Friday, 24 June 2005

Set a trap for George Tinworth’s Doulton mice

Play Goers
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by Christopher Proudlove©

It's a long time since I watched a Punch and Judy show. It was probably 15 or 20 years ago on the prom with the young apprentices at Llandudno, North Wales. Happy days.

I remember it well. We were on holiday and I recall being amused to see a tiny mouse, unobserved by the rest of the crowd, snuffling around and snatching the odd crumb dropped by lunchtime picnickers.

The memories came flooding back, as they say, when I spotted the amusing little pottery group illustrated here.

It was made at Doulton in Lambeth, South London, in the days before the firm's move to the Staffordshire Potteries, when individuality and modeller talent was recognised and rewarded.

The group comes from the whimsical mind of George Tinworth (1843-1913. It's called Play Goers and shows a family of mice watching a Punch and Judy show to the musical accompaniment of a one-mouse band.

The first Doulton sculptor to model the creature for the company, Tinworth knew how to bring out the comedic best in a mouse.

A more unlikely a subject for one of Doulton's leading ceramic sculptors to make would be hard to imagine.

Most days would find Tinworth immersed in creating massive stoneware panels depicting biblical or historical scenes.

Examples can be seen in a number of cathedrals around the world, most notable among which are those in York Minster.

However, he is reported as having complained of being unable to finish such pieces satisfactorily "with a tired mind".

His jokey "humoresques", as he called them, showing animals in human situations, was his way of finding light relief.

Consequently, they were produced in small numbers and without documentation except for Tinworth's easily identified 'GT' monogram which many of them bear. Today they can make often staggering prices.

He modelled mice either singly as paperweights and chessmen, or in groups that tell a story.

For example, a menu holder, first produced at Doulton in 1885, is designed as an apple stall, with the mouse attendant asleep while another quietly steals an apple.

In Tea Time Scandal, a mouse tea party is in progress, while Menagerie is a clock case featuring 19 mice all engaged in various circus pursuits including a wheel of fortune and a shooting gallery.

Another shows mice in a rowing boat, made by Tinworth in about 1885 and called 'Cockneys at Brighton'. While one rows, another plays a concertina, much to the amusement of the young mice in the prow and the dolphin following alongside.

Tinworth was born in 1843, in the most unlikeliest of circumstances to have produced a gifted potter.

The son of an inebriate wheelwright, he was brought up in the squalid surroundings of Walworth in south east London, the only one of four sons to survive past infancy.

Schooling was negligible, but his Nonconformist mother brought him up on the Bible and taught him to read and recite the scriptures.

Among his boyhood jobs was working at a fireworks factory, where an incident with a leaking bag of gunpowder on a bus almost put an end to his young life.

By the time he was 16, with two jobs already behind him, he began working for his father, secretly using the tools to practise wood-carving.

At 19, and after pawning his overcoat to pay the fees, Tinworth joined evening classes at Lambeth School of Art, under the brilliant headmaster John Sparkes.

His father was deliberately kept ignorant of the boy's attendance, and Tinworth's progress there was exceptional.

Schools of the Royal Academy

He won a school prize at an annual show with a carved panel of Christ being mocked by the soldiers, and after three years, in 1864, he was admitted to the Schools of the Royal Academy to study fulltime.

To do so he had to ask his father's permission to attend. Grudgingly the old man agreed, on condition the boy worked for three or four hours before breakfast and again in the evening after school.

Two years, later Tinworth had won a number of medals and exhibited at the Royal Academy.

At about this time Henry Doulton, whose father John had founded the Lambeth Pottery, was working closely with Sparkes and the School of Art in developing his family's business.

Until then Doulton had concentrated on industrial ceramics, bathroom fittings and saltglaze drainage pipes.

The business had earned a fortune for its founder and in a move as much motivated by philanthropy as further profit making, John Doulton decided to diversify into arty decorative ceramics.

Coincidentally, Sparkes was growing concerned that Tinworth's talent was being wasted working in a wheelwright's shop.

The obvious happened as if preordained: by the end of 1866 Sparkes had been instrumental not only in persuading Doulton to offer Tinworth a job, but also in coaxing the latter to accept, even though neither truly knew what each had to offer the other.

