On Oct. 30, auctioneer Brian Cole took bids on an 18-light chandelier, not, as so often happens these days, off the chandelier, which is where auctioneers find those fictitious numbers they pull out of the air to support the minimum acceptable price when there are no bids in the auction room.
The 5-foot-wide, 200-pound chandelier sold for a whopping $1,155,000, double its high estimate, at Christie's, to become the sixth lot of silver to sell for more than $1 million. (The record stands at $1.98 million, paid at Christie's in April for an Italian table fountain circa 1680.)
Made by Robert Garrard 2nd in London in 1837, the chandelier is a thicket of cast ornament: antelopes, foliate scrolls and ducal coronets. (Who said the rococo died in 1785?) It was made for James Hamilton, 2nd Marquess of Abercorn, for his seat, Bentley Priory, near Stanmore in Middlesex.
After his brilliant marriage to June, daughter of the Duke of Bedford, in 1834, the marquess went on a spending spree, buying antique sculpture, paintings, furniture and bronzes from France and Italy and patronizing a number of English silversmiths. He spent nearly 8,000 pounds with Garrard. Though the bill for the chandelier itself is missing, a record of the charges for its chased and scroll pattern, solid brass chain covered with silver and the center bar are listed in Garrard's record books at 130 pounds sterling. The chain and bar were sold with the chandelier.
Nearly bankrupt in 1852, the marquess sold Bentley Priory to Sir John Kelk, an industrialist, but he had the good sense to remove the chandelier to the family's London house. It appears in an 1890 inventory as "a chased scroll pattern Chandelier with 18 branches, 3 Antelopes &c. and Plated chains for do [ditto], 2,395 oz., 16 dwt."
Sometime in the 20th century the chandelier was moved to Baronscourt, the Abercorn house in Ireland, where it is seen in a photograph of the rotunda, and it remained there until 1950 when it was sold to the father of the anonymous foreign owner who consigned it for sale. The new owners are a partnership of E. & C. T. Koopman & Son Ltd. and S. J. Phillips, London silver dealers, who had a strong pound and a weak dollar in their favor. The underbidder on the phone apparently set his limit at $1 million.
The chandelier brought the top price in a sale of 348 lots of English and Continental silver, of which 341 sold for a total of $4,417,380 and 41 failed to sell because of flaws, repairs or too aggressive expectations, reflecting a healthy market.
"The silver market never got overheated like some other areas, so what we are seeing is a continuing quest for the finest things," said Christopher Hartop, who heads Christie's silver department. "There is still a great shortage of fine works available; when they come to market there is good competition from around the world."
An American collector paid $418,000 for two George II salvers made for Sir Robert Eyre to commemorate the offices he held as chancellor to the Prince of Wales and lord chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas. They bear London hallmarks for 1728 and 1735 and were engraved in 1736 with the seal of the lord chief justice on one, and the seal of George, Prince of Wales, (subsequently George II) on the other. Said to have been made from the silver matrix of royal seals retired upon the death of the king, the salvers, known as seal salvers, were sold in 1980 at Sotheby's for the then high price of $198,000. In 10 years they have more than doubled in value, and though that sounds spectacular, actually the rate of return works out to 6.5 percent compounded weekly, assuming the consignor paid no commission, and deducting the 10 percent buyer's commission figured in the selling price.
An American silver rarity brought a premium on Oct. 19 at Christie's when a collector paid $242,000 for a New York mid-18th century mug made by Bartholomew LaRoux and engraved by Joseph Lidell with illustrations from the bible story of Joseph.
These high silver prices may be just preliminary to the fireworks expected at Christie's sale on Jan. 10 of the Georgian silver amassed by late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, and abandoned when they fled their palace during the revolution in 1986. Offered on behalf of the Philippine government, it is the largest individual collection of silver ever sold at auction. It is expected to bring between $3 million and $5 million.
Any silver that fit in a pocket disappeared during the sacking of the palace, but plenty of big pieces remained, including 36 wine coolers. The 185-piece Paul Storr dinner service made in 1806 and 1807 for the first Earl of Egremont sold at Christie's in London in 1979 for $520,000, and the Marcoses acquired it thereafter. Now missing 70 dinner plates, but with 42 remaining, and more than two dozen covered dishes and tureens -- in all, 115 pieces -- it is estimated to bring between $600,000 to $1
million. In addition, there are six lots by the English Huguenot silversmith Paul de Lamerie: two cake baskets, a set of four magnificent candlesticks, two dozen dinner plates and a rectangular tray known as the Hassell charger, engraved with an exuberant rococo coat of arms. The charger is estimated at $250,000 to $350,000.