Saleroom Life

by Sheffield Auction Gallery

Month: June 2017

Bakelite

As a schoolboy I was never allowed to answer the telephone in our house when it rang, it was an adult only prerogative. Oh how I longed to be an adult and lift that heavy, beautifully modelled, Bakelite receiver.

Plastics and Bakelite really epitomise the energy of modern design between the wars. Their bright colours, exciting styling and new affordable materials caught people’s imagination at the time and now their appeal is being rediscovered because these early plastic items are an easy inexpensive way to achieve the Art Deco look.

A beautiful copper, brass & bakelite telephone

A beautiful copper, brass & bakelite telephone

Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, was developed in1907 by a Belgian, Dr Leo Baekeland. In the 1920’s and 1930’s it hit it’s peak in popularity and was known as the ‘material of a thousand uses’. Bakelite and it’s imitations ushered in a new age of colourful and stylish, yet inexpensive household goods.

Bakelite can be identified by the strong carbolic smell it gives off when rubbed. It was made in mottled and plain browns, black, green, red and blue. Colours other than brown and black make any plastic object more desirable and larger objects, particularly in Bakelite, are rare and so more valuable.

Styling is also very important and pieces that reflect the Art Deco style of the 1930’s – typified by stepped forms, streamlining and clean lines- are especially collectable. Plastics from the 1950’s onwards tend to be less desirable and so less valuable as styling is not as strong and the quality is generally poorer than the early plastics made between 1910 and 1930.

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

Vesta Cases

Smoking is very bad for your health and it is many many years since I last had the unbelievable joy of smoking my pipe. The inconsolable heartbreak of dispatching my beloved briar to the bin is still a wound as raw today as the day of the ceremony. I console myself however by counting the money saved on matches or, as they are sometimes called, vestas.

Vesta cases are a very collectable item. In the 1830’s the awkward and inconvenient tinder box was finally replaced when a new method was invented for producing flames. Vesta matches, named after the Roman goddess Vesta, were slightly smaller than modern matches and were tipped with red phosphorus which ignited when rubbed against a rough surface.

A 9ct Aspray Gold Vesta Case SOLD £340 APRIL 2011 at Sheffield Auction Gallery

A 9ct Aspray Gold Vesta Case SOLD £340 APRIL 2011 at Sheffield Auction Gallery

This new invention in turn developed a need for the vesta box. Originally the vesta box was an adaptation of the traditional snuff box made by adding a striker. The striker was usually a small plate of silver or iron added to the side, base or even interior of the snuff box. Iron strikers remain rare though because laws in the production of silver prohibited the soldering of any base metal to the silver. Other developments included moving the hinged cover to the base to prevent the chance of a stray spark turning the vesta box into a bomb. So, slowly vesta box design grew separately from the snuff box.

Essentially there are three types of vesta case. Those made in the provinces, those made in London and the novelty cases. Collectors can collect single makers, specific Assay offices, all varieties, have themed collections or specialise in novelty. The most valuable are often the novelty cases. These come in a variety of guises. Examples are the dog, the pig, the dog kennel, the violin, the snake and the corseted female form.

Smoking tobacco is definitely not a popular activity any longer, but collecting smoking memorabilia is a growing passion amongst collectors and the vesta case is part of that passion.

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

Carriage Clocks

Had I been born in the 19th century and been lucky enough to own a carriage, without doubt one of the first “in carriage” accessories I would have purchased would have been a carriage clock. They were a marvelous little mechanism.

If the basic carriage clock had had a tin, it would have done exactly what it said on it. It was a clock, it told the time and it could be taken into a carriage. A standard carriage clock is plain, made of brass, has clear glass panels and a white enamel dial. It stands about five inches tall.

Following the invention of the coil spring in the 16th century the carriage clock and other portable clocks became far more attractive propositions. The French were leaders in carriage clock production, although we English did make some larger heavier examples. The 19th century was the hey-day of the carriage clock and when the First World War began in1914 production faltered greatly and never really recovered Value is influenced by many things. Quality, as always, is a great barometer. Size also affects value, with small and tiny clocks being very desirable. Enamelling on the brass frames adds to collectability.

A carriage clock with a repeater mechanism is always more highly prized and the minute repeater is the best of all. In the dark, through the case the weary traveler can press a button on top of the clock and then listen to the time. First count the hour strike, then count the quarters striking and finally count the minutes past the last quarter being struck.

Simple, very technical and very expensive.

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

Chamber Music

We have just returned from a holiday on the Emerald Isle. A wonderful place which over the years has produced many wonderful things including Guinness and my gorgeous Irish wife, not necessarily in that order.

Like many families the world over we always had a ‘best bits’ session after the holiday and on our own my wife and I continue this tradition. So, in the queue for the return ferry we mulled over meals, hotels, Irish roadworks and a chamber music concert in Killaloe.

In the past chamber music was a private affair in which the privileged few were entertained with sonatas and string quartets. The very wealthy sometimes employed their own composer to write music just for them, but the general public had no access to this wonderful world.

Gradually however, over many years the piano became a more affordable instrument for the middle class family, which in turn encouraged the market for chamber music. Soon the music for piano duets and simple songs was being purchased everywhere. Opera goers could now buy simple arrangements of their favourite operatic arias and perform them at home.

Less popular were the violin sonatas and string quartets as they demanded a high level of musical training. But as the standard of tuition improved, so the demand for instrumental chamber music increased.

In the saleroom today there is always a very good demand for musical instruments and in fact it would be fair to say that in a way the tables have turned since the very early days of chamber music and the piano’s popularity. Stringed instruments are generally speaking much the better seller in the auction room today.

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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