Major collections of Australiana dispersed in 2015

2015 saw the dispersal of a number of great collections; the two most significant being the Australiana collection of Caressa Crouch and Carl Gonsalves, and the Marvin Hurnall collection of Australian pottery.

The Collection of Caressa Crouch and Carl Gonsalves

Caressa Crouch and Carl Gonsalves were long time members of the Australiana Society with Caressa serving on the committee and as Treasurer for many years. Mossgreen was the auction house entrusted with the sale which was conducted in its Melbourne auction rooms on the 22nd February 2015. The collection included extensive scrimshaw/marine related ephemera, furniture, pottery, pictures and Australiana objects. Due to Caressa’s and Carl’s passion for Tasmania, a very large portion the collection were items related to or made in Tasmania.

The scrimshaw and marine part of the collection provided scrimshaw collectors an opportunity to acquire unique objects that seldom come to market. A chair made from whalebone, circa 1830 and catalogued as likely to be American (Lot 29), easily exceeded its estimate of $10,000 - $15,000 with a final price of $34,720, inclusive of buyer’s premium (IBP) but was well below the price that Caressa and Carl paid in 2008 when it was acquired for more than $70,000.

Marine ivory walking sticks continue to be the most keenly collected items as the best and rarest examples achieved the highest prices within this section of the collection; Lot 50: A brass and ebony mounted walking stick made from Narwhal tusk, $19,840 IBP gainst an estimate of $2,000 - $3,000 and Lots 61: A carved whalebone walking stick, $16,120 IBP (estimate $500 - $1,000).

There were some outstanding pieces in the colonial furniture collection. Caressa and Carl were collectors that preferred to leave their furniture in its original state as found, retaining the old, in some cases long worn away finish, with all faults present and unattended to.

The six-legged cedar sideboard c1815 (Lot 165), an early Tasmanian example, needing a long overdue clean and polish, but very much in its very aged state was contested by two deep pocketed bidders to a final price of $124,000 IBP (estimate $20,000 - $30,000).

A Tasmanian cedar chiffonier, c1840 (Lot 134), with the desirable two shelved backboard, turned columns and flame cedar panels to the doors achieved a price of $18,600 IBP (estimate $1,500 - $2,500), a reflection of the quality of this example, further enhanced by the Crouch and Gonsalves provenance.

The inlaid boxes all sold well, always popular items in any sale. The best of the lots was the writing slope (Lot 139) made by Richard Dowling, a Tasmanian craftsman active in the mid-19th century. The writing slope, inlaid and veneered with huon pine, musk, blackwood and other timbers, is typical of Dowling’s work and most importantly, retaining Dowling’s label on one of the internal panels. The buyer had to pay $13,640 IBP (estimate $3,000 - $5,000) to secure the box against very strong bidding.

Perhaps, the buy of the auction was a very rare set of huon pine dining chairs, c1840 (Lot 158). These chairs were sold for $12,400 IBP (estimate $3,000 - $5,000). The chairs are possibly the only surviving set made of huon pine from the mid-Colonial period. Adding to the importance and rarity of these chairs are a number of very desirable features: curved top rail in the William IV manner, carved mid-bar with a rare (for Colonial chairs) three spindle insert, hexagonal front legs (one chair was from a different set as it had octagonal front legs). All chairs appeared to be in original condition with a mellow 19th century patina and possibly the original stuffing of the fully upholstered seats. Although this was a set of five (four plus one), and not a set of the more sought after six, the opportunity to acquire such a unique set of high quality chairs may not present itself again given the new ownership, as it is understood that together with the six legged sideboard and a huon pine console table c1830 ($29,760 IBP, estimate $1,500 - $2,500), have been purchased on behalf of a public institution in Tasmania.

An early eight-legged dining table c1820 (Lot 162), one of the few important pieces in the collection made in Sydney or NSW, brought $29,760 IBP (estimate $4,000 - $6,000). Surviving early dining tables are rare especially ones made in NSW.

The Australiana collectables section provided another rare opportunity to purchase objects that seldom see the auction rooms. An early colonial tin-glaze mug painted with an early form of an Australian crest with ‘Advance Tasmania’ banner was bidded to $6,820 IBP against a very conservative estimate of $200 - $300 while a bronze and gilt bronze ‘Advance Australia’ mantle clock under dome and base, c19th century, sold for $6,448 IBP (estimate $1,500 - $2,500).

Colonial needle work with an Australian provenance such as samplers are exceedingly rare. Samplers were mainly the work of young girls, created as an exercise to demonstrate their sewing skills and one such example was in the collection. The sampler (Lot 459) was embroidered with the name and school address of the sewer and year: “Mary Allen Reibey, Ellinthorp Hall VDL, 1827”. Not surprisingly, for such an early example, the sampler was keenly bidded to a final price of $11,160 IBP against a lowly estimate of $500 - $800.

A second example (Lot 460), originally catalogued as 19th century but later amended to being a copy of the original held in the collection of the Power House Museum, was able to fetch a rather high price of $3,472 IBP (estimate $100 - $200). Perhaps, the bidders did not bother to read the sale room notices.

The sale was well attended with many interstate collectors present. The room was full on the day of the sale with standing room only. Of the 506 lots in the sale, 498 were sold, a 98.4% clearance rate, a testament to the quality and rarity of the objects on offer.

The Marvin Hurnall Collection

The collection of Australian pottery belonging to the late Marvin Hurnall was offered by Mossgreen in November 2015. Marvin was a leading dealer in Australian pottery, sourcing many rare and desirable items for collectors.

The collection of studio and factory pottery was extensive with many examples of highly regarded potters represented in the collection. In particular, Grace Seccombe’s work formed a major part with a wide range of bird types and mammals, ranging in all sizes but in particular, the ever popular kookaburras – there were many of the larger and hence scarce examples on offer.

Large examples of Remued pottery did particularly well, with most achieving double the high estimates. The highest price of the auction was achieved by Lot 214, a Marguerite Mahood glazed earthenware figure of a winged dragon c1935 with a price of $27,280 IBP against an estimate of $8,000 - $10,000. The second highest price of $17,360 IBP (estimate $5,000 - $8,000) was paid for a nice example of the Maude O’Reilly kookaburra c1926 (Lot 191).

With 435 lots in the sale, there might have been some concern whether the market could absorb so much stock given the mixed results of other recent sales of Australian pottery.

Such concern proved to be unfounded with the viewing days well attended and a full auction room on the day of the sale although this thinned out to a small dedicated group by mid-afternoon.

Only eight lots remained unsold at the end of the sale with the majority of lots selling above the high estimate. The success of the sale more than likely due to the reputation of the owner and the size of the collection, providing collectors with an opportunity to fill gaps in their own collections.