Monday, 23 May 2005

Name dropping: Collecting celebrity autographs

The Beatles ... with Pete BestThe Beatles ... with Ringo signature
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by Christopher Proudlove©

I have not yet reached that stage yet where people stop me and ask me for my autograph. It's just a matter of time! But no, seriously, we know several people who are autograph hunters, and one who makes a living out of the hobby.

You will find him at collectors' fairs in the North West of England selling photographs of the rich and famous (and infamous) each suitably inscribed by the individual and complete with moniker.

However, I thought I'd write about autograph collecting this week because word reaches me of an amazing single-owner collection of the things coming up for sale today and tomorrow (May 24 & 25).

More than 4,000 signatures will be offered in 1,400 lots, representing a lifetime's collection of a man whose father started him off in the hobby when the man was a child.

Actually, the story is tinged with a little sadness. The boy was born with a severe medical problem which confined him to his home. However, that didn't stop the boy following events in the outside world and he knew all about who was in the news and why.

Realising his son's interest in current affairs, the father put pen to paper and wrote to each of them in turn explaining his son's circumstances and asking, politely for a signed photo. People being what they are, they responded generously, with the result that very quickly, the boy's collection started to blossom.

As he got older, the young man started writing on his own account and the collection positively mushroomed. Now heading towards old age, the collector has decided the time has come to give other collectors a taste of the pleasure the collection has brought to him and he's decided to auction the lot.

Cataloguing the mass of signed photos collected over a period of 50 years proved to be a nightmare for the auctioneers. Two catalogue have spent three months going through them painstakingly, ensuring that the signatures are indeed by the individual's own hand, and not produced photo-mechanically (not an easy task in itself) and deciding how the collection should be split and categorised and what the estimates should be on each lot.

Interestingly, on the rare occasions that they found a photo-mechanical signature, the cataloguers also found an identical photo also signed and usually with an inscription in the celebrity's own handwriting.

The explanation of this is that when the father or his son received the former, they would write back and politely request that it be replaced by one of the latter!

It is hard to imagine another opportunity to start your own autograph collection presenting itself like this in the foreseeable future. On offer is a unique group of signed portraits that have never before seen the light of day outside the man's home, and have never before been traded on the open market.

The collection represents a glittering panoply of personalities from the 1940s onwards ranging from Groucho Marx to the Beatles.

For the collector with a vivid imagination, autographs can be so appealing. No other collection gives its owner such a feeling of direct contact with figures from history.

Surprisingly, though, autographs must be among the most undervalued of all areas of collecting. Perhaps it's psychological, after all, autograph hunting costs nothing.
Depressing number of forgeries

Another factor that depresses prices is the number of forgeries, and, in more recent times at least, photographic facsimile signatures that can cost an unwary newcomer to the hobby dearly. Easiest solution is to buy only from reputable sources: either dealers with reputations at stake, or auction houses who guarantee what they sell.

Except that takes some of the fun out of the game of buying on you own expertise. Exercise some caution, do plenty of detective work on the celebrity whose signature it is you seek and learn to spot the difference between an actual autograph and a mechanically produced one and you won't go far wrong.

Forgeries are obviously produced in such ways as to deceive, so you need to be particularly on your guard. One of the best ways of spotting a fake is the absence of light and shade in a signature, or, put another way, heavy pressure and light pressure on the part of the writer.

Also, be wary if the signature is written and positioned too perfectly on a page. By their nature, signatures are swift, almost casual, forms of self-expression. Few people, kings or commoners, politicians or personalities give them a second thought.

Suspicion should also surround any document signed by a personality, particularly letters, the content of which is too outrageous to be true.

For instance, a friend once had the bright idea of sending to Maggie Thatcher a copy of the cartoon-like caricature of herself that appeared as a centrefold in Punch magazine (I think it was).

