Surprise auction find in old mansion cupboard

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 24th February, 2018

When auctioneer Phil Caldwell opened an old cupboard at his latest auction venue – the heritage listed 1874 mansion “Roseneath” at 31 Nepean Highway, Elsternwick – he could not believe his eyes.

There, stashed at the back, was a rare silver emu egg inkstand by German-born silversmith Joachim Wendt (1830-1917), who migrated to Adelaide in 1854.

Recognised at the 1865 New Zealand Exhibition in Dunedin for the quality of his workmanship and design (where he won first prize), Wendt’s silverwork included extravagant naturalistic creations, stylish Edwardian domestic pieces and items that showed restrained Regency taste.

So impressed was the Duke of Edinburgh with the presentation caskets Wendt’s firm produced for his 1867 visit to Adelaide, he appointed him “Jeweller to his Royal Highness” in the South Australian colony.

The National Gallery of Australia exhibits a silver salver he presented in 1870 to E.M. Young and the firm he established still operates to the present day.

“Roseneath”, which has never been renovated, has seen six generations of McMullen’s pass through its doors and is now owned by husband and wife, Peter and Jane.

Phil Caldwell will auction its contents on site from 11am Sunday March 4. 

Peter’s father had purchased the Joachim Wendt emu egg inkstand – that features an Aboriginal holding a spear and emu and kangaroo – in the 1950s for 10 shillings.

Peter himself had little idea of its true value, which according to Phil Caldwell, should bring between $10,000 and $20,000 at auction.

“An almost identical example resides in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum collection,” he said.

Caldwell says “Roseneath” is full of interesting and historical items – including stereotype slides, books, boxes of old photographs and music scores – along with quality colonial cedar furniture, paintings, porcelain and 19th century English and French clocks.

Interesting furniture items include a 19th century Australian colonial cedar mirror back hallstand, an Australian colonial three-tier dumb waiter, and an impressive, large and quality mid-Victorian English mahogany eight-door library bookcase.

Among the paintings on offer is a rare early portrait of children with toys by convict artist Charles Costantini, a portrait of Dame Nellie Melba and Sidney Nolan’s 1960s Man in Boat with Nocturnal Sky, an important ripolin on paper work. 

A Paris-born surgeon of Italian descent, in the 1820s Costantini was twice transported to the Australian colonies – first in 1823 to New South Wales for stealing jewellery (where he was pardoned two years later) and again in 1827 to Hobart for thieving two £5 notes shortly after returning to England.

His artistic skill were soon put to work making sketches at the Macquarie Harbour penal colony on Tasmania’s west coast and, after receiving his certificate of freedom in 1834, established a successful portrait and landscape painting business.

Other interesting auction items include a five-carat diamond ring and a Belleek porcelain basket.


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