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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

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

Bantam more than worth its weight at auction

October 1 2016

CALL IT a sheltered upbringing...I have been on a motorbike only once. This was on the back of my brother’s 1950-ish BSA Bantam when I was at primary school, or just into secondary. Goodness knows what I was thinking. My brother John was rather better at dismantling motorcycles than assembling them, and bits of the Bantam were to be found around the house long after he parted with it. Since those days, I wince when a Bantam surfaces at auction – as one did in Eastbourne at the end of last month. This was a good one, though, with just one recorded owner in 60 years. Indeed, it came with its original receipt of sale, instruction manual, V5 document, log book, related paperwork and parts receipts. It was a red 1957 Bantam Major D3 150cc bike with just 21,801 recorded miles, and with the registration mark EHC 358. I wasn’t even aware of red examples. I thought they were all peely-wally green – apart from those GPO-stamped examples used by the posties, which had mud guards, I think. I do recall those distinctive two-tone petrol tanks, though. Over 400,000 Bantams were built between 1948 and 1971 and they are equally no strangers to salerooms as they are to junkyards and scrap dealers. Roadworthy examples can be found for a few hundred pounds, but single owner models must be rarer and duly considered desirable nowadays. There were several variants of Bantam, from the humble 125cc which lived in our garden washhouse, to the powerful – at that time – 175cc. They became the archetypal British lightweight motorbike and, as with the lovable Morris Minor for car drivers, the BSA Bantam was responsible for putting many people on two wheels for the first time. Intimidated by such things since my two-street experience almost half a century ago, I have drawn the next paragraph from the internet: “The original Bantam, the D1, was released in October 1948 and continued in production for several years. It had telescopic forks, a rigid rear end, direct electrics, shovel front-mudguard and fishtail silencer, was available only in ‘mist green’ and sold for £60 plus tax.” It was me, I suspect, who had the rigid rear suspension! The hammer price at Eastbourne Auctions was £1600.  

Collectors' Corner

Golf calendar is a rare survivor

May 20 2017

I’VE SEEN heaps of Dundee-related printed ephemera and tons of local golf collectables coming – or going – under the hammer, including rare items at those record-breaking, single-themed golf memorabilia auctions at Bonham’s and Christie’s in the 1990s. Illustrated today, however, is something I have never come across. This is an original Life Association of Scotland calendar commemorating the first international professional golf match between England and Scotland at Prestwick in 1903, produced for its Dundee insurance branch. Central is an illustration of the two teams, and the calendar is accompanied by a who’s-who of participants. Every last one of the players wears tweeds and bunnets – even the little intruder far right. Perhaps he was a caddy. Printed by Banks & Co of Edinburgh and promoting the Life Association of Scotland’s insurance office at 5 Reform Street, it is clearly a rare survivor. Many calendars bite the dust soon after Ne’er Day. I could not, for instance, find any vintage golf calendars on the best-known auction website. The Life Association of Scotland seems to have been founded in 1838. Its Dundee branch was still going strong in 1906, when it advertised locally for a ‘message boy’. I believe the company was bought by Britannic Assurance as recently as 1999 and renamed thereafter. The England–Scotland match was an annual men’s professional golf competition. It was played from 1903 to the start of the Great War and was then revived in 1932 and played until the start of the Second World War. The fixture was usually played a few days before the Open Championship. Except on one occasion, there were 12 players in each team who played 12 singles matches and six foursomes. The good news is that Scotland won that inaugural game in 1903. Then we didn’t win another match! The calendar appears at Graham Budd’s specialist sale of sporting memorabilia in London this week, held in association with Sotheby’s. Measuring 18 inches by 22 inches and with a few foxing marks to the print but generally in good condition overall, and sold with the original key to the golfers in the illustration, it carries pre-sale hopes of £250-£350. As they say in the trade – show me another.  

Collectors' Corner

The whisky that put Perth on the map

December 30 2017

NEW YEAR used to mean a drinks cabinet bulging with Perth’s finest – and in my younger days, this did not mean craft beers and pink gin. What put Perth on the map was its great whiskies – Bell’s, Dewar’s, Famous Grouse and, for a time, Beneagles, all blended and bottled in the town before being exported and enjoyed across the world. Almost by tradition, or upbringing, Perth folk would pledge allegiance to one and never touch the others – unless offered! John Dewar & Sons was based at Inveralmond – about three quarters of the way along Perth’s Motor Mile on the Dunkeld Road. Its bonded warehouse was on the junction of Glasgow Road and Glover Street. This vast stronghold eventually made way for the Dewar’s curling rinks. Dewar’s memorabilia has always been collectable. It ranges from rare bottles of the precious stuff, to wonderful Royal Doulton flasks and water jugs, pub signs, clocks, glasses and mirrors. Lawrences’s in far-off Somerset have just sold a large enamel sign proclaiming ‘Dewar’s Whisky, Perth, By Royal Warrant to her Majesty the Queen’ – leading me to wonder if Her Majesty was a fan. The sign measured about 3ft by 3ft. Despite its obvious wear and tear it romped away to a double estimate £300. If you want to avoid a nip (weather-wise, not a dram!) take in Landseer’s magnificent Monarch of the Glen at Perth Museum (until Jan 13), a painting once owned by John Dewar and used in the firm’s promotional material. With the ‘spirit’ of New Years past in mind, I wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.  