The result was a less than auspicious start, modelling the Gothic decoration on the outsides of water filters - a Doulton standard product.

However, with the encouragement of first Sparkes and later the architect Edward Cresy, writer John Ruskin and eventually Henry Doulton himself, Tinworth went on to become one of the company's leading artists.

At first, he modelled several large terracotta medallions based on Greek and Sicilian designs. This was followed, in 1874, by him exhibiting three large panels at the Royal Academy and a further eight smaller examples the following year.

By 1894, he claimed to have produced at least 500 important biblical panels and countless other smaller examples, as well as busts, statues, figure groups vases, jugs, tankards and vases. His output continued almost unabated until his sudden death in 1913.

Tinworth's "humoresques" first appeared in the 1870s and many of them are unique. Others, however, were duplicated in small quantities from moulds, but all were finished by him individually before adding his incised initials.

Perhaps his most famous figures produced in this way, after his mice, are his boys and girls playing musical instruments, now extremely rare and sought after.

Pictures show, top: Play Goers - this charming Tinworth mouse group is modelled as a Punch and Judy show with attendant mice in green, buff, brown and blue glazed, the base has the usual impressed "GT" monogram and rose mark, and is inscribed with "LC", an assistant's initials. The piece measures 5½ inches in height and has a saleroom estimate of £1,500-2,500 ($2,700-4,500)

Below, left to right: Tinworth excelled at figure modelling, as this group proves. The pair of vases left and right are worth £3,000-4,000 ($5,500-9,000) and the clockcase, centre, £2,500-3,500 ($4,500-6,400). Interestingly, the penny farthing rider is a boy in this case and a milestone support at the rear reads "5 MILES TO LONDON". It's worth £1,200-1,500 ($2,000-2,700). The near identical figure but with a frog rider is named "Bicyclist"

The "GT" monogram used on much of Tinworth's work

A remarkable and rare Tinworth figural group, circa 1880s, titled The Swimming Bath. Notice the use of the blue glaze to represent water and the brown stoneware-coloured bodies in it, modelled with such precision that they do indeed appear to be swimming. It's worth £6,000-8,000 ($11,000-14,500)
Tinworth figure modelsTinworth GT monogramGeorge Tinworth Swimming Pool

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Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Collecting Staffordshire figures and war medals for valour

figure groups low res
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by Christopher Proudlove©

Since this column is mostly about old things, I thought it only right that it should tip its hat to things worth seeking out and collecting that are 150 years old. The list is endless and the more we looked, the more we found. So we thought we'd better be specific.

Arguably one of the most important events of the period in question was the war in the Crimea, culminating in the battle and seige of Sebastopol.

By way of a quick history lessons, after the British victory at Alma, the British and French forces advanced on the Russian naval fortress at Sebastopol which was laid seige.

Bombardment of its defences began on October 17 1854 under the direction of the allied commanders General Lord Raglan and General Francois Canrobert, while a British naval squadron under the command of Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons bombarded the city from the sea.

The Russians attempted to break out by attacking the British at Balaclava on October 25 but this failed, as did attacks 11 days later at Inkermann and on August 16 1855 at the Chernaya River.

Lacking sufficient force, several allied attempts to storm Sebastopol failed in the spring of 1855, but on September 8, the French commanded by General Aimable Pelissier took part of the southern end the city.

The British, meanwhile, under their new commander General Simpson took the Redan, only to lose it again, but on September 11, the Russians abandoned the city after blowing up the defences and scuttling their ships in the harbour.

The seige ended and Czar Alexander II signed peace terms at the Congress of Paris on March 30 1856.

They were tumultuous times, reported in graphic detail in all the UK newspapers who, in fact, had been dealing with a kind of siege of their own: an iniquitous Stamp Tax, first imposed in 1712.

In 1815, the Tory government of Lord Liverpool increased the stamp duty to 4d but unable to stop the rise in the number of unstamped publications, the law lords were forced to remove the duty and the 1d newspaper was born in June 1855.

The 24-hour flow of instant news today creates heroes and villains almost instantly. In 1855, while newspapers played a part in speeding up the process, immortality took a little longer to achieve.

This is where the manufacturers of Victorian Staffordshire pottery figures stepped in.

