Published: December 7, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Hermann Historica
GRASBRUNN, BAVARIA, GERMANY – During November 22-26, nearly 3,500 lots of antiques, works of art and Asiatica, antique international arms and armor, firearms and orders and military collectibles crossed the block at Hermann Historica. Throughout every sale session, works that had provenance to royal, noble or otherwise important and prominent people claimed strong prices.
A representative of the firm confirmed the sales were considered successful, noting that 90 percent of the starting prices were met, with $6.72 million achieved from the total of all sessions.
Works Of Art, Asiatica, Antiquities
Nearly 900 lots were offered on November 22, in the categories of Works of Art, Asiatica and Antiquities. Gold artifacts, notably those of Middle Eastern origin, were well placed among the leaderboard. Top lot honors of the day went to a Second Millennium BCE Elamite golden necklace with a large layered brown and white agate flanked by rows of bosses, which finished at $147,000. Two matching fragments of an elongated gold plate adorned with hunting scenes were of similar age and area of origin: Iranian, Second Millennium BCE, that went out for $56,000.
Classical Roman works were also popular among bidders, who took a First Century CE Roman iron military face mask from a bronze cavalry helmet to $81,200. The catalog note identifies the rare survival rate of these fragments, as well as a small group of other masks documented from grave finds. The iron face piece was modeled after the features of the wearer; it took considerable skill to affix it to the cast brass helmet.
A polychrome Roman glass unguent bottle with gold lid in the figural form of a woman capped off at $56,000. Described as exceptional in both design and condition, the First Century bottle measured just more than 4½ inches and weighed 49 grams.
If there was a connection between a First-Third Century gold Roman pyxis marked PAVLINA and Empress Caecilia Paulina, the wife of Emperor Maximinus Thrax (235-238 CE), it remains unproven. The round gold box with circular lid featured four bas-relief winged erotic figures with other attributes that suggest a Baccanalian or pastoral background. It attracted sufficient interest among bidders to take it to $47,600.
Topping offerings of Asiatica at $39,200 was a large Chinese jade ritual ax head with a dragon decorative motif. It was attributed to the Hongshan culture of Northeastern China based on undeciphered characters often associated with that Neolithic period.
Antique International Arms & Armor
The smallest session of the week offered just 276 lots of antique arts and armor from around the world on November 23. Besting the session was a Perso-Indian shamshir made with a blade dedicated to Shah Nadir Afshar (1688-1747), which was promoted as one of the sale highlights before the auction; it sold for an astonishing $225,010, more than four times its high estimate. The result was not surprising, given the gilt inlaid wootz Damascus steel curved blade, a gilt silver hilt with colored enamel and adorned with diamonds and polished rubies. As if that were not enough to temp buyers, the pommel terminated in a tiger’s head. The sword was an example in which the provenance helped drive the result: despite humble parentage, Nadir has been variously described by historians as the “Second Alexander” and the “Napoleon of Persia.” He ruled as the Shah of Persia from 1736 to 1747 and founded the Afsharid Dynasty.
Edged weapons cut a swath across the leaderboard and two early German examples had notably praiseworthy results. A South German “langes messer” or one-handed sword, circa 1530-40, with dragon’s head finials made $47,600; a two-handed flamberge, made in Passau circa 1580, realized $42,000.
Other early German forms also appealed to bidders. A circa 1560 South German crossbow lavishly inlaid with bone and featuring images of John the Baptist, a lansquenet at prayer, putti, animals and mythical creatures and a woman in contemporary dress, shot to $30,800. Of similar vintage, a dragon and blossom-motif decorated wrought iron horse muzzle was considered to be in fine condition and made $29,400.
Antique & Modern Firearms
Firearms of any vintage were offered on November 24 in a sale of more than 850 lots. Leading the group was a deluxe wheellock rifle made around 1730 by Matthias Staper of Vienna for the armory of the Princes of Esterházy. A richly engraved lock, a lockplate featuring a deer hunt in a landscape and also a rooster with Minerva were among the decorative elements, as were the crowned coat of arms of the Princes of Esterházy. According to the catalog, the Princes of Esterházy of Galántha are among the noblest and most influential families in Hungary and the Danube Monarchy. In 1687, Count Paul VI was raised to the rank of royal prince for his merits during the Turkish Wars. One ancestral seat of the family is the well-known Forchtenstein Castle in Burgenland. The gun brought a sufficiently noteworthy price of $58,800.
A wheellock mechanism was also present in a South German bone-inlaid puffer with chiseled gilt barrel and lock that ran to $23,800. The compressed ball pommel was engraved with a warrior head while floral motifs embellished the rest of the gun.
A Spanish percussion shotgun, mid-Nineteenth Century, was considered a significant presentation example that was probably made for a member of the Spanish royal family or the 1851 London World’s Fair. It made $25,200.
Orders And Military Collectibles
Orders and military collectibles comprised the largest section of the sale and were divided into two sessions: those made prior to 1918 were offered November 25, those made after that date crossed the block on the last day of the sales.
Nearly two dozen lots in the November 25 sale had provenance to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, several of which brought the highest prices of the day. She was born in 1837 into the royal Bavarian House of Wittelsbach and married Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854; she was assassinated in 1898 in Geneva, Switzerland. The top lot of the sale was a black silk glove with lace cuff that the empress had worn on the day of her assassination. It was framed along with a comb and dried posy of flowers and a letter handwritten by her chamberlain, Count von Berzeviczy, in which he confirms the authenticity of the pieces. The relic had descended in the family of Albert, Prince of Thurn and Taxis (1867-1952). The starting price of $13,440 was quickly surpassed and it closed for $92,400.
A similarly strong result was achieved for a white silk, silk chiffon and bobbin lace summer dress that Empress Elizabeth had once worn; it brought $89,600 from a starting price of $11,200. It had been in a private German collection since 1991, when it was purchased at Hermann Historica.
A gouache and watercolor miniature of the Empress in Hungarian coronation regalia may have been painted on the occasion of her 1867 coronation. It was framed in a double-sided locket with plaited hair and a gold cipher of the Empress. It brought $53,200, six times its starting price. The marathon of sales concluded with nearly 930 lots of post-1919 orders and military collectibles, many of which were Nazi-related artifacts.
Hermann Historica’s next sales will be in the spring, the dates have not yet been announced.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium and have been converted into dollars based on the conversion rate on the day of the sale.
For additional information, www.hermann-historica.de.
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