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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

Roman relics hit the nail on the head price-wise

March 4 2017

THE ROMAN fortress at Inchtuthil on the banks of the Tay near Blairgowrie was excavated from 1952, and subsequently the site provided the only complete plan of a legionary fortress anywhere in the Roman empire. After its construction around AD83 the 53-acre fort housed 6000 men of Agricola’s 20th Legion. It was the only legionnaire headquarters in Scotland, so it is not hard to imagine its importance to the Roman elite in their swanky south of England villas. After the order went out in AD 87 for Inchtuthil to be abandoned, the near-million hand-forged nails held in its storerooms were too heavy to cart away and were buried four metres down. That they were concealed deliberately and thoroughly is explained by the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who wrote that the Caledonian tribes valued iron more than silver or gold, as it could be hammered out into weapons. The nails were new, and were of all sizes up to 16 inches in length, with a total weight of 12 tons. Following their discovery in 1960, the National Museum of Antiquities was given a selection of the nails, and sets were freely gifted to major museums around the world. In the summer of 1962, around 800,000 nails were offered for sale to collectors at five shillings (25p) each or £1.5s for a selection with a commemorative label. Others were recycled at the Motherwell steel works and it is also thought some were used by atomic scientists to estimate the corrosion effects on barrels of nuclear waste. And by 1963, the entire hoard had been disposed of. This brings me to Golding Young & Mawer’s sale in Lincoln on February 15, which featured three iron nails from Inchtuthil contained in a glazed case with a sliding lid. Examples like this from the legionary fortress used to appear regularly at local auctions but, over the quarter century or so since this column began, these one-time archaeological finds from Perthshire have found their way to far-flung places in the way Roman legionnaires once used to. In any event, the three-nail set sold for £18 - some 20 times their 1962 value.  I wonder, though, if the item owed its provenance to the many publicans who bought the 2000-year-old nails to hang over their bars!  

Collectors' Corner

A Dutch artist in Scotland

July 16 2016

FOR SOME time I have been keen to show a work by Isaac Israels, a Dutch artist whose painterly career bridged the 19th and 20th Centuries. Israels’ work isn’t particular common and it was a surprise to see three of his paintings appearing in Leith buses-style in far-off Freeman’s sale of European art in New York. There were two portraits, Rabbi in Amsterdam (estimate $20,000-$30,000) and Seated Woman with Cigarette ($4000-$6000), but I opt to illustrate ‘Café Scene’ ($25,000-$35,000), which captures, I think, the slabbed, brightly-coloured brushwork and spontaneity of the great French Impressionists, with whom Israels mixed. Oil on canvas, it is a goodly 20 in x 16 in and signed bottom right. Why Israels here? Two reasons. One of the great McManus masterpieces is Israels’ Egyptian Drummer Girl, a sumptuous, almost life-sized oil with a gently-delivered serenity belying its rumbustious theme. It was purchased with Ower bequest funds in 1935 and I cannot think of a moment it has not been exhibited in all its splendour. Not on show, however, is Israels’ ‘In a Paris Café’, which entered the collection in 1967 – hence my wish to illustrate a similar scene to provide a sense of the snapshots of everyday café culture portrayed by Israels a century ago and nowadays by Dundee artist Joe McIntyre. Secondly, Israels (1865-1934) was a frequent visitor to, and exhibitor in, Scotland, where his pictures were much collected. Dundee industrialists were to the fore and amassed examples from Dutch artists who would visit the city to spend time with their patrons. Among them were members of The Hague School of painters, such as Willem Steelink, Jacob Maris, Johann Zotelief Tromp and B. J. Blommers, whose ‘Peek-a-Bo’ is another McManus favourite. Isaac Israels followed his father Jozef into the Hague grouping, their work heavily influenced by realism over colour. Café Scene, though, offers more than a passing nod to Impressionism. Many moons ago an Israels graced my hall. It was flogged at Christie’s Amsterdam when prices for 20th century Dutch pictures were heading roofwards. I am still hung-up about not hanging on to it and seeing it hanging there still. (ends) Picture: Café Scene by Isaac Israels (Freeman’s Auctions).

