Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
A wartime letter from nursing heroine Florence Nightingale to a soldier’s grieving sister has been publicly unveiled for the first time.
In the poignant note, Miss Nightingale - known as the Lady with the Lamp - informs Crimean soldier Gunner Evans’ sister of the ‘sad certainty’ of his death.
'I have never had so painful and unsatisfactory a letter to write,' the message reads.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1332638/Florence-Nightingales-wartime-letter-seen-time-Chester-University.html#ixzz16TvktYu2
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
LONDON.- Christie's presents the landmark sale of 21 works by the iconic British artist Laurence Stephen Lowry, R..A. (1887-1976) to be offered at auction on Thursday 11 November 2010 from the private collection of Selwyn Demmy (b. 1932), renowned bookmaking magnate, boxing organiser and club owner. Only the very best collections illustrate, as this one does, the true breadth and depth of a single artist’s oeuvre. Comprising drawings and paintings which span the 1920s to the 1960s, this Lowry collection is the most important and extensive to be offered at auction in recent memory, as it celebrates not only the artist’s world renowned industrial cityscapes, but his landscapes, seascapes and explorations of architecture. They are at times intense, often humorous and playful, many bustling with life and others distinctly quiet and poetic in tone. Each work reflects the different dynamics of line, colour, composition and subject explored and skillfully depicted by Lowry; an artist who captured the many aspects of the ‘human condition’ with a remarkable honesty and power which resonates across age groups.
Highlights within the diverse and significant works offered are led by The Playground, 1945 (estimate: £500,000-700,000), as well as three paintings which are offered alongside their highly finished accompanying studies in pencil, including The Steps, Irk Place, 1928 (estimate for the oil: £400,000-600,000 and the study: £60,000-80,000). With estimates ranging from £10,000 to £700,000, the collection is expected to realise in excess of £5million.
Selwyn Demmy: “I was born around the corner from L.S. Lowry, in Cheetham Hill, and am a Salford man born and bred. For me, the works of Lowry have a very powerful personal resonance as they capture the heart and soul of the people and landscape which I have loved and lived in all my life. This collection of 21 paintings and drawings has brought me huge pleasure over the years. Art is not my only passion however and, as many know, I have been committed to improving the lives of destitute animals for many years. It is now time for these wonderful art works to bring joy, contemplation and friendship to new homes, whilst I focus my full attention on the animals which, like the famous and beloved stick dogs that scamper throughout Lowry’s paintings, bring me great happiness.”
Philip Harley Director, Head of 20th Century British & Irish Art, Christies London and Rachel Hidderley, Christie’s International Specialist and Director, 20th Century British Art: “Christie's is delighted to be entrusted with this highly important collection which spans five decades of the artist's output and offers the most extensive overview of Lowry's work ever to come to auction. From early landscape drawings to extensive panoramas, Lowry's interest in every aspect of his beloved Northern landscape and coastline is represented here, and this landmark sale is an opportunity for both experienced and new collectors to benefit from Selwyn Demmy's informed and passionate vision.”
The son of Gus Demmy, a bookmaker of Polish descent who was one of the great pioneers of racecourse betting, Selwyn Demmy’s lifelong career – in contrast with the path of a lawyer which his father had initially mapped out – was clearly in his blood. A remarkable businessman and entrepreneur, Selwyn built up the first chain of 75 Demmy bookmaker shops over 20 years, selling to Ladbrokes in 1982 and briefly retiring to Monte Carlo where he became restless without his work and returned to England to carry on. He sold his next venture Demmy Racing to the Stanley Leisure group in 1993 and then six years after founding his third chain, comprising 37 shops, sold out to Fred and Peter Done in 1999.
A well-known figure around Manchester, Selwyn also ran a thriving boxing operation with his father, staging fights at Belle Vue, the Free Trade Hall, Liverpool Stadium and bringing title fights into the Odeon Cinema, Manchester. Selwyn’s circle of friends began to include the rich and famous (George Best, Selwyn, Alan Ball and Gus Demmy at the Alan Rudkin v. Walter McGowan Fight 13 May 1968). He frequented a Manchester nightclub owned by Tony Gordon, the manager of the pop star Lulu; in 1968 Selwyn bought the club with his brother Harvey and the legend of Blinkers was born. For the next ten years it was the place to be and the guest list ranged from Mick Jagger, The Who and Tom Jones, to Lulu and Michael Parkinson. Norman Thelwell designed the logo and did many cartoons and drawings for the monthly Blinkers’ Newsletter.
