There were quips of, “Is it from the low countries?” when a curiously squat antique dining chair arrived at Bonham’s Oak Sale in Chester recently. The carved walnut side chair, which carried an estimate of £400 – 600 and catalogued as 17th century and later, was recognised as a rare 16th century Indo-Portuguese piece. It was eventually sold to a Portuguese buyer for £13,000 – with an additional 25% commission fee.
Hidden among the Victorian dining chairs and antique chests, a Lancashire buyer might easily have overlooked the stout little 2ft 5” stool, which looked like a Spanish or Italian piece which had been deliberately reduced in height. However, three eagle-eyed bidders recognised the lacquered piece as a rare 16th century low chair, originating from the Bay of Bengal, which was settled by the Portuguese in the 1500s. Combining vernacular Indian styling with motifs inspired by the European Renaissance, the style was copied by British cabinetmakers for European export, which may explain the low estimate.
Representing an important period in his country’s history, the Portuguese buyer was no doubt delighted with his find. All the same, the whopping 25% commission – which netted Bonham’s an extra £3375 on top of the hammer price paid – would make a lot of British dealers think twice about having it in their shop window, especially given the Restoration work required (only traces of the original gilding remained.)
When people in Lancashire see Victorian mahogany pedestal desks and similar furniture at auction, they might feel they’re getting a bargain. However, the commission can often wipe out any savings they make over buying the item from a Lancashire antique dealer – and they have to do the restoration themselves.
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