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January 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Auction...


My theme this month is amusements that I occasionally encounter in my day-to-day business.  As I started this morning's work, I opened an auctioneer's catalogue of antique and modern sIlver to be sold in a few days' time.  After studying the silver - there are 1,366 lots on offer, I was struck by a whole-page announcement of their sale of jewellery taking place on the following day.  The announcement illustrated a single item - a  diamond- and ruby-set pair of gold, yes, gold handcuffs - and matching earrings, all by Kutchinski.  A key was included!  I see the auctioneer's estimate is £5,000 - £10,000, but I would be surprised if they did not sell for considerably more, not that I am an expert in jewellery or in pricing it.  'Shades of Grey' perhaps?In the days before computers, when auctioneers used dictating machines to compile their catalogues, the resulting descriptions as typed could be a source of much jollity - usually because typed pages had not been properly proof-read.  Some years ago, a Devon auctioneer described in his catalogue an object which he called "... a fine old 30-hour grandfather cock in oak case", while another announced "lot 516 - an antique elm doe chest on square legs".  These can make amusing reading, but they are the mistakes any young typist could make especially when confronted by a tape recorder containing a long dictation incorporating many words that even well-educated people may never have encountered.  In the first example, just one consonant has been omitted, while in the second, 'doe' and 'dough' are phonetically exactly the same.However, just occasionally one was left wondering if the catalogue entry did not intentionally embrace the subtle art of double entendre.When in 1977, Sotheby's sold the majority of the contents of Mentmore, the former English home of the Earls of Rosebery, it created a large stir in the antiques world.  The catalogue ran to five volumes and was selling on the black market for considerably more than its original cost price.  Much of the furniture and other works of art were of French origin.  On receiving my catalogues through the post, I started by opening the general contents catalogue - Volume 5.  The very first item I saw was lot 3462 - "A FRENCH LETTER OPENER, the blade pierced with horses jumping, the oblong terminal inset with a magnifying glass, 93/4" long".


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