Collectors' Corner

The Harmony harpoon that travelled to Nova Scotia

August 13 2016

A near 10-times estimate bid was required to acquire the scary-looking harpoon (pictured) at Andrew Smith & Sons’ auction in Hampshire on July 16. The 19th century iron/steel whaling harpoon was marked ‘Harmony 1821’ and ‘R. Black G’ on the head of its 4ft-long shaft. The brig Harmony is recorded as sailing from Barra in 1821 with 350 Scottish settlers bound for Nova Scotia. The harpoon was collected by the explorer Sir James Wordie, chairman of the Scott Polar Research Institute, 1937-1955, and thence passed by family descent to the vendor. It was possibly acquired by Wordie when he served as geologist on the Endurance during the famous 1914-15 expedition to Antarctica with Ernest Shackleton. According to polar histories, the Endurance left Buenos Aires on October 26, 1914, arriving in King Edward Cove, South Georgia on November 5. The large island here, between 54 and 55 degrees south, provided a home for Shackleton for the next month whilst the vessel was re-provisioned. Perhaps it was at this moment that Wordie acquired the harpoon from one of the seven whaling stations located across South Georgia’s northern coast. I wonder, then, if the harpoon made its way from Arctic to Antarctic on Dundee’s remarkable whaling expedition to the southern oceans in 1892, Discovery’s voyage of 1901 or Shackleton’s 1908 adventure on the Dundee-built Nimrod? Whatever the case, the whalers in 1914 appear to have reported to Shackleton that the pack ice on the Weddell Sea would make a crossing both slow and dangerous. Endurance duly entered the ice on December 7. By January 19, 1915 she was firmly entombed by the ice at 76 degrees, or ‘nipped’ as the Dundee whalermen put it. Endurance was to drift randomly, without escaping the ice. Shackleton and his men abandoned her on October 27, taking to the 10-feet-thick ice. The party was finally able to launch their lifeboats on April 9. Shackleton’s safe arrival on Elephant Island and his subsequent small-boat journey to South Georgia on the James Caird has become one of the epic tales of survival. The harpoon showed the expected areas of loss, rust, and metal deterioration or fatigue. A rare thing, nonetheless, it took £1850 against pre-sale hopes of £200-£300.  

Collectors' Corner

A window on to Colquhouns distinctive geometric style

January 13 2018

ILLUSTRATED IS Woman by a Leaded Window. It was painted in 1958 by Glasgow School of Art-trained Robert Colquhoun. Oil on canvas, it is a couple of feet square and was presented to Dundee not long after its paint had dried. Woman by a Leaded Window shimmered star-like in the firmament of household-name artists in the McManus Galleries’ recent Sense of Place exhibition, which included half a dozen blockbusters by the Scottish Colourists that would easily cull a million or two at auction. Sense of Place presented la crème de la crème of Scottish 20th Century art from the city’s collection, from the Colourists to the Glasgow Boys and later landscapists such as Joan Eardley and James McIntosh Patrick. It was Colquhoun’s black-outlined, geometrically-constructed feminine form which outshone many contemporary works. Vermeer’s woman at an open windie it is not. Woman by a Leaded Window gives a nod to the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, and draws its inspiration from the great English modernism of Percy Wyndham Lewis, whose style the poet Ezra Pound put a name to – Vorticism. Pound, incidentally, befriended Dundee’s firebrand suffragette Ethel Moorhead. Alas, Sense of Place was due to close last weekend, so this presents an opportunity to share Colquhoun’s work with you, as well as allowing me to congratulate the McManus staff. It was one of the best exhibitions, I think, since Consider the Lilies in 2006, which took Dundee’s 20th Century art collection to Edinburgh and London. Window-gazing? I recall the crowds outside London’s Fleming Gallery gawping at the McPats, McClures and Morroccos sent down from Dundee – and the gasps of surprise and wonder. I was a proud lad that day.  

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

Queen Victoria’s chocolate box proves to be bittersweet at auction

February 17 2018

CHRISTMAS BOXES were sent by the royal family to Boer and Great War servicemen and will be familiar to many readers. They were forwarded to South Africa by Queen Victoria in 1900 and Queen Alexandra two years later, and, most famously, by Princess Mary to troops in 1914. Boxes from the queens contained chocolates, while the ‘Princess Box’ contained a Christmas card, a picture of the princess and usually cigarettes. The boxes have been considered ‘collectables’ almost since the day they were sent. Auction houses and dealers see them frequently – usually bracketing them at £20-£50. But did you know The Courier’s most distinguished editor, John Mitchell, had a hand in selling one of the first to be offered at auction? Mitchell, who edited this paper from 1888, rose to become president of the British Institute of Journalists and welcomed that body to Dundee for its gathering in 1911. In the autumn of 1900, Mitchell arranged for a box of ‘Her Majesty’s Chocolate’ to be sold by auction on behalf of the wife and children of the soldier who originally received the box. Like its owner, John Robertson from Lochee, the box had come under fire and suffered damage. Promoted to corporal after a deed of bravery saved the life an officer, Robertson was later wounded, and when he fell from his horse the box fell with him, breaking two of the bars of chocolate. The sale took place in the shadow of Queen Victoria’s Statue in Albert Square. The auctioneer solicited offers. There was a cry of “ten shillings” to start it off and eventually it was knocked down to a jute merchant for £11. Picture: Queen Victoria’s Boer War box.

