King empire

First example of ‘The King of Desks’ stars in our selection of five auction highlights



Wooton secretary’s desk – £6,000 at Mander Auctions.

1. Wooton Secretary’s Desk – £6,000

The latest sale at Mander Auctions in Sudbury was crowned by this classic example of late 19th century American furniture, the Wooton secretary desk.

William S. Wooton was an Indianapolis entrepreneur (and later Protestant preacher) who obtained a series of patents for designing office furniture in the 1870s. He used mass production methods while creating the produced in four different qualities, three different sizes and a number of different styles.

Early Wooton desks, such as those highly praised at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, were made in the popular Renaissance Revival style, but later examples adopted the aesthetic movement. Advertised as “The King of Desks”, they were expensive (between $90 and $750 each) but sold well at a time when the filing cabinet was becoming the essential desk accessory.


Wooton secretary desk

Wooton secretary’s desk – £6,000 at Mander Auctions.

Production of Wooton desks continued until around 1884, when the model was produced by a series of Midwestern companies. However, it is those from the original decade that are the most sought after.

This example, in walnut with a maple interior is fully inscribed ‘Manufactured by The Wooton Desk Co, Indianapolis, Ind, Pat Oct 1874’. Estimated between £2,000 and £3,000 when it sold in Suffolk on August 19, it fetched £6,000 from a buyer using thesaleoom.com.

2. ‘Churchill’ Flask – £2300


Flask James Dixon

Novelty Flask James Dixon with the dedication Happy Birthday Home Secretary November 30, 1910 – £2,300 at Minster auction.

The series of novelty ‘book’ hip flasks made by James Dixon & Co of Sheffield circa 1900-10 are still popular collector’s items.

Crafted in silver metal and leather and bearing titles such as spirit of the ages, Paradise found Where traveler’s friend, they open via a detachable corner cap with secret golden bayonet. Typically they fetch £100-200 at auction.

However, the example offered at Minster Auctions in Leominster on August 18 was potentially a bit special. At the top right it is inscribed with the dedication Happy Birthday Home Secretary November 30, 1910. It is therefore believed to have been a gift to Winston Churchill during his first year as Home Secretary in the Asquith government.

Because of this (and despite being in less than perfect condition), it was given a £1900-2200 guide and in fact swung to the higher estimate to fetch £2300 from an online bidder.

3. Portrait of Maurice Denton Welch – £8,000


Portrait of Maurice Denton Welch

‘Girl in Yellow Sweater’, a portrait by Maurice Denton Welch – £8,000 at Rogers Jones.

This portrait of English writer and painter Maurice Denton Welch (1915-1948) sold for the surprise sum of £8,000 to an online bidder at Rogers Jones in Cardiff. Estimated between £500 and £600, it was part of a timed auction which ended on August 21.

It is believed that Denton Welch painted the painting ‘Girl in Yellow Sweater’, around the age of 20, while a student at Goldsmiths in London. He had spent his early childhood in Shanghai, the son of a wealthy English rubber merchant, and had returned to China after an unfortunate schooling in Repton. At the age of 20, Welch was hit by a car while cycling in Surrey and suffered the injuries that ultimately led to his untimely death.

According to the tags of the 64 x 41 cm (2 ft 1 in x 16 1/4 in) photo, the subject was believed to be Evelyn Sinclair, his friend and housekeeper with whom he shared an apartment near his doctor in Tonbridge. However, the label goes on to say that this theory was dismissed by Denton Welch’s longtime partner Eric Oliver, who thought the model was a classmate at Goldsmiths.

The image is from a private collection in Monmouthshire in good condition: the paint surface was cracked with poor quality restoration for paint loss in the hair and left arm.

4. Aboriginal Parade Shield – £7,500


Aboriginal Parade Shield

New South Wales Aboriginal Parade Shield – £7500 at Minster Auctions.

Aboriginal shields are of two basic types: wide shields used to deflect projectiles, and narrow, compact parrying shields used in close combat. This 2ft 4in (70cm) example of the wedge-shaped parade shield or malcarra went on sale at Minster Auctions in Leominster on August 18. It has designs cut with an animal tooth enhanced with white clay, typical of shields from the Darling River or the Murrumbidgee River region of New South Wales.

It probably dates from the early to mid-19th century: by 1850 most of southeastern Australia was under European control and nearly all Aboriginal groups had been displaced.

Estimated between £2,000 and £3,000, it took £7,500 from an online bidder.

5. Irish Damask Tablecloth and Napkins – £1600


Irish Damask Tablecloth

Detail of an Irish damask tablecloth and napkins made around the time of the coronation of George V – £1600 at Tennants.

The Suits, Accessories and Textiles sale at Tennants in Leyburn on August 20 included an unusual example of early 20th century Irish linen – a white damask tablecloth and napkins made around the time of George V’s coronation in 1910. Woven with the words ‘Irish Linen Hand Woven Damask’ all the way to the edge, the various vignettes included a portrait of George V, the Union Flag, the Royal Coat of Arms as well as various symbols of the British Empire – elephants, kangaroos , a platypus, a kiwi and an emu.

These sheets (other examples have been offered for sale in the past) are believed to have been specially made for the Royal Household circa 1911. Overall in good condition, cost £1600 (estimate £400-600 ) to sell through thesaleroom.com.