News & Insights

2019: The Year of Private Collections

16th December 2019.

It has been another extraordinary and busy year at Tennants Auctions, with 80 sales and almost 40,000 lots sold. Treasures both ancient and modern have passed through the doors, from a 13th-15th Century clamp-fronted chest (sold for £22,000 hammer price) to a 1970s Rolex Daytona ‘Big Red’ which achieved the top price of the year selling for £120,000 (plus buyer’s premium).

January set the tone for the year, when a record total hammer price for a January of £961,348 was achieved. Traditionally a quiet time of the year for salerooms, director and auctioneer Jane Tennant commented: ‘Good private collections featured prominently in our January Sales, which are always very appealing to buyers’.



Indeed, it was the extraordinary private collections sold in 2019 that really stand out. The year was opened with the single owner sale of The Roger Casson Collection, an important private library of polar exploration, travel and local history books. Attracting both book collectors and Polar enthusiasts alike, bidders joined the sale from North America, Canada, Australia, India and Europe, and the library achieved a total hammer price of £220,000. Including many rare and important volumes, the collection was put together over many years by the late Roger Casson, an architect from North East England. One of the most valuable lots in the sale, selling for £14,000 (plus buyer’s premium), was a limited-edition copy of The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 by Ernest H. Shackleton. Published by Heinemann in 1909, the two-volume set, which included two panoramas and three folding maps, is one of only three hundred sets that were produced bound in vellum.

May saw the sale of The Eddie Saxton Collection of Vintage Motorcycles as part of the Motor Vehicles and Automobilia Sale. The small private collection of fine and rare motorbikes was put together by the late Eddie Saxton, a dedicated enthusiast from the North of England, and sold for a total hammer price of £71,880. The highlight was a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow Series C which sold for £40,000 (plus buyer’s premium). The Black Shadow is regarded as the world’s first superbike and is perhaps the most iconic vintage motorcycle. The Black Shadow was made by Vincent H.R.D. in Stevenage, Hertfordshire between 1948 and 1955, a company renowned for fine engineering and innovative design.

The Bruce Housden Collection of Taxidermy was sold over the course of three Natural History Sales in 2019. The remarkable collection was amassed over a span of 45 years by the late Bruce Housden of Cambridgeshire. A collector of extraordinary dedication, Mr Housden amassed over 500 specimens of cased taxidermy and natural history curiosities made by some of the leading names in Victorian taxidermy. The collection sold for a total hammer price of £152,120.

We were delighted to be entrusted to sell the Estate of the Late Drs. Kamal and Margaret El-Shamy of York over the course of several sales during the first part of the year. Fine jewellery and paintings mixed with traditional antique furniture, with such highlights as a pair of 18 carat gold and diamond earrings by Andrew Grima, which sold for £8,200 (plus buyer’s premium), and Eliot Hodgkin’s ‘Worthy Down’, which sold for £5,000 (plus buyer’s premium). The sale of the Estate culminated in the single-owner sale of the El-Shamy’s wine collection in July, which sold for £233,240 (plus buyer’s premium). A 'white glove' sale in which every single lot sold, it was one of the most important UK wine sales to be held outside London in recent years and included some of the greatest wines produced over the last four decades. After competitive bidding from across the globe, the sale was topped by six bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1990, which sold for £30,000 (plus buyer's premium). Tennants' wine specialist William McNab said of the case: 'Romanée-Conti produce some of the most popular wines in the world, and 1990 was a particularly good year for grape crops leading to a great vintage that will only get better with age'. The entire Estate (including the Wine Cellar) sold for a total hammer price of £535,140.

The Summer Fine Art Sale included part of the Estate of Mary, Countess of Gainsborough, the highlight of which was a collection of portrait miniatures dating from the 16th to the 19th century. Selling for a combined hammer price of £48,800, the portrait miniatures included such treasures as Peter Cross’s ‘Portrait of a Lady with her hair falling over one shoulder’, which sold for £5,500 (plus buyer’s premium).

The Eric Morton Clock Collection is being sold throughout 2019 and 2020. An impressive array of nearly 300 longcase and table clocks, the collection was the work of the late Eric Morton (1945-2019) of County Durham, a coal miner turned museum taxidermist. Many of the clocks hale from makers in the North East and Yorkshire. Highlights of the collection sold so far include a Fine and Rare Fourteen Tune Musical Eight Day Longcase Clock with an Unusual Dial Display for Lunar Equation/Date and Solar Rise and Fall on a Year Equation, signed Hugh Lough, Penrith, 1773, which sold for £9,500 (plus buyer’s premium). To date, the collection has raised a combined hammer price of £90,200.

Aside from the Private Collections, 2019 has seen some outstanding results for individual works of art and collectables. Items of note include an agate cameo ring, carved with a classical female bust by Nathaniel Marchant (1739-1816), which sold for £39,000 (plus buyer’s premium); a South German turned ivory cup from the second half of the 17th century,  which sold for £32,000 (plus buyer’s premium); and ‘Gwastandnant’ by Sir Kyffin Williams, which sold for £29,000 (plus buyer’s premium). Perhaps the most dazzling lot of the year was a stunning circa 1935 diamond ring that was purchased by the vendor’s grandfather in the 1930s from S.J. Phillips. The 3.74 carat has E colour and VS1 clarity and was sold for £56,000 (plus buyer’s premium). 

We are already looking forward to 2020, which is full of potential with new Sporting Art Sales scheduled and new stand-alone Jewellery, Watches and Silver Sales, not to mention the Private Collections already in the works. Indeed we kick off the year with The Dexter Collection of Ottoman, Islamic and Indian Interiors, which is being sold in a single owner sale on 18th January, and the first of the animal bronzes from the Estate of Sally Arnup will be included in the inaugural Sporting Art Sale on 11th January. Also in the pipeline for 2020 is The Whisky Sale: A Private Collection and The Pattern Sale: 100 Years of Textile Designs and Fabric Samples from Two Private Collections which is set to garner international and academic interest.

Learn more about selling Private Collections with Tennants.

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