The caricature was in the style of the Oriental style paintings of women you used to see for sale in Boots and other high street stores. He enclosed a note to Mrs T asking her to sign and return it, which she duly did. He now owns something of unique value.

On the other hand, a letter to Tony Blair signed by Malcolm Howard saying how much he admires him politically and how he voted for him in the recent election should be mistrusted!

Nowhere is the fake/facsimile signature problem more pronounced than in the field of pop memorabilia, particularly for collectors of Beatles signatures.
Going price for a set Beatles signatures is about £1,800-2,000 at auction George and Ringo each make around £200-400, while John and Paul are more valuable at £400-600 each. Easy money for the copyists.

Interestingly, the sale includes a very early promotional photograph of the group, taken at a time when Pete Best was drummer.

However, by the time the Fab Four got round to signing it, Pete had been sacked and replaced by Ringo, whose signature appears alongside the other three on the reverse. Its uniqueness takes its value to £2,500-3,500.

The aptly named Paper Chase Sale, which also includes books and stamps, is at Liverpool auctioneers Outhwaite & Litherland, Kingsway Galleries, Fontenoy Street.

  • "Philography" as collecting autographs is called is arguably one of the cheapest hobbies of all.

  • Like the person whose collection is being sold this week - and my friend who wrote to Mrs T - it's often possible to collect autographs celebrities for the price of a couple of stamps.

  • Send them a politely worded letter and famous individuals know that to maintain their popularity, they need to respond to such requests from their fans.

  • Stars can often be contacted by writing to their production company or agent; sporting personalities often belong to well known clubs and musicians can be contacted by writing to their record company.

  • And remember to always enclose a stamped addressed envelope.

Pictures show, top: An early Beatles promo picture featuring Pete Best but signed on the reverse by replacement Ringo Starr. Today a real rarity, it's worth £2,500-3,500

Below, clockwise from left: An autographed studio portrait of actress Bette Davis
Estimate £600-800

A colour photograph of President Ronald Regan and wife Nancy who both autographed the reverse
Estimate £200-300

Buzz Aldrin the Apollo 11 lunar pilot who made the first landing on the Moon July 26 1969 autographed this colour photograph
Estimate £40-60

An early autographed studio photograph of Bob Hope
Estimate £40-60

The Regans
Bette Davis
Buz Aldrin
Bob Hope

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Trading up to collectable trade cards

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by Christopher Proudlove©

Perhaps it's because as a junior reporter, I was indentured to a newspaper publisher who was also a jobbing printer.
Perhaps it's simply because my writing for this column gets turned into reading, so to speak - smart pages with attendant images that are easy on the eye and (hopefully) worth something more than a cursory glance.

So, I collect long since defunct wooden poster type; printers' type cases (perfect for displaying small knickknacks); wooden printing blocks and printed ephemera - arguably the cheapest of all collectables.

Cupboard drawers groan under the weight of albums full of old billheads; greetings cards; advertising cards; cartes de visite and best of all, a fascinating collection of trade cards.

Or at least I thought they were fascinating ... until I saw the trade card illustrated here. Read more ...

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Fine art: painting that keeps up with the Joneses

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Thomas Jones Italian view
By Christopher Proudlove©

One day, I'll write about the fortunes of a forgotten artist who will suddenly be rediscovered and lauded by art historians far cleverer than I'll ever be. I'm not holding my breath!

Longstanding readers will know how keen I am. In these pages I've already reminded both them and myself about Liverpool's Herdman family of watercolourists; Birkenhead artist Harry B. Neilson, (1861-1941); Liverpudlian artist, George Haydock Dodgson (1811 - 1880) and Wallasey-born Frances Macdonald.

I thought I was on to something when the respected dealer and fine art agent in Old Master and British paintings, Ben Elwes, contacted me to tell me about a rare picture by a previously little known Welsh artist which he has for sale.

Clearly the work is important. Not only was the picture, illustrated here, the star piece in his new gallery at 45 Maddox Street, but Elwes also unveiled it at the International Fine Art Fair in New York last week at an asking price of £70,000. It went down well and sold shortly after the fair opened.

