Saleroom Life

by Sheffield Auction Gallery

Month: May 2017

Silver Teapots

As spring turns to summer, or tries to, my wife and I find ourselves dusting the cobwebs off the rucksack and planning a walk or two in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. We are very much fair weather walkers, a little like hibernating animals waking from winter sleeps.

This years first walk was an unambitious gentle few miles around the Chatsworth estate. I packed the rucksack. Fortunately it is cavernous as I felt we needed raincoats, extra woollens, a bottle of water, a plentiful packed lunch, a large flask of tea, a mat to lay the lunch on, sweets to chew, two hats and a folding stool ( the stool ties onto the rucksack as I prefer it to the mat).

Needless to say, being the strongest of the two of us by a short head, I carried the rucksack. I think I may have overdone it with provisions because after half a mile I was pretty desperate to stop for lunch. We drank all the liquids, ate all the lunch, put on the hats and after a short rest continued.

With a much lighter load I was able to enjoy the countryside and as my wife chatted gaily away I let my mind wander. I thought about the tea we had just drunk, the history of it and that marvellous vessel the teapot.

Tea was introduced to Europe from China with the expansion of trade in the 17th century and was a great novelty to people used to drinking only beer and posset. Although it was extremely
expensive, a pound of tea cost the equivalent to a year’s wage for a maid, it quickly became very popular. It was originally drunk after dinner and was usually prepared personally by the lady of the
house. Those who were buying tea also had the means to buy silver and by the end of the 18th century tea wares had become a major part of the silversmith’s trade.

The earliest teapots date from the late 17th century but very few of these exist today. They were designed along the lines of the imported Chinese porcelain teapots. The pear shape came into
being early in the 18th century and was the dominant style in Britain.

From the 1730’s the compressed globular or ‘bullet’ shape became more fashionable than the the pear shape. Some teapots were very richly decorated with bands of engraved or chased scrolls,
strapwork and flowers around the body and the edge of the lid. One interesting variation on the bullet shape was the fully spherical teapot on a high foot that was a speciality of Scottish

In the 1770’s the availability of rolled sheet silver in thin gauge meant that silversmiths could produce teapots at a much reduced price. As rolled silver was easier to mould and shape, the oval
and circular teapot shapes became popular in line with the rise of the Neo-classical style. However such teapots were not as robust as those made from heavier gauge metal and splitting is
sometimes evident around the spout which was made from seamed sheet metal instead of being cast.

The 19th century saw many further developments in teapot design, not least the electroplated model. The whole century is a separate subject. What a collectable item the silver teapot is.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


Last week, at great expense, I purchased a ‘new and improved’ wet shaving system, which up to last week I had always known as a razor. Now over the years I have always tried to keep abreast of razor developments and for some time have been using a three blade example, but this new five blade version does seem a blade too far. I wonder if I have enough facial area to allow all five blades the chance to perform. It may however be academic as I cannot break the plastic seal. I am going to need a sharp metal object like a corkscrew.

Worldwide there are a thousand patents for different types of bottle openers, but the most common remains the corkscrew. There are essentially two types; the straight pull, which relies on strength and the mechanical versions which are more sought after and more valuable.

The interest in corkscrews comes from a mixture of things, including the mechanism used such as levers, crank handles and complex concertina styles, the handles made in a variety of materials and their individual style including decorative form and advertising.

The first English corkscrew patent was taken out by Samuel Henshall in 1795 for a T-shaped straight pull and it lasted for fourteen years. Early versions of the corkscrew are very rare and can be extremely valuable.

During the 19th century many patents were taken out for a variety of different corkscrews. Examples to look out for include Robert Jones’ design of 1840, which has a brass ‘worm’ or screw and three prongs to pierce and grip the cork. Jones’ design enjoyed limited success in its day, probably because like many of today’s tin openers, it didn’t work very well. Today however it is a rare and valuable find, sometimes realising more than four figure sums in auction, if intact and in good condition.

Corkscrews of the twentieth century are less valuable, due to the simpler less appealing designs and the volume of their production, but they would be a good place to start a collection. Unusual examples with fine mechanisms or beautifully crafted versions are always worth watching out for though.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


This weekend has dawned sunny and our grass is long and our weeds are numerous. My wife is busy with a black bag, fork and kneeling mat, but sadly I have to wait as all my years of grass cutting experience tell me the grass is too wet to cut. As I sit with my coffee soaking the rare and wonderful sun’s rays and watching them dry the long green blades that constitute our lawn, my mind turns to time and from time to that great teller of time, the wristwatch.

