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.
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).
MAYFAIR AUCTIONEERS Dix Noonan Webb sold five posy rings in their September jewellery sale – enough for a handful of fingers. Posy rings are rare, and rarely seen at auction, and to have five in a single auction was striking. Popular from the 15th Century through to the 18th Century, posy rings were inscribed with short sentimental or religious inscriptions for a loved one. They take their name from the French word ‘poesy’, meaning short rhyme, and were used to communicate sentiments of friendship, loyalty and, most frequently, love. Today they are very collectable, the rarer inscriptions and enamelled examples and those dating from the 15th and 16th Centuries being particularly sought after. Indeed, Dame Joan Evans’ one and only book on the subject, published by Oxford University Press in 1931, was this year republished by Wartski, the London royal jewellers headed by Geoffrey Munn of Antiques Roadshow fame. The earliest of the lots dated from the late 16th Century and is illustrated. This late medieval example was a gold ring with a broad flat band delicately inscribed on the outside with a cross and the words ‘BOVNDE BY FATHE’ (bound by faith) in serifed capitals. The ring was discovered in Yorkshire in 2012 and was subsequently disclaimed by the Crown under the Treasure Act of 1996. It took £1800 in the room. Another example offered for sale was an 18th century posy ring bearing the romantic inscription ‘My Love to thee Shall Constant be’ on the inside, with the maker’s mark ‘JG’, probably for the London goldsmith John Gamon. This sold for £800. Another 18th Century posy ring had a gold band inscribed on its interior with ‘You never knew a (‘love’ in the form of a heart shape) more true’, with an indistinct maker’s mark. This took £1200. The same ring, but with a slightly different spelling of ‘true’, is listed in Joan Evans’ English Posies and Posy Rings. An 18th Century gold enamelled posy ring with an interior bearing the posy, ‘Not the value but my love’, and the maker’s mark ‘IC’, sold for £1400. Posy rings by the same maker are with the Museum of London and the British Museum. (ends) Picture: Sixteenth Century posy ring, £1800 (Dix Noonan Webb).
MULLOCK’S IS an auctioneer famous for sales of historical documents. It is less known for books, but a ‘local’ rarity appeared in its February sale. This was Redivivus, Or The Portraiture Of James Late Marquess Of Montrose, Earl Of Kincardin &c, I. In his Actions, in the years 1644, 1645, and 1646, for Charles the First. 2. In his Passions, in the years 1649, 1650, for Charles the Second, King of Scots. ‘Montrose’ was printed in London in 1652 ‘for Jo. Ridley, at the Castle in Fleet-street, near Ram-alley.’ Described by Mullock’s as a “handsome” volume, the book was in clean and tight condition. A portrait frontispiece of Montrose and a folding map of Scotland added to its attractiveness. It also had historic value. It was the first English edition of this history of the Wars of Montrose by George Wishart, published in Latin a few years earlier. George Wishart – not the Dundee martyr of the same name – was a Scottish historian and minister, born in 1609. After refusing to take the covenant, he was imprisoned on several occasions. When James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, defeated the covenanters and was approaching Edinburgh in triumph, Wishart was one of a deputation of cavalier prisoners, “whom the terrified citizens assent to him to implore his clemency.” He then remained with the Marquis as his chaplain for the remainder of the campaign. This work is based upon these battles and adventures. Despite its rarity, the tiny 6in x 4in volume failed to reach its £800-£1000 estimate. Yet, doing what they do best – selling documents – Mullock’s took £29,000 for a group of Mahatma Gandhi letters just a few lots later!
JULIEN’S AUCTIONS in far-off California brought a rarity to the market on November 17 – the Nobel Prize gold medal awarded in 1956 to British scientist Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood. Not just the names Cyril and (ahem) Norman are rare nowadays! This was one of just eight Nobel Prizes to have ever been sold – and the first example I can recall since the medal of James Watson of DNA double helix fame sold for £2.6 million in 2014. In fact, I have clapped eyes on just one Nobel gold medal – the 1988 award to former Dundee University chancellor Sir James Black, now on show at the National Galleries in Edinburgh. London-born Hinshelwood’s work in explosives and chain reactions led, rather remarkably, to the development of antibiotics and other therapeutic agents. He studied the explosive reaction of hydrogen and oxygen and described the phenomenon of chain reaction. His subsequent work on chemical changes in the bacterial cell proved to be of great importance in later medical research. The medal was solid 23-carat gold and weighed 202 grams. One side showed the profile of Alfred Nobel and on the other the goddess Nature bearing a cornucopia with the Genius of Science holding up her veil. Below was a plaque engraved with Hinshelwood’s name. The medal was housed in a fitted red leather box stamped with the winner’s name in gold. After his death in 1967, Hinshelwood’s Nobel medal was sold by his estate, and in 1976 purchased by a coin dealer in Los Angeles for $15,000. His remarkable life rediscovered, the hammer soared beyond $100,000 and fell at $128,000, or roughly £96,500. Picture: Nobel Prize medal £96,500 (Julien’s Auctions).
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.
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.
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).
FORGIVE ME if I suggest Dundee has always been European in outlook; its soldiery enlisted for the Sun Kings of France, its learned folk studied at Leiden and Leipzig, its medieval merchants traded with the Baltic ports, and Juteopolis exported its wares to the Continent. The oldest book in Dundee Library and the greatest treasure in its museum are European in origin, too. Dundee Central Libraries have three works by Hector Boece – the most important his Scotorum Historiae. Printed in Paris in 1524 it is, I believe, the oldest book in Dundee’s public collection. I like to imagine it was borrowed by 17th century Dundonians! Meanwhile, the famous McManus astrolabe is an amazing object. It is important because it is thought to be the oldest example of a mariner’s astrolabe in the world, which makes it internationally significant. This astrolabe was made in 1555 by Lopo Honem, a Portuguese instrument maker. During the 1600s it came into the possession of Andrew Smyton, who was a Dundee ship owner engaged in the salt trade with France – yes, the port’s European bonds again. Talking of rare survivors, the first book to describe the navigational instruments that measured the angle of the sun or a star above the horizon that came to be known as astrolabes, made a quiet appearance at Christie’s in London. It featured in part two of the Giancarlo Beltrame library of scientific books in December. The first tranche raised £5.42 million for just 100 extraordinary lots in the same King Street saleroom last summer. Printed in Paris in 1620, a first edition bound in red calf, it was titled ‘Briefve explication de l’usage de l’astrolabe’ and was the work of Didier Henrion (c1580-c1640). Henrion’s treatise on the astrolabe was intended to accompany the real instrument – the Haynes manual of its day. It included two engraved folding plates (one illustrated), and other woodcut diagrams of an astrolabe and armillary sphere. It is remarkable that the work does not appear in standard bibliographies, and that no copy has ever been recorded at auction. Toned, spotted and soiled in places, but a great European rarity, it romped past pre-sale hopes of £500-£800 to take £3000, inclusive of buyer’s premium.
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).