Selwyn began to collect art by Lowry in the early 1990s when the footballer Gary Owen, who won the Under 21 UEFA European Championship having scored two goals against Germany in 1982, suggested that he should buy Lowrys. The collection began with two pencil drawings: the very early, rather intriguing House on Botany, Clifton, 1926 (estimate: £15,000-20,000) and a looser, vigorously executed landscape Parton, Cumberland, 1956 which demonstrates Lowry’s power of capturing so much in so few lines (estimate: £15,000-20,000). These acquisitions were quickly followed by Selwyn’s longstanding favourite painting in the collection and one of the stars of the sale The Playground, 1945 (estimate: £500,000-700,000). The Playground is a superb panoramic cityscape with enormous charm. The 1930s and 1940s are recognised as the greatest period in Lowry’s oeuvre, when his vision was strongest. This canvas, from 1945, is bustling with life and, as with the best of Lowry’s paintings, presents the viewer with a multiple of shared and private moments, with numerous smaller vignettes in front of, surrounding and beyond the central focus of the children’s slide.
The playground’s fence in the foreground is a characteristic motif; many of Lowry’s works have a barrier in the foreground, in the form of railings or posts, which have been suggested as representing Lowry’s own loneliness: slightly removed from, and unable to become part of, the world around him. The bandstand in the left of the middle-ground anticipates the wonder of the Daisy Nook fairground, which Lowry depicted the following year. There is a lightness to the palette which contrasts the darker works of the earlier 1940s and the beautiful balance and dynamic of this composition with the painterly figures, joyous children playing and distant industrial cityscape make this substantial painting (18 ¼ x 24 ½ inches) very significant.
Selwyn particularly likes pictures with a story and has taken great pleasure over the years from the fact that he could drive to various locations and see aspects of the Lowry paintings in his collection, which are invariably composite scenes. The Steps, Irk Place, 1928 (estimate: £400,000-600,000), is certainly one of the stars of the collection and ‘Irk Place’ still exists, behind Victoria Station in Manchester, though the actual name is Irk Street. Lowry worked in this area as a rent collector and regularly came into contact with the characters depicted. This is one of three paintings in the sale which is offered alongside a highly finished accompanying drawing and, as with each of the three ‘pairs’, the study (estimate: £60,000-80,000), demonstrates Lowry’s artistic licence; adding-in and taking-out a wide array of details from figures to windows and chimneys. The pleasure of looking at the two works side by side is enormous as one can play a gratifying game of spot the difference whilst gaining insight into Lowry’s style. It is very rare to have such a finished drawing to accompany an oil by Lowry.
The perspective in both works is superb. The artist uses the composition of the gable ends of the buildings and their darker shaded tones to draw the viewer through the scene, pulling them past the numerous ‘moments’, up the steps and to the busy scene of the playground and St. Michael and All Angels beyond – both locations which are the subject of works in their own right. It has been noted that this painting may have been in response to the accusation that Lowry ‘only’ painted industrial panoramas. This is a charge which Lowry went on to counter throughout his rich and varied career which, though not known by many, is highlighted when viewing the 21 works in this monumental collection together A passionate and engaged collector, Selwyn is very proud to have the outstanding pencil studies for specific paintings and the other examples from the collection are St. Michael and All Angels, Angel Meadow, Manchester, 1941 (estimate: £400,000-600,000) and the study from 1931 (estimate: £60,000-80,000), as well as The Ferry, South Shields, 1967 (estimate: £150,000-250,000) and study from 1963 (estimate: £15,000-20,000). The beautiful study for St. Michael and All Angels, illustrated left, was drawn the year after Lowry’s critically acclaimed first one-man-show at the Round House in Manchester. The statuesque church was later demolished and Lowry replaced it in his painting with an array of industrial imagery. The curving street which is dominant in both versions is a characteristic motif in many of his works. The location, though considerably altered, still exists. The oil for The Ferry is relatively ‘true’ to the drawing, though the monumental nature of the water and the boat are emphasised in the painting, in which the barrier has been removed and both the water and the boat meet the viewer straight on.
