1887 and campaigned for their state registration. This was achieved through the Nurses Registration Act 1919, and Fenwick was registered as ‘Nurse No 1’ when it was launched in 1923. Fenwick acquired the Nursing Record in 1893 and became its editor in 1903. In 1927 she established the British College of Nurses and became its president for life. The sideboard was loaned by her great grandson to The National Trust and stood in the dining room of Wallington Hall, Northumberland before Chorley’s auction, where, despite its history, it failed to reach its reserve.  

Heritage

Classic HG Wells book is out of this world

August 5 2017

SOLD BY Cambridge-based Cheffins on July 12 was a rare copy of one of the most remarkable books of the 20th Century – The War of the Worlds. As many will know, The War of the Worlds was a science fiction novel written by English author H. G. Wells between 1895 and 1897. It was one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. In short, it warned of the coming of the Martians! It was published as a serial in 1897 by Pearson’s Magazine, then issued in hardcover the following year by William Heinemann. For over 100 years it has been one of the most famous works in the science fiction canon, and has never been out of print. It has spawned half a dozen films, as well as radio dramas, various comic book adaptations, a television series and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. And, of course, it has been claimed that mass panic and hysteria swept America on October 30, 1938, when a 62-minute radio dramatisation of The War of the Worlds was read by Orson Welles (who pepped it up by describing Martians advancing on New York!). This has been dismissed in recent times as a myth. Few firsts of The War of the Worlds come to auction, so a signed edition of the 1898 Heinemann issue was always going to attract admirers. The Cheffins’ example benefited from an inscription by the author to E. J. Sullivan, with a signed angelic caricature by Wells below. Edmund Joseph Sullivan (1869-1933) was a British book illustrator who worked in a style similar to Aubrey Beardsley. His most famous work is possibly the illustrated edition of Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, published in 1898. Sullivan would have known Wells, and in fact he illustrated A Modern Utopia by Wells, published by Chapman & Hall in 1905. Consigned by the Sullivan family, with text slightly foxed, and with its original cloth covers lightly stained and rubbed along the hinges, the copy still managed to leave pre-sale hopes of £3000-£5000 trailing. It was knocked down for a handsome £11,000. As for aliens, the last time I was in Lochee… (only teasing!)  

Collectors' Corner

Fine forecast for 19th Century barometer

January 27 2018

ON WEDNESDAY, Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull will sell an early 19th Century mahogany stick barometer by J. Della Torre of Perth. It carries tempting pre-sale hopes of £300-£500. Joseph Della Torre seems to have arrived in Perth around 1813. An advertisement from 1818 survives in which he is described as a carver, gilder and glass manufacturer from Italy. The advert thanks customers for their patronage and states that he is about to move his shop to 27 High Street, opposite St John Street, where may be had a great variety of “the best foreign and British Plate Mirrors; all sizes, in plain or gilt frames; Wheel Barometers; Thermometers; Diagonal Mirrors, Telescopes, etc, etc.” Torre worked away there for 40 years before, in June 1853, opening a second shop at 3 George Street. Old age presumably came along as, just a year later, he disposed of his entire business to his associate Charles Grego. Torre was described then as carver, guilder and looking-glass manufacturer, but importantly also an optician. This makes me suppose that he had a hand in creating the lenses for his scientific instruments, and was not simply a retailer. Italians who traded as “carvers, gilders and barometer makers” represented a substantial proportion of the overall emigration from Italy to Scotland in the mid-1800s. The Edinburgh fine art trade at that time included names such as Zenone, Butti & Co, Molteni, Zerboni & Co and Battistessa & Co. So Perth’s J. D. Torre had commercial compatriots working here. Growing up, we used our barometer in the way kids use smartphones nowadays – one tap and we’d have that day’s weather! Picture: Perth barometer, £300-£500 (Lyon & Turnbull).  

Collectors' Corner

Early magazines are a collector’s favourite

April 15 2017

THE COURIER’S recent feature on ‘The Blackwood Magazine at 200’ exhibition in Edinburgh, courtesy of our writer Caroline Lindsay, enticed a friend to twist my arm into introducing examples from my own collection of periodicals. Illustrated is a trio of items of possible interest, including the first British magazines produced to give employment to women. On the left is Volume 1, No 1 of the Victoria Magazine, published by Emily Faithfull in London and issued in May 1863. An independent and independently-minded Victorian, Faithfull was a publisher, lecturer, writer and activist for women’s rights. In 1860, she founded a printing works, the Victoria Press, at which she employed women as compositors, the print workers who put the paper together. In June 1862, she was appointed printer and publisher to Queen Victoria and the following year her steam press in Farringdon Street produced the Victoria Magazine. No 1, shown here, includes in its shillingsworth two fascinating travel articles, ‘The Career of Englishwomen in India’ and ‘A Journal Kept in Egypt.’ The magazine on the right is equally rare. It is a copy of Scotland’s first female-run magazine, The Rose, The Shamrock and The Thistle, a feminist-leaning title which was launched in May 1862 and ran until March 1865. This was published by Miss Mary Anne Thomson and her self-supporting team of women compositors from the Caledonian Press in Hanover Street, Edinburgh. The Courier reviewed it in 1862 and described it as an “excellent magazine.” The item in the centre is Volume 1, Number 1 of The Dundee Magazine, issued by Thomas Colville in January 1799 – and forerunner of the paper you are reading! From Key’s Close (later Whitehall Crescent), Colville launched the Dundee Register of 1783, the Dundee Repository in 1793 and the Dundee Magazine six years later. He then edited and printed The Courier in 1816 as a cautious, conservative riposte to the radical Dundee Advertiser of 1801. The contents of the first issue, shown here, include The Curious Account of the Hippopotamus – and The Fatal Effects of Gaming! Magazines are a growing collecting trend. A 1920s’ cover of Vogue sold for $50,000 last year, while a copy of the first Superman comic has changed hands for $1 million.  

Collectors' Corner

Anglo-Saxon brooch tells a tale

January 20 2018

HISTORICALLY, the Anglo-Saxon period denotes Britain between about 450 and 1066, from the initial migration from northern Europe and up until the Norman Conquest – and, of course, it is remembered as the era in which the English nation was established. Thoughts hereabouts tend to dwell on the Picts at this time, yet the Anglo Saxons also inhabited the east of Scotland, and its language was spoken and written here, to an extent, until about the 12th century. It is also thought that many of the Anglo-Saxon nobility fled to Scotland after the Normans conquered in the ten-hundreds. The chronicler Orderic Vitalis (1075-c1142), himself the product of an Anglo-Norman marriage, wrote in Historia Ecclesiastica, “And so the English groaned aloud for their lost liberty and plotted ceaselessly to find some way of shaking off a yoke that was so intolerable and unaccustomed.” Dukes of Dorchester’s recent sale of antiquities included an impressive Anglo-Saxon gilt metal and enamel brooch. A rarity, of course, the enamel roundel was formed in four colours, and probably represented the head of a king. This central motif is reminiscent of the similar enamel face, thought to represent the sense of sight, in the best-known example of Anglo-Saxon goldsmithing, the Alfred Jewel at the Ashmolean in Oxford (though this masterpiece comes with the inscription, Aelfred Mec Heht Gewyrcan – ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’.) The brooch at the Dorset auction house was dated to the 9th-11th Centuries and measured about two inches at its widest point. It was found by a metal detectorist in Surrey. Unusually, it was almost complete. Pitched with pre-sale hopes of £3000-£5000, it took a decent £6800.  

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