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Costume, Accessories & Textiles: Memories of Childhood

30th October 2019.

Two mementos of very different childhoods will come up for sale in Tennants Auctioneers’ Costume, Accessories & Textiles Sale on 22nd November. The first is a sampler worked by a pupil who lived in unimaginable conditions in an orphanage in Van Diemen’s Land in 1838, the second a lavish dolls house made in London c.1850, which would have been made for a very wealthy household.

A reminder of a childhood of deprivation and despair comes in the form of a modest sampler, completed by a girl from the Queens Orphan School in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1838. The orphanage was established in 1833 to house orphans, neglected children and the children of convicts transported from Europe to horrors of the formidable penal colony. Run as part of the convict system, the orphanage was described at the time in a newspaper article as ‘cold and comfortless’. The writer goes on to elaborate ‘… never did we see two hundred human beings, that exhibited so squalid an appearance, as did the majority of the Queen’s orphans.’ Belying such a bleak situation is the colourful and carefully stitched sampler, which contains a verse ‘Lines on a Lady’, extolling the virtues of meekness and mildness and wishes ‘may she in paths of flowers stray’. The sampler, which was worked with the name of the orphanage, is on offer with an estimate of £600-800 plus buyer’s premium.

The top lot of the sale is a white painted wooden dolls’ town house, made circa 1850 and called ‘Belgravia’, which was once owned by Vivien Greene, one of the world’s foremost dolls’ house experts and wife of novelist Graham Greene. On offer with an estimate of £4,000-5,000 (plus buyer’s premium), ‘Belgravia’ was the first dolls’ house that Greene bought, and which inspired her deep fascination with the subject. In 1944 Vivien Greene was re-building her life in Oxford with her two children following the loss of both her house in the Blitz and her husband who abandoned his family. Searching for affordable furniture at an auction in Burford, Greene came across ‘Belgravia’ and made an impulsive purchase – taking the four-storey dolls’ house home on the bus. She set about painstakingly scraping away old paint with shards of broken bottles, and gradually restored the house with decorations and furnishings appropriate to the mid-19th century period of the house. She named the family that inhabited the house the ‘Bosanquets’ and arranged the rooms and their inhabitants in intricate scenes, rife with social dramas. The house is fully furnished with fine Walterhausen furniture. Greene went on to collect and restore a great many dolls’ houses, and research and write about dolls’ houses in depth. She can be credited in reviving interest in her subject and inspiring museums and conservators to save dolls’ houses in the rapidly modernising post-war world. Greene built an extraordinary collection of dolls’ houses, which she would display in her own museum, before they were sold at Bonhams in 1998. ‘Belgravia’ was later displayed at Tara’s Palace Museum of Childhood in Co. Wicklow.

Also on offer in the sale are a pair of circa 1950s Käthe Kruse Dolls, on offer with an estimate of £1,000-1,500 (plus buyer’s premium), and an early 20th century Steiff teddy bear is estimate to sell for £500-800 (plus buyer’s premium.

Elsewhere in the sale, a Louis Vuitton trunk made circa 1910 is estimated to sell for £2,500-3,500 (plus buyer’s premium, and a modern Hermès ‘Kelly’ handbag in black is on offer with an estimate of £800-1,200 – a fraction of the price of a new bag. Good 19th century quilts are on offer too, along with a strong selection of costume including good 1970s fashion. One of the top lots of costume is a brown leather jacket and skirt ensemble, designed by Sally MacLachlan for the 1972 Autumn/Winter collection for Bill Gibb. Stencilled with naturalistic plants and with an appliqué silver bee to the jacket, a similar example is held in the collection of the Met in New York, and further items from the collection have been exhibited in the V&A. The outfit is on offer with an estimate of £300-500 (plus buyer’s premium).

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