It often seems incredulous to buyers in Lancashire that antique desks, often of extreme craftsmanship and beauty, can be picked up for scant sums, while seemingly worthless-looking objects go under the hammer for vast amounts. Such will be the case at Bonham’s, where a small, dishevelled cigar case is expected to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000. The reason? It was once owned by none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The case is one of three Brunel lots going under the hammer at the Gentleman’s Library Sale in New Bond Street, on 19th – 20th January 2011, the others being an ivory folding ruler (estimate £12,000 – 15,000), and a silver propelling pencil (estimate £6,000 – 8,000). These are craftsman-made pieces, but the cigar case is a utilitarian object if ever there was one, and gives great insight into the great man’s mind. To be a good engineer you need good quality tools, but to store your cheroots? A cheap leather and cardboard pocket box will do.
The Brunel Cigar Case is one of those rare finds, whose value lies solely in its historical worth. Antique desks in Preston are routinely cleared of such objects without a second thought. This battered old case might well have suffered the same fate, but for two telling clues: the letters “I.K.B, Athenaeum Club Pall Mall”, and a single iconic cheroot. Letters of provenance helped seal its future.
Brunel has a great legacy in the North East – there’s even a Brunel function room in Bolton. If you’re in the market for antique desks in Lancashire , the antique dealers have no doubt already searched the drawers very carefully – but you never know your luck.
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