Lowry had a fascination with the sea and upon retiring in the 1950s he began to spend more time in the North East of England, often staying at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland, not far from South Shields. Lowry’s seascapes, a theme which many do not realise was one of his passions, are sublimely beautiful as illustrated by the honey-coloured hues and beautiful dappled light captured in his painterly Yachts at Lytham, 1950 (estimate: £250,000-350,000). In relation to Lowry’s industrial cityscapes, his mother, Elizabeth, is known to have complained to her son "Isn't it bad enough having to live among it without you bringing it into the house," to which Lowry responded "what would you like me to paint, Mother?" and she stated "Little yachts at Lytham." Lowry also used the subject of the sea to examine the human condition, sometimes reflecting the insignificance of man and the isolation of human existence, which could be seen to fit the tone of the very dramatic, minimalist and monochrome Seascape, 1962 (estimate: £150,000-250,000). The juxtaposition of negative and positive space, with the sea and horizon fusing into infinity, results in a poetic and contemplative work which many may not recognise as being by Lowry’s hand.
Other fascinating works which reflect the diverse array of Lowry’s interests and styles include his early drawings: the smudged skies and enchanting architectural study A curved house, Maugersbury, 1930 (estimate: £25,000-35,000), and his pure, rather traditional landscape An Ancient Road, 1930 (estimate: £10,000-15,000).
In contrast, Lowry’s powerful River scene; Wasteland, 1935 (estimate: £200,000-300,000) captures the intensity of Northern industrialisation which he is known for, though without the dominance of his celebrated figures busily engaged in daily life, illustrated left. Factories are relegated into the background in An Open Space, 1968 (estimate: £250,000-350,000) which is thronging with whimsical activity, such as the twins with a football in the bottom left whose shorts are implied through the bare rather than painted canvas, as are the knees of the girl to their left.
Further ‘moments’ from daily life are brought alive in Street Scene, 1958 (estimate: £300,000-500,000) which again features the curving focal street, a central building and episodes such as a mother running with a pram in the middle-ground; a central building is again the motif of Street Scene 1953 (estimate: £200,000-300,000), which features a man leaning against a wall similar to the subject matter of the celebrated work Man lying on a wall, 1957 (The Lowry, Salford) which also appears to have the same church spire in the background. A scarcer scattering of people are captured in the unusual Street in North Leach, 1947 (estimate: £250,000-350,000), whilst the life enhancing pastel A street with figures and dogs, 1955 (estimate: £60,000-80,000), features not one but five of his famous dogs. Selwyn finds particular amusement in Lowry’s dogs. The artist’s good friend, Doctor Laing had a five-legged mongrel which he named “Jesus.” Laing would often take his pet on hospital visits, bringing amusement to the inmates of Ashton Infirmary.
The two final and significant works from the collection include Pit Tragedy, 1955 (estimate: £150,000-250,000), a subject that Lowry first depicted in the 1920s, in which the large figures are physically part of a group, though each moves alone as though isolated by personal grief. Study for the Steps, Maryport, 1956 (estimate: £80,000-120,000), is striking, with the zigzagging steps and lone figure who appears to be in limbo - neither going towards the steps, nor away from them - perhaps reflecting the unknown which lies ahead in both directions.
Alexander Rossi - On the Shores of Bognor Regis - Portrait Group of the Harford Couple and their Children, 1887
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
[The penny black, the world’s first stamp, was printed from 12 different plates, each of which is featured in Lady Mairi’s collection. Est. £10,000‐12,000. Photo: Sotheby's]
LONDON.- A private passion for stamps has long been the preserve of many an individual since the introduction of the first Penny Black in 1840. One of the most extraordinary figures to emerge in this field in the twentieth century was Lady Mairi Bury. This winter, Sothebyʹs London will bring to the market The Great Britain Philatelic Collections of Lady Mairi Bury, FRPSL, in a sale spanning three days from 24 to 26 November 2010. It is one of the finest Great British postage stamp collections to appear on the market in the last quarter of a century, both rare in content and in impeccable condition. The sale will afford serious collectors the opportunity to acquire sought‐after stamps from a renowned collection, several sections of which are of Gold Medal status. Complementing the stamps in the collection are early examples of printed envelopes and letters that chronicle some of the most extraordinary – and sensational – events of the Victorian period. Comprising 2185 lots, the auction is estimated to bring in excess of £2.6m.
