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Words: William Gregory MRICS, Golding Young and Mawer Auctioneers
Featured in the December 2014 issue

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Silver is still shining at the auction house, where buyers will pay a premium for highly decorative pieces.

In the latest auction at Golding Young & Mawer’s Lincoln Auction Rooms, the hammer prices of two items showed that, while functional items of silver, such as candlesticks and coffee pots, will always be in demand, buyers will pay the highest prices for sought-after ornamental items.

The first lot in the sale was a bold Victorian two-handled trophy cup with lid which sold for £2,500, against an estimate of £800 to £1,200. The 53cm cup weighed 107 ounces which, at current silver prices of £8 per ounce, means it would be worth around £800 for the silver alone. But it was an impressive piece, produced in 1863 in Birmingham by William Tongue, and highly decorative. The cup was embossed with flowers and leaves with a central space for an engraving, while the handles were decorated with eagle sculptures and the circular domed base was cast with four figures of Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology.The cup was engraved and decorated with a knight on horseback.

Similarly, a silver Victorian castle topped card case measuring just 10cm by 7cm, produced by silversmith Nathaniel Mills in Birmingham in 1851, attracted a great deal of attention from collectors.

Again, the actual value of the silver alone at current prices was a mere £50, but its exquisite design and collectability (it was engraved with a church building with mountains in the foreground surrounded with a rolling cartouche, engine turned outer border and initialled ‘CS’) ensured fierce bidding in the saleroom. The hammer finally fell at £2,000 to a buyer bidding on the telephone.

A good maker’s name certainly adds value to an item. Nathaniel Mills & Sons were nineteenth century silversmiths who specialised in making silver boxes, vinaigrettes, card cases and snuff boxes. Nathaniel (1746–1840) was succeeded by his sons Nathaniel, William and Thomas and most pieces made between 1840 and 1853 were made by the latter two who were partners in the firm.

By contrast, practical, less decorative items of silver by unknown makers attract less of a premium. A fairly simple silver salver with a pie crust patterned border on four scroll cast feet fetched around its value at £260 for twenty-one ounces of silver, against a £160 to £200 estimate. The salver was engraved with a personal message which had little wide appeal:

Similarly, a pair of Victorian silver tapering candlesticks with square bases sold for around the estimate of £440. Made in London in 1894 and standing 27.5cm high, the candlesticks were a practical choice in a competitive market.

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