Antiques Today – September 2011

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I was recently invited into the beautifully appointed home of a long-time collector, and was quite astounded by the superb collection he and his wife have put together over the years. The elegantly designed interiors were a perfect setting for the extensive Ardmore Ceramics collection that commanded attention from each polished surface of the antique mahogany furniture. Large and handsome original artworks by South African artists such as Robert Hodgins and William Kentridge adorned the walls.

Highly sophisticated, it was a visual feast for the eyes, with every angle worthy of a double-page spread in any leading interiors’ publication anywhere in the world. It was proof – if I ever needed it – that antiques have a definite place in the creation of a truly outstanding contemporary space.

As I was shown around, the passion with which each item had been selected became apparent. But – not only is he clearly aesthetically-minded – what became obvious was the collector’s sense that, while his pieces certainly look good, they also have proven to be an incredibly sound financial investment. Despite the current economic gloom, artworks that he paid a few thousand Rand for not so long ago, are in many cases likely to fetch several times that in today’s market… And, sensing that this trend is not likely to change, he is not disposing of anything soon!

Seeing my awe and fascination, I was next shown a collection of fine antique silver – one of his earliest passions – displayed in cabinets in his personal study.

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A pair of WMF silver plated candelabra

Unlike the fever-pitch seen in the South African art market in recent times, prices for antique silverware have been comparatively steady, such that – if you’re lucky – centuries-old finely-wrought items can sometimes be bought at prices well below the currently soaring price for silver as a commodity. This means – even before considering the age, workmanship, purpose and providence – it’s possible to see an immediate return on your investment based purely on an item’s material value.

One only has to flip through a magazine, or browse through a home-store, to notice an emerging trend for vintage-styled silverware. With this in mind, and armed with the above economic information, it’s not difficult to imagine an imminent surge of interest in the antique silverware market with prices to match. The time to invest would appear to be now!

And no better place to do so than at the South African Antique Dealers’ Association’s highly anticipated annual fair to be held at the Wanderer’s clubhouse in Illovo in October. suffragette

suffragetteI am in a fortunate position to be privy to some of the silver treasures that will be on display at this upcoming event. Jeremy Astfalck of The Old Corkscrew in Franschhoek has shown me a delightful and rare silver pepperette in the form of a Suffragette.

This silver pepperette was hallmarked in Chester in 1908 and depicts a Suffragette complete with sandwich boards. The boards demand “Votes for Woman” on one side and “We can make things hot for you” on the other.

Suffragette derives from the word suffrage meaning the right to vote: in Edwardian Britain, women did not have this right, and so in 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Woman’s Social and Political Union in order to promote woman’s suffrage. She, along with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, believed that in order to accomplish this they would have to become radical and militant. They spent time in jail for their beliefs and images of suffragettes parading outside parliament and chaining themselves to the railings at Downing Street and Buckingham palace were to arouse much emotion.

This pepper, made early on in the movement to attain voting rights, would have aroused much interest at dinner tables both for and against the ideas on allowing woman the vote. It was not until 1918 that woman over the age of 30 were given this right, and in 1928 this was moved to 18.

Jeremy will also be showing a rare Cape silver mustard pot – the only known example to have come to market in the last 20 years – made circa 1820 by Willem Godfried Lotter, a Cape silversmith born in the mid 18th century and active from about 1770 to 1820.

Geoff Burr of Burr and Muir in Church Street, Cape Town, will be showcasing some fine examples from the studios of Germany’s Wurttembergische Metallwarenfabrik (WMF).

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One of them – a tall Art Nouveau silver-plated twohandled punch-bowl – shows an Art Nouveau female figure in relief on each side, with original green-tinted etched glass liner and silver-plated lid.

“As far as punchbowls are concerned, this is one of the prettiest, as it has all the features one wants in a good Art Nouveau piece, namely, the typical woman in relief, the twisting and interlacing lines, and a beautifully etched original glass liner” says Geoff.

Under the direction of Albert Mayer, at the beginning of the 20th century, the WMF studio was influenced by the art nouveau style. The product range was modernized and considerably extended, and items produced by the factory at this time are instantly recognisable.

1892 saw the development of a special technique for silver plating cutlery, whereby the silver is distributed in a way that, at the points of the cutlery most exposed to wear and tear, the coating is twice as thick as elsewhere. This process was patented and is still in use today. Known nowadays as ‘Perfect Hard Silver Plating,’ the technique remains exclusive to WMF.

An example of this process, Burr and Muir will also be displaying a pair of silver-plated WMF candelabra, with typically Art Nouveau maidens each supporting two candleholders at the end of sinuous tendrils. “This is the quintessential pair of Art Nouveau candelabra” Geoff tells me while examining the manufacturer’s stamps beneath each piece.

Yet another Cape-based dealer who will be presenting some fine items of silverware, is David Porter of David Porter Antiques in Claremont.

Included in his superb collection will be a matched set of exceptionally fine silver tankards – one lidded and two standard – produced in London by goldsmith Elizabeth (Elisa) Godfrey in 1742.

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Hallmarked silver tankards. A matched set of three English hallmarked silver tankards London 1742. Eliza Godfrey

Elizabeth Godfrey – recognized today as probably the most outstanding woman goldsmith of her generation – was producing fine silverware between the years 1720 and 1758.

As stated on one of her trade cards at the time, “Goldsmith, Silversmith, and Jeweller”, Godfrey “makes and sells all sorts of plates, jewels, and watches, in the newest taste at the most reasonable rates.”

Known for the high quality and sophisticated style of the silver produced under her name, Godfrey – the daughter of the distinguished silversmith Simon Pantin, in whose London workshop she is thought to have trained – enjoyed the patronage of many members of the nobility, most notably the Duke of Cumberland.

A set of four silver George III lidded sauce tureens, by maker Richard Williams in 1793, will also be on view on David Porter’s stand at the fair.

Williams was a goldsmith based in Dublin, an important center for silver crafts in the eighteenth century. Working from Castle Street and Grafton Street, he was made a freeman in 1752 and was also elected to the Common Council of the City of Dublin, and these tureens are a superb example of the handsome silver pieces he produced.

Bancroft, based in Legacy Corner by Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square, will also be exhibiting at the October fair, and in addition to their fine silverware on display – including a comprehensive selection of Judaica, and vintage Scandinavian jewellery by the likes of Georg Jensen, N.E. From and Andersen – will be an early 20th century trophy in the form of a small rosebowl by famed silversmith Omar Ramsden.

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Ramsden, born in Sheffield England in 1873, was one of England’s leading designers and makers of silverware. He lived on Fir Street in Walkley, Yorkshire, and collaborated for many years with fellow silversmith Alwyn Carr. Their partnership ended in 1919, after which silver produced by Ramsden was inscribed “Omar Ramsden Me Fecit”, Latin for ‘Omar Ramsden made me’. Exhibiting this label, the trophy is an example of his later work.

Whether it’s a silver treasure from one of the aforementioned dealers you’re after, or from either Read’s of Rosebank or Collectable Antiques – another two antique silver dealers of distinction – or something completely different to enhance your own personal collection, there will be many outstanding items to be seen at this year’s SAADA fair – running from Friday the 28th to Sunday the 30th of October, with the highly anticipated gala event on Thursday the 27th – so be sure not to miss it!

By Paul Mrkusic

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