It was painted by Thomas Jones of Pencerrrig (1742-1803) of whom few had heard until major exhibitions were mounted at the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff, the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, and the National Gallery in London, marking the bicentenary of his death.

If that wasn't enough, a beautiful book titled "An Artist Rediscovered" was published to coincide with the exhibitions, co-edited by Ann Sumner, the curator of fine art at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, and Greg Smith.

Although Jones was a talented landscape artist, until then little had been written about his life and work and many of his paintings had never before been published.

That was quickly resolved. In addition to essays by leading Jones scholars the book was illustrated by more than 150 paintings from throughout the artist's career, many of which were being seen by a wider audience for the first time. Curses - beaten to it again!

Actually, I was 50 years too late. It was about then that Jones' memoirs were rediscovered and published (by the Walpole Society), leading eventually to him being recognised as a major artistic personality where previously he had been all but forgotten.

The memoirs were never written for publication. They were, as he wrote at the time, "from short hints and Memoranda of a Diary, which for many years I had been in the habit of keeping, the original Intention only for the Amusement of vacant hours and the Perusal of a Few".

Most comprehensive memoirs

But they are the most comprehensive memoirs of any artist of the time and they make fascinating reading.

Jones was a "gentleman artist". He was the second of 16 children (seven of whom died in childhood) whose parents, Thomas and Hannah Jones, were landowners in Trefonnen, Radnorshire.

His mother inherited a house and estate in Pencerrig, near Builth Wells, and he was educated at Christ College, Brecon, and Jesus College, Oxford, destined for a career in the Church.

However, the death of his wealthy uncle, John Hope, who had been financing the young man's education put paid to that ambition and rejecting the idea of going to sea -- the other career for the younger sons of the landed gentry -- he managed to persuade his parents to let him train to be an artist.

At the age of 19, he enrolled at William Shipley's Drawing School in London, where he became a pupil of fellow Welsh artist Richard Wilson, but "copying drawings of Ears, Eyes, mouths & Noses" among "little boys of half my age" was humiliating for Jones.

But he was a quick learner. By 1766, he had been elected to the Society of Artists, the year after Gainsborough.

Although not really needing to make a living from painting, Jones became a professional artist, returning to Wales 10 years later.

However, like many other young artists of the period, he was desperate to travel abroad and like Wilson, Jones was determined to tour Italy. In those days it took a month to get there and he arrived in Rome towards the end of 1776.

In his memoirs Jones calls the city a "magickal land" and he remained there for almost two years before visiting Naples, socialising all the time with an expat British community of artists and patrons.

A series of small oil-sketches, painted during this time have been described as masterpieces of observation but after six years, Jones became homesick for his native land and returned in 1782 having heard that his father had died.

He took with him his lover, a Danish widow named Maria Moncke, and their two young daughters, a situation which must have caused raised eyebrows, despite her passing herself off as his housekeeper. They later married and settled in London with Jones receiving an annual income from his inheritance.

His elder brother, Major John Jones, a bachelor, died in 1787 and the artist found himself required to return to and take over the running of the family estate at Penkerigg near Builth Wells.

In addition to tracts of land, the family also owned Llandrindod Hall in Llandrindod Wells, which was let out as a hotel, as was his father's family home, Trefonnen, all of which provided an annual income of £4,000 and a comfortable lifestyle for Jones and his family.

His anger at discovering that drawings he had left in London during his visit to Italy had been ruined was eventually forgotten and he busied himself making oil and watercolour sketches of the surrounding Radnorshire countryside.

Entering fully into the local society, he was appointed High Sheriff of Radnorshire in 1791 and a magistrate the following year. Maria died after a long illness in 1799, a loss which deeply affected Jones, who died at Pencerrig in 1803.