Often illiterate and working as family groups in the backstreets of the Staffordshire Potteries, the potters began to churn out cheap but highly colourful decorative figures of the personalities of the moment.

Early figures were small and shaped and decorated all round. By the mid-1850s they had grown much bigger and the back left unmodelled and undecorated, hence the name flatback.

Also known as chimney ornaments, their flat backs allowed them to be placed on the mantelpiece against a chimney breast.

Until relatively recently of little interest to ceramics connoisseurs, Staffordshire flatbacks are now big business and specialist dealers sell nothing else.

Many of the early figures are anonymous but later examples can be identified by comparing the features with the likenesses of named individuals in the pages of such publications as The Illustrated London News, on sheet music and playbills, and in the popular "Penny Plain, Tuppence Coloured" prints, clearly the source of inspiration for their makers.

Interestingly, the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 gave a major boost to the Staffordshire figure industry.

Figures from the Royal household, notably Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the first two children, Princess Victoria and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, being among the most popular, but foreign royalty also featured.

Immortalised in clay

Monarchs who were allies of the Crown, such as Napoleon III of France, his wife Empress Eugenie, the Sultan of Turkey, and the King of Sardinia were also modelled as were statesman and politicians involved at the time.

Florence Nightingale, who brought a semblance of professional nursing care to the dead and dying of the Crimea, was also immortalised in clay as were the likes of Sir Robert Peel, the Irish republican politician Daniel O'Connell, Gladstone and Disraeli, and arguably the hero of the era: the Duke of Wellington.

This list is by no means exhaustive and many more individuals such as sportsmen, criminals, novelists, social reformers and so on are all out there hoping to attract the attention of the well-heeled collector.

Early smaller examples can be had for prices starting around £35-50. Larger examples are more expensive, particularly if their bases are impressed with the name of the character depicted.

This can often be a source of amusement. The unknown potters who made them were often illiterate and their spelling left much to be desired.

They also thought nothing of using the same set of moulds for a number of different models, clearly assuming that no one would notice.

At the time, they were so cheaply produced it didn't matter. It matters even less today because the figures are so quirky and charming that this eccentricity only adds to their desirability.

However, the newcomer should beware the frighteningly large number of fakes on the market. They are so very well-made that they sometimes fall even the seasoned collector.

If in doubt, leave well alone. Alternatively, buy only by only from recognised dealers who are prepared to give you a written guarantee that what you're buying is authentic. No guarantee -- no sale.

Expect to pay upwards of £200 for a good example of a famous named individual.

Panel The Crimean War also produced a unique group of collectors' items, notably the military medals awarded for service during the 12-month campaign - a conflict marked by muddled incompetence, the Light Brigade attacking the wrong guns to name but one famous catastrophe.

A recent London sale included a section devoted to the medals awarded in the conflict including an Inkermann Distinguished Conduct Medal to a Private Sam Vickery of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.

Interestingly, Vickery was later appointed orderly to Florence Nightingale at Castle Hospital, Balaklava and Scutari.

Vickery' also saw service at Alma, Balaclava and Sebastopol - as the clasps on his Crimea Medal attested. The group was estimated at £6,000-8,000.

A group of four to a John Stewart of the 71st Foot comprised a Crimea medal with a Sebastopol clasp, an Indian Mutiny medal with a Central India clasp, a long service and good conduct medal and the Turkish Crimea Sardinian issue medal which were together estimated at £500-600.

A pair to William Lute, 1st Battalion Royals, included a Crimea medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava and Sebastopol, together with the Turkish Crimea medal which was estimated a £200-300, while the going rate for a single Crimea medal with Sebastopol clasp to a named recipient was £120-150, or £60-80 to an anonymous recipient.

However, the real prize of the sale was a Victoria Cross dating from the First World War which was estimated at £70,000-90,000.

Like all VCs - even those made today - it was made from the bronze cannon captured by the British forces from the Russians at the siege of Sebastopol.

This country's highest award for gallantry is also the ultimate collectable for the lover of militaria.

