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Enigmas and Puzzles

A ‘Black Forest’ eagle owl, Swiss, circa 1800.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted one or two pieces in our photos of The Chelsea Antiques Fair which look familiar from our previous newsletters; the Goanese contador, the Bidston Hill ceremonial spade, the Ottoman Empire tiles and the fabulous floral bouquet carved by James Peake.  Amongst the new items was this hypnotic eagle owl.  Why is this whole genre called ‘Black Forest’, after an area in Germany, when in fact they were carved in the Swiss Alps?  One theory is that the German carvers migrated to Switzerland to find work and stayed there - but their carvings have not shaken off their original name.

One of the best things about a fair is meeting fascinating people who can so often shed light on our unusual pieces.  Take this table, for example, why is the tilt-top elaborately decorated on both sides?  I had a conversation with an architectural anthropologist who suggested it was the sample for intarsia floor and ceiling panels so popular in Italy and France.  Then, the noted author, Christopher Payne, and Charlie examined the woods and declared them all to be native to Northern England.  Did they have parquet floors and ceilings there or was it an apprentice piece?

Another mystery is the history of this stylish Art Deco silver trophy – ‘The Thomas Lipton National Canadian Regatta Hydroplane Cup, 1929’.  Thomas Lipton is well known for his five attempts to win the America’s Cup in a series of yachts called ‘Shamrock’.  This trophy, however, has the most beautiful motor boat powering through the waves beneath the flags of Canada and the United Kingdom.  Intriguing. 

Why does this officer’s chest have a single deep drawer in the bottom half (despite appearing to be two separate drawers with handles)?  It is similar to a military chest but tobacco pouches found in a drawer show that it belonged to Naval Paymaster S.E. Lark.  Did he need a deep drawer to keep his very tall hat in?  There is a second conundrum.  The Navy List of Pursers and Paymasters lists the ships on which he served as ‘Bellerophon’ and ‘Frolic’ but according to handwritten notes accompanying the pouches, S. E. Lark, aged 34, was assistant paymaster on ‘Royal Adelaide’ and ‘Swallow’. 


A pair of mahogany shaped display cabinets attributed to Gillows 

At the back of the stand were these two superb display cabinets.  Charlie is sure pieces of this quality were made as bespoke items by Gillow & Co.  They are an unusual D-shape, they have weight bearing spindles at the sides of the shelves rather than down the centre and grooves for display.  Who could have commissioned them, what was to be displayed and where were they to stand?

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