It is interesting to add that when 50 watercolours and oil views in both Wales and Italy by Jones were offered in an auction at Christie's in London in 1954, they were described as "The property of a lady who had whose husband was a descendant of Thomas Jones, a pupil of Richard Wilson, RA".

The sale excited the attention of two of London's most important dealers -- Colnaghi and Agnews -- the most expensive lot selling for £33.12s (£33.60)! The National Museum of Wales was another buyer in the sale and their purchases can be seen there today.

Colnaghi was quickly able to find buyers for its purchases, their customers including the Ashmolean Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. They were no doubt somewhat cheaper than the work sold in New York last week!

Pictures show, top:
Thomas Jones (British, 1742-1803) A Neapolitan Coastal View from Pozzuoli, painted in 1781. The oil on canvas measures 38.5 X 29 inches (97.8 X 73.6 cm) and is signed and dated lower left: THO:JONES · Ft MDCCCLXXXI A NAPOLI. In a period Italian carved and gilded frame, the work is priced at £70,000

Family life at Pencerrig was captured in this conversation piece by Jones' friend, the Italian artist Francesco Renaldi (1755-1798). The painting shows Jones with his palette and easel, his wife Maria spinning wool and their two daughters, one of whom is playing the harpsichord. The second man is as yet unidentified and could be one of Jones' brothers or Renaldi himself. In 1797, when the piece was painted, Maria was probably already suffering ill health and Jones was deeply affected by her death two years later. The painting can be seen in the collection of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales in Cardiff

Jones by Renaldi

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Sunday, 8 May 2005

Fenton - glass with 100 years of class

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By Christopher Proudlove©
There was a time when the antiques trade with the United States was one-way: everything from valuable fine art and antiques to container loads of junk that was unwanted here at home were exiting our shores on a daily basis.

To some extent that remains true today. As the supply of works of art of the highest calibre continues to dwindle and eventually run out, it is only the very rich who can afford the very best. On the whole, those people tend to be in America, and to a lesser but growing extent, the Far East and Asia.

But at our level of collecting -- the kind of stuff you and I can afford to buy -- something very interesting is happening. It may be the strength of the pound against the dollar. It may be, simply, that more and more people are travelling to the States for holidays and when they get there, like us, they cannot resist bringing back a collectable souvenir of the visit.
Of course, the ubiquitous internet-based auction sales have also played a part. Now it's easy to buy a collectable from a fellow collectable on the other side of the world -- all available at the click of a computer mouse.

Whatever the reason, it has not escaped our notice that collectors' fairs and car boot sales these days each have their share of American hometown kitsch that is increasingly finding its way into true blue British collections.

So it was that we discovered Fenton Art Glass -- not too difficult considering both new and old examples are on sale virtually everywhere. We were on holiday in California and found our first purchase, a pretty yellow glass nightlight, in antiques fair we happened upon. The light, which produces a lovely warm glow when lit, still sits in our bedroom.

It was a start of not only a love of old nightlights, but also an appreciation of the products of the largest handmade coloured glass manufacturer in United States. This week Fenton celebrated its centennial, which in US terms makes the company positively venerable!

The Fenton Art Glass Company was founded in 1905 by Frank L. Fenton and his brother John W. Fenton in an old glass factory building in Martins Ferry, Ohio.

They began by painting decorations on glass blanks made by other glass manufacturers, but soon, being unable to get the glass of the type and quality they needed, they decided to produce their own. The first glass from the new Fenton factory in Williamstown, West Virginia, was produced on January 2, 1907.

Frank Fenton's desire to develop new and unusual colours helped to keep the business in the forefront of the handmade art glass industry. During the years from 1905 to the 1920s, the factory's designs were heavily influenced by the artists at Tiffany and Steuben.

In late 1907, Fenton introduced "iridescent" glass, which they called Iridill because it had an iridised metallic finish. This was produced by adding various metallic salts which were burnt on to the glass during firing. Now it is known as "Carnival" glass, which remains a popular collectable today.