Pictures show, top: On parade: Staffordshire potters immortalised military heroes almost at random. Some are recognisable, others named and some identified only by their style of uniforms

Below, left to right: The Victoria Cross made from the bronze canon captured from the Russians at Sebastopol. The group was in a recent London sale estimated at £70,000-90,000

A charming named figure of Crimea heroine Florence Nightingale. Ironically, the self same moulds were used for other unnamed figures

Private Vickery's Crimea Distinguished Conduct Medal group, worth £6,000-8,000. Notice the clasps on the central Crimea Medal for Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann and Sebastopol

VCMiss Nightingale low resCrimea DCM group low res

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Friday, 10 June 2005

How to stop your antique furniture turning to dust

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Originally uploaded by Christopher Proudlove.

by Christopher Proudlove©

It's that time of year again: High Noon either for your antique furniture ... or the beetles eating it. But action now can prevent the worst.

Fact is, between now and the end of August, the tiny larvae of the Common Furniture Beetle, Anobium punctatum, that have been chewing their way through your woodwork, emerge as adults. They then either fly or walk to the next piece to find a mate, lay their eggs and start the process all over again.

The result in the best-case scenario is a piece of furniture whose strength is seriously undermined by the tiny tunnelling and chomping, or worst case, a piece reduced to a pile of dust.

Restoring antique furniture is generally something best left to the experts, but eradicating woodworm is a relatively straightforward job that even a novice D-I-Yer can handle.

Woodworm is one of the worst enemies of fine furniture. On acquiring a new piece the first thing you should do is inspect all surfaces for the peppering of tiny holes, about 1-2mm in diameter, that say "woodworm has been here".

These are the exit or flight holes, meaning that the adult beetle has emerged from the piece after spending up to five years tunnelling through it as a grub.

The telltale signs of active woodworm are tiny piles of light coloured powder, known as frass, which appear on the carpet. Frass is made up of the "leftover" bits of wood that the woodworm couldn't digest.

If you're in any doubt as to whether the dust did, in fact, come from the piece of furniture in question, tap it sharply and if the grubs are active, you'll see powder spill from the holes.

The common furniture beetle is choosy about what it eats. It prefers timber that is more than 15 years old.

Softwoods, particularly the old-fashioned three-ply wood from cheap deal bonded by animal glue is top of the menu.

However, one wood that is usually safe from attack is mahogany - too rich perhaps! But don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. It is only solid mahogany that the beetles pass by.

Most mahogany furniture is, in fact, mahogany veneer laid on a less important, cheaper wood that is just what the woodworm ordered.

I treat all new pieces of furniture with woodworm killer before it comes into the house and infects other furniture or the fabric of the building. Better to be safe than sorry.

Using one of the reputable brands of woodworm fluid, inject each hole with a liberal dose of fluid and brush it on unvarnished surfaces, such as the underside and inside of drawers. The fluid seeps into the wood, protecting it and killing any beetles that come into contact.

Even though flight holes may not be visible, a piece may still contain eggs waiting to hatch and, anyway, almost any piece of furniture is vulnerable to attack, so treatment in either case is a safeguard.

Start by turning the piece upside down and brushing the fluid into all the cracks and crevices with a stiff brush.

Susceptible to attack

Make sure any glued blocks are treated because these are often of softwood and particularly susceptible to attack.

Don't forget the surface that is usually in contact with the floor - the rough end grain is an ideal spot from eggs to be laid.

A word or two of warning: woodworm fluid is most unpleasant when inhaled, so use it in a well-ventilated room.

And when squirting it into the flightholes, watch it doesn't squirt back into your face out of another hole. It sounds funny... until it happens to you, so wear goggles to be safe!

You should also allow furniture to dry thoroughly - preferably outside in the fresh air - before using it.

Having treated all the old pieces of wood in your home with a proprietary woodworm killer, what next?

First off, the beetles' old flightholes might need filling and concealing, particularly if they are situated in an area that is noticeable, such as the arm of a chair.

Best plan is to use a beeswax stick, which should be melted and coloured to match the wood to which it is being applied.

The wax and dry pigments are available at hardware shops and some antique shops. Alternatively you could use plastic wood, which comes in several different colours.

If years of attack by woodworm have gone unchecked, it might be that the strength of a piece of furniture - the leg of a chair, for example - has been weakened unacceptably.

This could result in nothing more embarrassing than helping the boss's wife to her feet in the middle of a dinner party!

