Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
DALLAS – Heritage Auctions conducted its seasonal Fine Silver & Objects of Vertu sale on November 15, presenting almost 600 exceptional lots from two large collections, many of which have been long off the market. Karen Rigdon, vice president of fine silver and decorative art at Heritage, wrote, “Many memories survive of great dinner parties hosted by both Mildred Fender and Janice Callowy; Fender in Fort Worth, Texas; and Callowy in Greenwich, Conn., now residing in Dallas.” Rigdon shared that the bidders were a “well-rounded” pool of institutional clients, dealers and private collectors. The auction totaled $1,808,746 and had a 98 percent buy-through rate with post-auction sales being processed at the time of this report.
The literal and figural “trophy” of the sale was a silver figural covered cup known as the Lilford Falconry Centerpiece made by John Samuel Hunt (1785-1865) of Hunt & Roskell, London, in 1851 that brought $56,250. Bedecked with repoussé imagery of hunting and falconry, the centerpiece’s commission is shrouded in mystery. Named for its first confirmed owner Thomas Littleton Powys, 4th Baron Lilford (1833-1896), with whom the cup was spotted in a circa 1860 photograph. The baron founded the British Ornithologists Union in 1858, the Northamptonshire Natural History Society in 1876 and was a founding member of the Old Hawking Club, which adds plausibility to his candidacy as commissioner of the cup.
Four of the top lots were, perhaps unsurprisingly, Tiffany & Co. pieces from the mid to late Nineteenth Century. The second place of the sale was won by a silver and mixed metal tray at $52,500, its hand-hammered tray decorated with a chased gold-winged dragonfly and a tomato vine with a small insect on it embellished with copper and brass details, rendered with experimental techniques at that time. On the inner rim was also a copper beetle. “This tray just shimmers, it’s beyond comprehension even in person,” Rigdon said. “The gold of the dragonfly’s wings absolutely dances, you can’t see it in a photo.”
Third was a Tiffany & Co. standing silver ice bowl, designed by Edward C. Moore (1827-1891) who was head of the company’s silver production from 1873 until his death. Drawing from both Japanese design with its applied gilt pinecones and Renaissance art with the scrollwork band decorating its pedestal, the two rare walruses on the ice floe base were designed by Léonard Morel-Ladeuil (1820-1888) and have no known precedent. The bowl is designed with drainage holes, allowing melting ice to filter into the pedestal. This cleverly-designed creation bid to $51,250.
“Some of the [objects’] colors really hit me this season,” Rigdon remarked. When asked about her favorite lot, she mentioned a rare Japonesque partial-gilt fish serving set from Tiffany & Co. that sold for $9,688. Of the multiple colors that compose the servers’ surface, “It’s so unusual to see original gilding and difficult to know if they were originally gilt in these colors, or if this is a unique set.” According to Rigdon, the silver circular designs were bluer in person, and the colors overall more vibrant.
Heritage Auction’s Silver & Object of Vertu sales occur only twice a year, and Rigdon’s enthusiasm for the medium is infectious. “I had so much fun with this auction,” she said. “[The silver’s] all mine for six months, and then it goes to new homes.” And that, we concluded in conversation, is what these sales are all about.
Prices quoted with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Heritage’s next Silver & Objects of Vertu sale is May 16, consignments accepted through March 6. For information, 214-528-3500 or www.ha.com.