The effect was a rainbow-like finish which copied the Favrile glass made by Louis Comfort Tiffany in his New York works in the 1880s. Tiffany glass was hand-blown and expensive, but Fenton's copies were machine-made and mass-produced.

The most common iridescent orange colour was achieved by spraying clear glass with selenium while it was still hot. Slightly less common pieces are found in dark purple, bluey green, white and the rare red, all of which were obtained from the same spray on glass of varying colours. In all Fenton alone produced more than 125 patterns.

During the 1930s and 40s, the twin setbacks of the Depression and Second World War shortages, saw Fenton weathering the storm by producing practical items, such as tableware, mixing bowls for Dormeyer to go with electric mixers and hobnail perfume bottles for Wrisley, two major contracts which saved the company from failing when many others went bankrupt.

Significant growth

However, Fenton continued working on developing a wide array of new colours and in spite of other glass companies closing at a rapid rate, and the death of the top three members of the Fenton management team, new blood in the shape of Frank M. and Wilmer C. "Bill" Fenton led the factory through significant growth for the next 30 years as President and Vice President respectively.

The years following the war were good for Fenton. Little European glass was imported into the US and demand for quality, hand made glass was high. Fenton's responded by producing opaque coloured pieces in Victorian styles, which are now popular and sought after among today's collectors.

Another innovative product was the so-called Milk glass, introduced in1952 and subsequently becoming the company's top-seller. As it sounds, the glass is pure white and resembles porcelain but at a fraction of the cost and millions of pieces were snapped up eagerly.

Interestingly, it is milk glass which caught our imagination on a subsequent visit to Florida. We own a huge moulded jug which we bought for $25 (£13) despite the risk of pushing our baggage allowance over the limit in the process!

Leadership of the company passed on to a third generation in 1986, with Frank M's son, George W, taking over as President and today nine Fenton family members work together with more than 500 employees to create handmade glass that is loved by collectors across America and increasingly around the world.

The joy of Fenton is the beautiful colours and patterns used in production and the more you see, the more you want to own. Each piece is an artistic creation by skilled glassworkers and decorators, many of whom sign their work for new generations of collectors to seek out and covet.

Among personal favourites are the pieces made in cream-coloured opaque glass shading to light pink. A copy of the earlier so-called Burmese glass produced by Thomas Webb, said to have been christened by Queen Victoria who likened the colours to a Burmese sunset, Fenton introduced the line in the 1970s to great acclaim.

Five-day festivities in centennial celebration

If you're planning a summer holiday to America, it might be worth including Williamstown, West Virginia, in your itinerary to join Fenton's five-day grand centennial celebration. It runs from Friday, July 29 to Tuesday, August 2 and thousands of visitors and collectors are expected.
  • They will be entertained to a range of special events including:
  • Fenton family members giving tours and signing Fenton pieces.
  • Join a glassmaking class and learn how it's done (advance reservations suggested).
  • Arts and crafts fair featuring the best artists from West Virginia.
  • Free seminars from Fenton master craftsmen showing how the most difficult Fenton creations are made.
  • Free seminars about Fenton history with Associate Historian, Jim Measell and new products with Director of Design, Nancy Fenton.
  • Free eBay University seminars hosted by members of the eBay team from California on Saturday and Sunday
  • And on the Sunday night, July 31one of the greatest Fenton collector auctions ever held.
Just make sure you have a generous baggage allowance!

Pictures show, top: Made by Fenton for Avon Product's Gallery Originals Collection, this Azure Blue Satin 9" vase has applied cameo-style decoration, 1984.

Below, left to right:
Blue Carnival glass No. 1016 (Banded Drape) pitcher hand-painted floral designed by Frank L. Fenton, circa 1910.

Dancing Ladies Vase: Mandarin Red No. 901 9" fan vase, circa 1933-34 (mould designed by Frank L. Fenton after a similar Northwood motif).