Collectors' Corner

Rare Chinese plate fails to fascinate at auction

February 3 2018

SOME AUCTIONEERS make the most of what they’ve got. In this respect, I can pick out Nick Burns of Lindsay Burns & Co in Perth, whose marketing skills often ensure high prices on special items. The national publicity created for a picture in his last sale, for example, helped it on its way to a London dealer for a whopping 20-times estimate £26,000. The opposite can sometimes be the case, however. In mid-January Hampshire auctioneers Hannam’s offered “a rare Chinese export ‘Scottish market’ dish painted with a figure playing the bagpipes, the other holding a rifle. 22.5 cm wide.” My quotation marks contain the entire catalogue description of a lot which carried a hefty estimate of £6000-£8000. The plate remained unsold and, without criticising a respected and popular auction house, I wondered why. Was it because the description was a bit light for a hard-paste porcelain plate decorated in colour with Highlanders and panels of landscape and a flowering branch, Ch’ing Dynasty, exported in the mid-18th Century? Would it have helped to say that the plate depicted soldiers of the 42nd Foot regiment (soon to amalgamate with the 73rd to become The Black Watch) with the figures copied from well-known prints, made when men of the regiment were convicted of mutiny in 1743? Moreover, examples of this rare plate are with the National Museums of Scotland and the V&A in London, with Sotheby’s taking just under $50,000 for a single example in New York in 1998. A final thought – everyone knows that wealthy Chinese buyers have been swooping on UK auction houses to return ‘heritage’ items to their own country. I wonder if this applies to ‘Chinese export’ items, too?    

Collectors' Corner

An electric clock that’s still worth the time of day

April 15 2016

If you look for a watch nowadays, chances are it will be battery operated. The market, however, also offers traditional spring wound, or kinetic-movement, atomic or, increasingly, solar-powered examples. The best of each can carry a significant premium, especially for chronographs. Prices rocket for Swiss-made mechanical models from the 1930s to the 1950s, including, of course, wartime examples. A Patek Philippe watch called the 5016A became the most expensive wristwatch ever sold last year, making a 10-times estimate $7.3 million at Phillips, Geneva. Believe it not, it had no diamonds, jewels or obvious gold bling. Instead, the 5016A was made of stainless steel and finished with a plain leather strap. Its value derived from the “complications” of its 506-part movement. Domestic clocks are different. The vast majority today are battery operated. Yet there was a time half a century ago where it looked like electric clocks might bridge the gap between the traditional mechanism market and the introduction of battery clocks. Instead, they quickly lost popularity. They are infrequently seen nowadays – but when they surface at auction, they are temptingly affordable. Half a dozen examples from the 1930s on appeared at McTear’s sale in Glasgow on March 22. The pick was a Telefonbau & Normalzeit German electric clock from the 1950s. This had an electronic movement with black hands caressing black baton hour markers around its white dial. Its metal rectangular case had a hinged cabinet front with a peek-a-boo pendulum. It was just over three feet high and not unattractive in a sleek, iPhoney sort of way. As far as I can make out Normalzeit examples were introduced in 1907 and quickly won international acclaim. I also gather it was an English firm, Gent’s of Leicester, which introduced a series of “slaves” driven by regular electric impulses connected to a master clock, thus ensuring all clocks in buildings could be set to precisely the same time. This was an important development for factories, public buildings and railway stations. The Telefonbau & Normalzeit example sold for a gentle £90, yet arguably they are as much 20th Century style totems as far pricier designer goods.

Collectors' Corner

The Omega Speedmaster: The holy grail of watches

December 31 2016

AS THE minutes and seconds tick down to 2017, it is timely to illustrate a watch that is truly out of this world – a rare stainless steel prototype Omega Speedmaster made for NASA in the early 1970s to survive in extreme temperatures. The Omega Speedmaster, introduced in 1957, is considered by many the “holy grail” of watches – witness as evidence of this the £38,000 taken in September by McTear’s of Glasgow for a fine early example. Originally targeted for an ‘active clientele,’ the Speedmaster achieved worldwide fame when chosen by NASA in 1965 to be the official timekeeper for their space flight missions. Under the cover of the codename ‘Alaska Project,’ Omega worked in secret to create the perfect ‘flight qualified’ space watch for astronauts. The code-name ‘Alaska’ had nothing to do with the cold temperatures of the American State, but was chosen to ensure the project would remain as secret as possible in case of any industrial espionage. But following the cancellation of the Apollo missions after Apollo 17 there was no immediate use for the Alaska Project’s test-watches, so the project was temporarily terminated. In 1971, Omega began work on a continuation of the project, known as ‘Alaska II,’ which involved several further prototypes. These Alaska II test-watches were delivered to Houston at the beginning of 1972. A Speedmaster ‘Moon’ watch recently sold by Phillips in Geneva was one of the Alaska II prototypes. Part of the Omega Museum until sold for around £50,000 in 2007, this Speedmaster was accompanied by a red-anodised, thermo-protective aluminium case which served as a protective heat shield. The dial was finished in white, to reflect light rather than using the Speedmaster’s traditional black dial which absorbs light, and would therefore retain heat. Additionally, the dial was coated with zinc oxide, a material known for being highly resistant to solar radiation. Its exceptional original condition suggests that it was probably never worn. Scholarship suggests it is one of only three surviving examples of the Alaska II project watch with the original protective case, one in the Omega Museum and the other in a private collection. Among the rarest of all Speedmasters, it sold for 156,250 Swiss francs, equivalent to around £125,000.    

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

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!