Preston collectors looking for cheap antique desks will find them rare – especially when they have important historical value; so it was at the Bonhams sale this week, when an 18th century figured walnut bureau went under the hammer for an estimated price of £30,000 to £50,000.
Bonhams Provenance Sale of Fine English Furniture, held on 3rd November at New Bond Street, certainly promised to be exciting – the majority of furniture originated from stately homes and castles. As with most antiques, they had been moved around a great deal. For example, Lot 1, a set of antique dining chairs used in the Bloody Assizes of Taunton Castle, was sold from an address in London.
The 18th century bureau had an even more convoluted history, with a curious case of “misleading provenance” along the way. Handsomely cross and featherbanded, with bronze gilt ornamentation, the antique desk was originally supplied to the first Duke of Chandos for the newly-acquired Shaw Hall. When the hall was sold, the desk was transported to a tenanted property in Scotland Yard, where it came into the hands of Thomas “Captain” Brown.
Brown passed it on to the Reverend Shepherd in 1768, in lieu of a debt, claiming it was:
“Oliver Cromwell’s Writing desk (which belonged to) Charles I.”
The desk’s lockplates are engraved with Cavaliers, probably a reference by the craftsman to the fact that Charles I made his quarters at Shaw Hall during the Civil War. However, it was not until the desk had seen many more owners that someone thought to look at the back, and found evidence that pointed to its true date of origin.
Thankfully, Preston antique dealers have plenty of antique desks without a £50,000 price tag – and all have interesting tales to tell.