Collectors' Corner

Painting celebrates the Battle of Camperdown

March 18 2017

TODAY’S ITEM is offered to mark the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Camperdown, one of the most significant engagements in naval history, as well as the 20th anniversary of a landmark event at the McManus Galleries. Do you recall the Glorious Victory exhibition in which The McManus celebrated Camperdown’s bicentenary by drawing together a memorable collection of paintings, prints, medals, swords and other Admiral Duncan memorabilia, notably memorial pottery and porcelain? It was a humdinger of a commemorative show. From memory, the only major painting of the battle not included was William Adolphus Knell’s heroic seascape of ships facing off along the Dutch coast amid great explosions of cannon and clouds of spray. Shame that it is now with the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle, rather than in Adam Duncan’s home town. Anyway, if the city gets its skates on and its cheque book out, there is a chance to add one of William Knell’s impressive maritime scenes to its permanent collection. Knell’s ‘A Summer’s Morning off Dundee, Scotland’ appears next Saturday at Cottone Auctions in New York, estimated at $1500-$2500. Oil on canvas, some 12in x 24in, in a good gilt-wood frame with its title inscribed verso, the painting is to be sold by the Everson Museum of Art in aid of its collections fund. The Everson is a major repository of American art and I suppose a Scottish picture by an English artist is surplus to requirements. William Adolphus Knell (1805-1875) was a successful British maritime painter of the 19th century. By 1825 he had already exhibited works at the Royal Academy. He soon built up a successful practice as a painter of marine and particularly naval subjects, exhibiting regularly at the RA, the British Institution and The Society of British Artists. He was twice commissioned by Queen Victoria for paintings. A large collection of his works is now with the National Maritime Museum. Many smaller examples are with private collections. I confess I don’t think much of the painting’s title. Knell has introduced his familiar choppy water, adding a collapsed mast on a sailing ship and what looks to be a full-scale rescue in heavy seas. Hardly your typical summer’s morning off Dundee!    

Collectors' Corner

Icing on the royal collection

September 10 2016

AUCTIONEERS CHRISTIE’S were founded by Perth runaway James Christie in 1766 – so this venerable old institution can be excused for celebrating its 250th birthday. I fancy few firms nowadays make it to that vintage. On the birthday theme, Christie’s have come up with a special 250th anniversary ‘Out of the Ordinary’ auction, which takes place in London on Wednesday. The sale celebrates the “unusual and the unique, the extraordinary and the exceptional” and the 96 items selected because of their intriguing and unique stories have been on display in the capital since August 6. The highlight of the sale is a diverse collection of memorabilia belonging to the Jersey-based collector David Gainsborough Roberts. According to Christie’s, Roberts’ vast array of items included “the personal possessions of many celebrated and renowned names of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Queen Victoria, Sir Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia.” As quirky as anything else on offer is a slice of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, and it is brought to you as the new ITV drama ‘Victoria’, starring former Doctor Who girl Jenna Coleman, reaches the nuptials stage. Surviving with its presentation box, inscribed ‘The Queen’s Bridal Cake/ BUCKINGHAM PALACE, FEBY 10/1840,’ beneath a Royal crown, the slice of cake is lotted together with Queen Victoria’s signature on paper, and has been given a pre-sale estimate of £800-£1200. The box measures about 4in x 2½in wide – but I’m afraid the cake is showing its years far more than the auction house. It is not my idea of the perfect accompaniment to a cuppa! The sale also includes a pair of Queen Victoria’s drawers (£2000-£3000) – she must have got through lots of these, as they habitually turn up at auction – and a cotton nightgown (£1000-£1500). Royalty features throughout the sale, for example Napoleon’s leather wallet (£2000-£3000), a Charles I gold mourning pendant (£1500-£2500) and Edward VII’s c1905 crocodile skin and silver cigar case (£10,000-£15,000). A selection of Olympic souvenirs will also be up for sale, including a rare solid gold golfing medal from the St Louis Olympics in 1904, the last time golf featured at the Games prior to its re-introduction – and Justin Rose’s wonderful victory – 112 years later in Rio (£20,000-£30,000).

Collectors' Corner

Precious Shakespeare folios up for auction

May 14 2016

DC Thomson's home in Fleet Street, London, was the one-time location of Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber shop. Journalism was a cut-throat business back then, too! The site is also, reputedly, where William Jaggard produced the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s works. On May 25, Christie’s will commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by offering the first four Folios in a landmark four-lot auction in London. The sale will be led by an unrecorded copy of the First Folio, widely considered to be the most important literary publication in the English language. The First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which had not previously been printed, and which would otherwise have been lost forever. They include Macbeth, The Tempest, A Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Henry VIII and Julius Caesar. Published in 1623, the First Folio (estimate £800,000-£1,200,000) is one of the most desirable examples remaining in private hands. It was bought in 1800 by renowned book collector Sir George Augustus Shuckburgh-Evelyn (1751-1804). It has not been seen in public since he acquired it 216 years ago. Remarkably it was unknown to academics until it was sent for auction by a descendant. The discovery means that the number of First Folios known to exist has now risen to 233. The majority of copies are in institutions, with 82 in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. A number of copies have been sold in the last 20 years, including the example which took £3.73 million at Christie’s New York in 2001 – the auction record for a First Folio. Also from the remarkable Shuckburgh Collection are the Third Folio which was published in 1664 (estimate £300,000-£400,000) and the Fourth Folio which was published in 1685 (estimate £15,000-£20,000). The Third Folio is illustrated with Shakespeare’s iconic portrait by English engraver Martin Droeshout. It is rarer than the Second Folio, due to copies being lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666, two years after its publication. The Christie’s copy of the Second Folio (estimate £180,000-£250,000) was published in 1632 and has been consigned by an overseas vendor. Isn’t it astonishing that three of these precious volumes sat on the same shelf for over 200 years?