Burmese Shell Vase: Connoisseur Collection (8808 SB) 7-1/2" vase with handpainted motif designed by Dianna Barbour, 1985, limited to 950.

Connoisseur Collection 10-1/2" Favrene vase with hand-painted golden fruit motif and 22k gold bands and accents designed by Martha Reynolds, 1991, limited to 850.

Cranberry 9-1/2" basket with hand-painted Mary Gregory-style "First Rain" decoration designed by Martha Reynolds, 2000, limited to 2,350.

PitcherDancing LadiesShell vaseFavrene vase


Monday, 2 May 2005

Rocks of ages - now coveted collectors' items

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by Christopher Proudlove©
Fate found me in
New York the other week ... looking at rocks. No, I wasn’t on a geology field trip – although the boulders and outcrops in Central Park looked fascinating from the back of my taxicab – I was there to attend the International Asian Art Fair, among the grandest events of its kind in the world, a sort of an antiques shopping mall for the rich and very rich.

There was a high percentage of British dealers exhibiting at the fair, all of them showing works of art that someone like me could only ever dream about owning. But the rocks were different, surely?

They were among a display of dazzling oriental art on the stand of the London dealer Sydney L. Moss Ltd., and they had to be less expensive, didn’t they? After all, they are just lumps of stone.

Not a bit of it. These are so-called scholars’ rocks, known as ying-shih, and judging by the prices – you’d get little change out of £20,000-30, 000 for a good example – they are as highly prized today as they were centuries ago in ancient China.

Clearly the only way I’m going to own one is by digging one out of the ground and the likelihood of that happening is remote.

But we’ve all done it. Unearth a white quartz pebble while digging the garden (said to bring luck to the finder) or come across a strangely marked or weathered piece of stone on the beach and it’s hard to resist the temptation of taking home to place in a flower bed or on the mantelpiece.

And how many of us remember the “pet rock” fad imported from kooky California (where else)? The “hobby” started somewhat earlier.

The Chinese interest in collecting rocks for religious or aesthetic purposes can be traced back to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) when Chinese connoisseurs began using large stones to decorate their gardens and courtyards.

There are also references to the special qualities of garden rocks and individual stones in poems dating as far back as the Tang dynasty (618-907).

One of the best known early collectors was Mi Fu, one of the most distinguished scholars and practitioners of the refined arts of the late 11th century. On being given a job in the emperor’s government, he arrived to take up office and was greeted by his future colleagues.

However, ignoring the elaborate ceremony befitting his new status, Mi caught sight of a particularly wonderful specimen in the rock garden customarily set up in Chinese courtyards, turned his back on the assembled officials and bowing low before the rock exclaimed: “Elder Rock! My teacher!”.

The practice of erecting stones in private gardens may well have evolved out of the Imperial construction of “paradises” known as P’eng-lai, or the Eastern Isle of the Immortals, mystical mountainous places built during the Chin dynasty (265-420)so the immortals could live there.

Scholars’ rocks were more usually small, individual stones chosen for their more refined qualities. They vary from a few inches to four or five feet in height but the majority were small enough to be carried around by the literati and able to stand on a table or desk.

Scholars took these portable mountains into their studios and used them for meditation and contemplation. Some were converted into utilitarian objects such as brush rests, censors or seals - but most were viewed as artistic creations in their own right.

The rocks were particularly admired for their resemblance to the magical peaks and subterranean paradises or grotto-heavens believed to be inhabited by immortals.

Others were appreciated for their resemblance to animals, birds, human figures, or mythical creatures.

The most highly regarded were of dense limestone that ring like a bell when struck.

Especially prized were stones sculpted naturally by processes of erosion or shaped by nature even if they have been artfully enhanced by man.

Pitted, hollowed out, and perforated, such rocks, usually displayed standing upright were seen as embodiments of the dynamic transformational processes of nature.

