LONDON — While John Woodman Higgins was a successful industrialist and owner of the Worcester (Mass.) Pressed Steel Company that he and his father established in 1905, he was inspired by the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. He was an observer and exponent of the talent and trade of blacksmiths, farmers and factory workers. Also, as a youngster, he was much taken with knights and chivalry. Those interests, and a stint during World War I as a consultant to a wartime project of armor development, drew him to collecting armor.
His first major acquisition was in 1928 when he bought a group of armors from Sir Joseph Duveen. His collection grew so rapidly that the same year be began work on the John Woodman Higgins Armory, which opened in Worcester in 1931.
When the trustees of the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester voted last summer to deaccession objects deemed least essential to the collection or duplicate items, they looked to Thomas Del Mar, Ltd, of London. Accordingly, Del Mar auctioned nearly 500 lots at its Blythe Road gallery March 20, in what is termed its first “white glove sale.” Most lots sold well above estimates, with total sales exceeding $2 million, more than twice the high estimate. The proceeds will be used for the continuing display, study and stewardship of the collection.
Distinguished forms and impeccable provenance attracted a distinguished international roster of collectors who jumped at the chance to possess the material that has been unavailable for nearly a century. The move is in preparation for the transfer of the armory museum’s collection to the Worcester Art Museum at the end of the year when the Higgins will close.
“The objects being sold have never been on display and are not of museum quality,” Higgins’ interim director Suzanne W. Maas told The Boston Globe. “In addition, any proceeds earned through the March 20 auction will be added to the museum’s endowment, then transferred to the Worcester Art Museum. This is simple housekeeping,” reported the Globe. “We have 10 virtually identical examples of troopers helmets. Do we need 10?” said Mass.
Thomas Del Mar himself is the former head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Department of Arms, Armor and Militaria and established his own auction house in 2005 — in association with Sotheby’s.
The top lot was a late Seventeenth or early Eighteenth Century Ottoman saddle cover that sold for $71,000. The bell-shaped crimson silk velvet work was 67 inches long and was embroidered richly with silver wire arabesques, carnations and lotuses. It was acquired in 1950 at a Parke-Bernet sale.
Two Ottoman shaffrons (equine masks), each made in Turkey in the first quarter of the Sixteenth Century and stamped with the mark of the Ottoman Court Arsenal at Hagia Irene, were made of a main plate embossed into four sections. One with flaring to the nose, eyes and ears sold for $42,780 and the other, with flanged eyes, sold for $49,680.
A group of Sixth Century Greek Corinthian one-piece bronze helmets with rounded crowns appealed to bidders who pushed one to $52,440 and another similar example, also with embossed brows, to $41,400. A third example had some repairs and realized $19,300.
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century cap-à-pie armor (head to toe) comprised no fewer than 12 lots, all with distinguished provenance and exhibition history. Each had some restoration due to age and the rigors of battle. A composite German example in the “Maximilian” style from about 1515–1530 with a close helmet with a medial comb sold for $44,160.
A composite North Italian field example from around 1540, restored in part by George Donaldson, armorer to William Randolph Hearst, brought $41,400. It was acquired from the Hearst collection and was purchased at Parke-Bernet in 1952. A composite blued and gilt western European cap-à-pie armor was once part of the collection of Dr Bashford Dean, professor at Columbia, curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History and curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dating from 1550–1580, with some later decoration, the suit sold for $35,880.
A Northern Italian close helmet used for the foot tourney was made in Milan around 1590 and decorated in the style of Milanese armorer Pompeo della Chiesa. Etched beautifully and with a stippled ground, the helmet retains some traces of original gilt. It realized $15,180. A Nineteenth Century comb morion with a high medial crown in the Sixteenth Century French or Flemish style, with embossed and chased relief decoration, sold for $13,800. A South German close helmet, circa 1530, with a later grotesque visor embossed with eyes, a hooked nose, a moustache and the mouth characteristic of a Turkish warrior sold for $12,420.
A 14-bore German wheellock sporting rifle from the second quarter of the Seventeenth Century, and later was made with an octagonal barrel, sold for $12,420. The piece was engraved with overall foliate scrolling, the flat lock with a seated male playing a lyre amid exotic animals, including a unicorn.
From the Americas, a rare pair of late Sixteenth or early Seventeenth Century Mexican “conquistador” stirrups was decorated with pierced chiseled trellis panels with rococo flowers and scroll medallions and sold for $25,840. A Nineteenth Century Central American knife with silver mounts was chiseled with elaborate foliate scrolling to the blade, the grip and the scabbard. It was also marked with the arms of Columbia and the arms of El Salvador, inscribed “United States of America” and bore abbreviations for Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. It sold for $11,730.
A Sixteenth or Seventeenth Century set of four wrought iron grilles made in Germany or Austria with squares of leafy scrollwork with central seraphs sold for $28,950. It was acquired at the Joseph Brummer Gallery in New York in 1935.
A polished iron strong box from about 1700, made probably in France, with freestanding columns embellished with foliage and with elaborate scroll and tendril foliage engraved with birds and vases brought $38,640. It was acquired at Parke-Bernet in 1950.
A Nineteenth Century steel target with embossed, chased and gold damascened decoration of classical warriors in battle was made in the style of the second half of the Sixteenth Century. It realized $16,100.
A stained glass window made using Thirteenth Century elements was considered to be French was believed to have been from the church of Saint-Julien-du-Sault in Burgundy. It had been part of the collection of William Randolph Hearst and was purchased at Gimbel’s in New York in 1943. Seventy years later in London it realized $27,600.
Modern pieces were represented by a Meiji period (1868–1912) Japanese articulated iron model of a carp that sold for $35,580. It had been purchased in 1941 at Yamanaka in New York. A Meiji articulated iron model of a snake by Myochin was signed “Munekazu” and sold for $34,500. It had been acquired from Yamanaka in 1936. Two Meiji articulated russet iron models, a hermit crab and a prawn, sold for $16,698. Two late Meiji russet iron articulated figures, a butterfly and a dragonfly, were signed by Takase Kozan, who worked in Kyoto in the early Twentieth Century. Each was purchased at Yamanaka, one in 1933 and the other in 1935, and the lot realized $17,980. A large Myochin articulated russet iron figure of a dragonfly sold for $17,940.
An Edo period helmet (kabuto) made in the early Seventeenth Century with a tall rounded point was decorated with three fujii-mitsubishi-monin mother of pearl, a shikoro of five iron lames and gilt and black lacquer. It had sold in1932 at Kano Oshijma in New York and brought $17,940 in London.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium,
For more information, www.thomasdelmar.com or +44 207-602-4805.