In this case, you have a choice: either replace the part in question - a job for a specialist and, therefore, potentially a costly exercise - or you could try strengthening it yourself, although this might try your patience.

If you fancy putting it and your D-I-Y skills to the test, here's how to proceed: first, a "collar" should be fashioned around the affected part in something like plasticine or clay.

Next, mix a synthetic glue - they can be bought from good DIY shops - and pour it gently on top of the area being treated.

Your glue should be fairly runny, so it seeps into the honeycomb of holes. The patience comes in to ensure that the wood gets a liberal soaking.

Heat can help achieve full penetration but take care, as the glue is usually highly flammable. The excess should be wiped clear and the area left long enough for the glue to set hard.

Thereafter, you should "feed" the wood with a good wax polish. Some brands contain insecticidal additives that deter attack by the pests. They should be used periodically after a fluid treatment, but don't expect them to kill off any woodworm already active in the wood - they won't.

Pictures show, top: The Common Furniture Beetle, Anobium punctatum

Below:Dealing with woodworm is a job anyone can handle

woodworm low res

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Friday, 3 June 2005

Fine antique furniture for the connoisseur collector

Whatnot trioCool canterburies
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by Christopher Proudlove©

Davenport desks; assorted tables for pastimes like playing cards, taking tea and sewing; footstools, nursing chairs and, perhaps best loved of all, whatnots and music canterburies.

All fit the same criteria: they are all are extremely pretty, well made and desirable, so demand is high and, particularly in the case of the latter two, there is plenty of scope for the "restorer" to make a killing among the unwary.

Take those curious little davenport desks, for example. When, in 1789, a certain Captain Davenport commissioned the great furniture firm Gillows of Lancaster to manufacture a piece to his own personal design, he started a fashion.

When repeat orders for desks like Captain Davenport's flooded in, the name stuck.

Such was their popularity, particularly with the ladies, the convenient and compact design endured from the late Regency period well into Queen Victoria's reign.

All davenports have a sloping lid, usually covered in morocco leather.

Many have a gallery in brass or wood to prevent papers sliding to the floor, and most have ingenious small drawers for pens and ink and well-fitted interiors, sometimes with secret compartments held by hidden spring locks where love letters or a cache of gold sovereigns for example might have been kept.

For convenience, drawers, usually four in number, were arranged to pull open from the right hand side of the desk, rather than against the user's legs.

The drawers were usually each fitted with small turned wooden handles which were repeated down the left side of the desk, although their function was purely decorative.

In other examples, the real drawers were concealed behind a cupboard door, avoiding the need for matching dummy drawers.

There are numerous other variations on this theme, together with the development of the davenport from the severe, box-like Regency examples to the generous and flamboyant carved ones of Victorian times.

Early davenports are usually plain, square and of high quality.

Generally the lid is flush with the top section, which often slides forward for ease of use, and galleries are usually of brass.

Below, the solid pedestal body of the desk rests on either a plinth or small feet.

As with everything else, the Victorians made the davenport more elaborate.

No longer did it have the boxy shape but instead, the writing surface, now shaped and curved, jutted out towards the user, supported by two columns, usually cabriole in shape and heavily ornamented and carved.

Bun feet to hide the castors and carved wooden fretwork galleries are other features of the period, the latter often being high enough to hold a row of small books.

This was the era of fine interior fittings and especially desirable are those with rising compartments containing drawers and pigeon holes which can be pushed down out of sight when not is use.

And then, in about 1800, there was the design brief from the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

According to the story, he asked a cabinetmaker to knock up something in which to store plates and cutlery that could be wheeled to the dining table.

That name stuck too. These days, the canterbury is the ideal piece of furniture to stand by one's favourite armchair in which magazines can be stored tidily.

In the past, however, it was universally adopted to hold music and push on its casters out of the way under a piano.

Nowhere is the stylistic development of 19th century furniture design better illustrated than the canterbury.

Earliest examples were nearly always made of mahogany with straight legs and severe lines lacking in embellishment.

Turned legs first appeared in about 1810, coinciding with the introduction of rosewood.

From then on, the purists would reckon design went downhill to Victorian fussiness and over decoration.

Fret-carved partitions of great intricacy became the vogue, followed by the addition of a shelf or two above, held by slender turned supports creating, in effect, a cross between a canterbury and a whatnot.