Cartier made the first wristwatch in 1904 for the aviator Alberto Dumont. However, it was during the First World War that the wrist watch was first recognised as a more convenient method for soldiers to tell the time than by trying to consult a pocket watch on a chain. It was not surprising then that many small fob watches were converted to wrist watches after the war by having strap fittings attached to them.

During the 1920’s the Swiss led the way in being able to produce wrist watches in every quality in number large enough to satisfy public demand. In the 1930’s Rolex led the way by producing one
of the first fully automatic and waterproof watches.

The early watches were usually of circular form. During the years between the World Wars, following the fashions of the time, different styles were introduced that made use of clean and bold numerals in square, rectangular, oval and octagonal cases.

Today collectors are mostly interested in the classic designs of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, while also recognising the merits of the more recent years. Value is determined by many factors including condition, maker, model, style and mechanism.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Staffordshire Figures

I am afraid to say that on any matter which is not work related it is very rare for anyone to take any notice whatsoever of anything I say.

My opinion on food is rarely sought and when it is, it is usually ignored. It was with a mixture of delight and trepidation therefore that I dealt with a recent phone call relating to an article I had
written which mentioned a local eatery in glowing terms. The lady calling was celebrating a landmark birthday and searching for an appropriate venue to stage the exciting event. I divulged the location of the restaurant.

To have someone act on my culinary advice began to cause me no small degree of pressure and anxiety. So much so that I booked my wife and myself in for another meal to be certain I was indeed right to praise the restaurant. We went and I was and while there my opinion was sought on Staffordshire figures.

The production of Staffordshire figures began during the reign of George lll in about 1780. The early figures are much better quality than their Victorian cousins and so always command a much higher price. By the early Victorian period the figures were so popular that corners had to be cut and production techniques altered to increase output. Demand remained high until the end of the
19th century.

To produce a model a skilled designer sculpted an original. From this a mould was made and this would produce about 200 models. The older the mould the more worn the details on the model became and this affects the price paid by collectors today. Quality from one factory to another can differ greatly. The flatback figure (with no detailing or painting on the back) was the result of even further cutbacks.

Staffordshire figures provide a social history of the period. They cover every type of person from the notorious rogue to the Royal family, celebrities, fictional characters, military heroes, sportsmen, and politicians.

One of the most popular models were dogs and in particular the seated King Charles spaniel. No Victorian parlour was complete without a pair of these comforter dogs by the fire. They are mainly white with painted features and of varying sizes.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Scent Bottles

As a child I was surrounded by sisters and as a man I was surrounded by mostly daughters. There is little wonder therefore that I have grown accustomed to the smell of perfume. It’s not that I don’t love the smell of perfume, I do, but I also love the wonderful aroma of a freshly lit pipe, or roast beef cooking on a Sunday morning or the mixture of old leather and petrol in a vintage car.

I appreciate that everything has its time and place and if my wife was dressed for a glamorous evening and smelt of roast beef it somehow wouldn’t be the same. More than any of these smells however the thing I really love is the bottle that holds them.

Liquid perfume dates from around the mid 17th century, but few glass perfume bottles actually exist from that time. Glass was considered unworthy to hold the very expensive perfumes, so
precious metals and hardstones were used instead. Perfume bottles produced from glass were not seen in large quantities until the end of the 18th century and they reached their peak in popularity and production in the Victorian period.

A Laligue Scent Bottle which made £3000 at Sheffield Auction Gallery in 2011

A Laligue Scent Bottle which made £3000 at Sheffield Auction Gallery in 2011

A particular favourite of this period was the double ended scent bottle. These held perfume in one end and smelling salts or vinaigrette in the other. They were often made with coloured, faceted glass with silver, silver gilt or brass caps.

Although the glass bottles were mass produced, they were made in a variety of styles and prices. The more expensive ones were set with coral or turquoise and had silver cagework overlays.
Cameo glass scent bottles were also popular. These bottles consist of two layers of glass, the outer layer is cut away to reveal the coloured glass underneath. They were produced in various
forms including animal heads, swans, eagles, owls and even crocodiles.Thomas Webb and Sons were important producers of these cameo bottles.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

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