Principal aesthetic criteria

By the Tang dynasty (618-907), four principal aesthetic criteria – thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou), and wrinkling (zhou) – had been identified for judging scholars’ rocks as well as the larger examples featured in gardens.

Although black stones are the most sought after, many different types and colours of rocks grew in popularity at various times in Chinese history. During the Ming and Qing periods (1368-1911) more colorful stones such as marble, malachite, turquoise, yellow quartz, soapstone and serpentine became most sought after.

I asked Sydney Moss about dating scholars’ rocks and he confessed it was impossible. Having been made by nature and largely without the intervention of mankind, they are as old as the mountains themselves.

However, the rocks are normally displayed on carved wooden stands, which are often works of art in their own right, depicting mythical, stylistic or symbolic images in great detail. These can be dated by their designs and give a reliable indication of when the rock would have been adopted as a collectors’ item.

Above all, the learned Chinese scholars admired the rocks for “surfaces that suggest great age, forceful profiles that evoke the grandeur of nature, overlapping layers or planes that impart depth, and hollows or perforations that create rhythmic, harmonious patterns.”

The potential of stone collecting is limitless. If you fancy doing a spot of armchair mountaineering, a scholars’ rock is sure to fire your imagination.

Putting it on the slate

Talking of natural stone, a tussle between a private collector and a couple of museum bidders saw The Welsh Singer, an evocative painting of the Penrhyn slate quarry by “forgotten” artist Wallasey-born Frances Macdonald, overturn its pre-sale estimate of around £4,000 to sell for £6,750.

Colwyn Bay auctioneer David Rogers Jones tells me that the collector and his wife turned up for the sale of the lot last Saturday, sat at the front of the room and bid strongly against competition from two other bidders and having bought it, they left. The owner, another private individual, watched at the back of the room and also left contented with the result. That’s what auctions are all about.

Pictures show, top:
A good-sized ying-shih of darkish brown-grey stone, stretched across two widely-spaced feet, with crags and outcrops poking in various directions. The powerfully pockmarked and weathered material bears strongly horizontal striations, while the scooping and hollowing action of water has resulted in asymmetrical caves and channels, cutting diagonally across the lines of the horizontal. One or two large inclusions of paler cream-grey veining are exposed across a broad area of their surface, both to the front and back. Height: 17 7/8 inches. The old wood stand raises the rock high up on a wave or cloud base on long spindly legs, which terminate at the foot in high relief ju-i fungus heads of very high quality carving. Price: £20,000

Below, left to right:
A very large ying-shih with pale horizontal “marble” veining inclusions, robustly rising from a jagged base to a heavy and dramatic bulky overhang, with great scoops eroded away and small apertures associated with the crevices which occur all over the rock; top and bottom, front and back. Height: 34 3/4 inches. Modern Japanese wood stand. Price: £19,500

A large, paler grey ying-shih, with pronounced diagonal striations which cut deep into the obverse surface of the rock, creating dramatic, jagged ridges and fissures, several of which have developed holes of various shapes and sizes. The largest hole is to the centre of the rock’s front, at its base. The surface of the stone is pleasingly dimpled, with a hard dry feel, within its pronounced striations. On the reverse of the rock is engraved in a spindly seal script the legend T’ien-lai ko chen-shang; “Treasured and appreciated by the T’ien-lai pavilion”. This was the hall name of Hsiang Yiian-pien (1525-1590), the best and most famous of all Ming dynasty collectors. Height: 29 1/8 inches. Width: 17 13/16 inches. Price: 28,000

A tall ying-shih rising from a narrow foot through a vertically and diagonally sliced and scored “belly” area to a backward-leaning head featuring two jagged, narrow outcrops. Between them is a long, thin hole, extending almost to the very top of the rock. Height: 26 7/16 inches. Old wood stand. Price: £8,000
(Photos: Sydney L Moss)

Rock of agesRock of agesRock of ages