No, not a commissioned piece this time, simply the name given to a set of free-standing shelves, usually four and square or rectangular in shape.

Each shelf is about the size of a tea tray and supported one above the other by plain turned uprights, running through each corner.

Whatnots first appeared in the 1790s, although the name was probably coined perhaps 15or 20 years later.

Why whatnot ... well, why not. Can you think of a better name?

Accessible from all sides

Simplicity and quiet elegance was their keynote, with the idea that where space was at a premium, a set of these shelves, some up to four or five feet in height, were perfect for books, being accessible from all sides, or for ornaments.

Early examples were usually in mahogany. Unusual features which add to value include a shallow drawer beneath either the first or second shelf; shelves with galleries either in brass or pierced wood; a hinged top shelf to act as a book rest and turnery to simulate bamboo.

The Regency period saw imports of a greater number of types of wood and mahogany lost some of its dominance.

Rosewood was probably the favourite by now and like most furniture, Regency rosewood whatnots are at a premium among collectors.

By the Victorian era, all manner of woods were being used, but easily the most common was walnut, sometimes burr walnut, the figuring of which is particularly attractive.

It was then that the whatnot enjoyed its heyday. First development was the three-sided variety, intended to stand in a corner, which appeared in about 1855.

Then came the heavy embellishment. Shelves were heavily inlaid with marquetry and stringing, uprights were carved and turned with increasing intricacy.

Barley sugar twist supports were specially popular, and shelves took on flowing serpentine outlines.

What to watch for: reproduction copies, obviously.

Those that have been reduced in height either as a result of damage to fragile turned supports or because of worm infestation should be avoided.

Shelves added by "restorers" and other ornament such as galleries, inlay and, less common, particularly tall examples that have been cut in half, remodelled and offered for sale as a matching pair are also bad investments.

Talking of remodelling, perhaps the most lucrative dodge among unscrupulous traders goes as follows: take one rough or damaged whatnot and carefully cut and remove everything above its lowest shelf.

Using the wood made redundant from this, create two or three partitions and fit them to the low shelf.

Then, make a drawer and fit it below the shelf and hey presto, you have a canterbury to all but the wary.

Similarly, take the pedestals from a kneehole desk and it doesn't take much imagination to see how they could be remodelled as a pair of davenport desks.

Best advice when buying antique furniture such as this is to do business only with reputable dealers who will guarantee that what they're selling is genuine. No guarantee ... no sale.

Auction rooms where items on offer are fully catalogued and authenticated are another source.

Private buyers at auctions will always be welcomed and unbiased advice from the specialists employed there freely given. After all, they have their reputations at stake too.

Pictures show, top, left: Wonderful whatnots: left to right, a Victorian mahogany serpentine fronted three tier whatnot, the upper tier with shaped tray top with marquetry decoration, worth £300-400; an early Victorian rosewood rectangular four tier whatnot with figured veneered tiers and spiral turned uprights, the lower tier fitted with a drawer, worth £600-800; a late George III mahogany rectangular three tier whatnot with plain tiers, on turned uprights, the lower tier fitted a drawer, worth £700-900. Cool canterburies: left, a Regency rosewood example and in completely over-the-top contrast, a mid-Victorian example with lyre-shaped dividers and open fretwork gallery. The differences in design sum up the conflicting tastes of the respective eras. Ironically, each is worth £800-1,200 at auction, so watch out for reproductions (and knock off two noughts)

Below, left to right, A Victorian rosewood davenport with the sloping top pulled forward on its slide to reveal its usefulness. It was sold in a recent auction for £1,750

A Victorian inlaid walnut whatnot with pretty barley sugar twist supports and scroll-shaped shelves. It's worth £600-800

A William IV mahogany davenport dating from circa 1824. The top slides and has a turned spindle gallery and leather-covered writing slope. It has four real and four dummy drawers and lobed bun feet concealing castors. It's worth £1,500-2000

A slightly later Victorian canterbury which is heading towards being a whatnot. It's walnut veneered and having a flat back, is intended to stand against a wall. It's worth £1,000-1,500

Victorian davenportVictorian whatnotWilliam IV davenportVictorian canterbury