Silver centrepiece highlight for Australian historical auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 18th May, 2023

A spectacular and highly ornate sterling silver centrepiece in the form of a eucalyptus tree (lot 520) with strong links to the Victorian seaside town of Airey’s Inlet is the undoubted major attraction for Leski Auctions forthcoming three-day Australian & Historical auction from 10am Saturday May 27 at 727-729 High Street, Armadale.

Crafted in 1863 by London silversmiths Smith & Nicholson, with six scrolling branches each terminating in a candle sconce, the centrepiece carries a $60,000-$80,000 catalogue estimate – and was constructed at the behest of John Moore Cole Airey (c1811-1893), whom the seaside town was named after and whose older brother Sir Richard was the first Baron Airey.

A Royal Navy officer, in 1837 John Airey migrated to New South Wales and bought land in the Port Phillip District (which in 1851 became Victoria), particularly around Geelong, during early government sales and settled there five years later.

On December 22, 1847 John Airey was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council

as the member for Port Phillip but eventually returned to England.

Portugal’s king made him a viscount and he died in Lisbon on July 17, 1893.

Among the more than 1600 lots on offer are 227 devoted to Australian pottery – growing in in popularity among collectors.

Of particular note is a colonial pottery bread plate (lot 2) from Adelaide’s William Holford which operated from 1u890-1909 under two names – London Pottery and Federal Pottery.

Rare are the two John Perceval (1923-2000) pottery items – one a teapot (lot 94) with sgraffito female nude decoration and the other a circa 1950s “angel” wall plaque (lot 116).

Australian jewellery features a spectacular and scarce Coolgardie goldfields brooch (lot 445) and a 14-carat yellow gold ring with three brilliant cut diamonds (lot 514) – and a remarkable range of gold nuggets is typified by (lot 538).

The furniture highlight is none other than the circa 1830s Leppington House cedar sofa (lot 564), a circa 1845 William Hamilton colonial Australian cedar wine table (lot 565) and a late 19th century Australian sample wood wine table by Schramm (lot 675).

Mid-20th century Krimper and Rudowski masterpieces (lots 727-730) are other strong furniture attractions. 

The auction contains convict items of interest – at the start of day two which also begins at 10am – along with pieces of maritime history and early photographic works by several famous luminaries such as Antarctic legend Frank Hurley who accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson on many of his early 20th century expeditions.

Rare Australian posters by Gert Selheim (lots 948 and 949) are another auction feature while the Ravenstein map of Australia and New Zealand (lot 1021) and the Railway Map of Victoria (lot 1025) are a must see for collectors.

Military medals – especially those awarded for bravery in the Boer War and World Wars I and II such as those found in lots 1059, 1079, 1094 and 1095 – always seem to find buyers.

Sometimes medals are awarded for simply staying alive (lots 1060 and 1064) and lot 1102 commemorates one of the 521 Australian soldiers killed during the Vietnam War, a conflict marked by this country’s conscription lottery to obtain sufficient numbers of fighting men and women.

The auction’s art section contains 311 lots (1104-1415) including paintings by John Glover (1767-1849) (lots 1114 and 1115), explorer, naturalist, painter and poet George French Angas (1822-1886) (lots 1122 and 1123), Conrad Martens (1801-1878) (lot 1137), Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) (lots 1159, 1160 and 1163), Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) (lot 1175) and Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) (lot 1195).

Day three of the sale begins at 12pm and features 216 (1416-1634) lots of wine from a selection of Australia’s best.

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