Richard Ashton, Sotheby’s Worldwide Philatelic Consultant, comments: “This collection of Great Britain postage stamps and postal history created by Lady Mairi Bury is one of the finest to have been formed in recent years. Lady Mairi not only acquired items of considerable worth because of their rarity, but also a whole host of more humble stamps and covers that are in immaculate condition”.
Lady Mairi was associated throughout her life with Mount Stewart, her ancestral home in Country Down, Northern Ireland. Built by her Stewart ancestors in the late eighteenth century – and a jewel in the crown of the National Trust since 1955, on account of the gardens planted by Lady Mairi’s mother Edith, wife of the seventh Marquess of Londonderry – it was the location where Lady Mairi pursued her lifelong passion for stamp collecting. This passion can be effortlessly discerned in a collection that is highly revered and esteemed for the intelligence and originality with which it was formed. Lady Mairi was the pre‐eminent Gold Medal winner among the women in her field. This feat is extraordinarily unusual, and it led to her being regarded – with admiration among her peers – as the doyenne of female collectors in the Royal Philatelic Society. She won numerous Gold and Vermeil medals at British and international stamp exhibitions, and was awarded a posthumous Large Vermeil from the Great British stamp exhibition held once a decade in London. Lady Mairi passed away at the end of last year, at the age of 88.
The 1840 Penny Black and Two Pence Blue
The penny black, the world’s first stamp, was printed from 12 different plates, each of which is featured in Lady Mairi’s collection. Proof sheets of each plate were referred to as the imprimatur sheets, and placed in official archives. They have become great rarities because of limited private ownership. There are examples of early trials, including the famous Rainbow series (lot 81, Rainbow Trial 1d. in deep blue, est. £10,000‐12,000). Of particular note in the collection is a penny black from Plate 1A used on the ‘First Day’ of official use, ‘6 May 1840’, from London to Bedale (lot 130, est. £60,000‐70,000). Lady Mairi acquired many of the ‘May’ first month of use dates, including the rare ‘First Sunday’ (lot 136, est. £20,000‐25,000) and the ‘Second Sunday’, being a letter arriving from Calcutta (lot 137, Plate 1A 1d. intense black, used Sunday 17 May 1840, est. £10,000‐12,000). Multiples of the penny black reflected increasing postage rates above one half‐ounce – which the penny stamp paid – and of outstanding rarity and condition are horizontal strips of six from Plate 1B (lot 145, est. £1,000‐1,500) and Plate 2 (lot 229, est. £5,000‐6,000); a block of four from Plate 4 (lot 272, est. £7,000‐8,000); an extremely rare unused pair from Plate 5 (lot 295, est. £20,000‐25,000); a Plate 6 block of four with rare purple‐maroon Maltese Cross cancellations (lot 336, est. £12,000‐18,000); and a Plate 1A 1d. black Imprimatur from the First Registration Sheet (lot 98, est. £15,000‐18,000). An issue of the penny black for official use by Government departments replaced the ‘stars’ with the letters V & R in the upper corners. Lady Mairi was able to obtain an example of the Imprimatur proof (lot 469, 1840 ‘VR’ 1d. black from the Second Registration sheet, est. £15,000‐20,000).
Cancellations in all their varieties were of added interest to Lady Mairi, particularly the incorrect ink applications on the Maltese Cross colour cancelling device. The Maltese Cross was originally specified to be applied in red; though for a short period Glasgow used a shade of magenta (lot 125, Plate 1A 1d. on a wrapper from Glasgow with magenta Maltese Cross, est. £5,000‐6,000).
The two pence blue was issued at the same time as the penny black and is significantly scarcer, with 6.4 million being printed, as opposed to the 68 million penny blacks. The sale will include a superb selection, from a Plate 1 unused example (lot 472, est. £8,000‐10,000), to a used block of four (lot 536, est. £8,000‐9,000).
Line‐engraved issues and Surface‐printed issues
The section of the sale comprised of later line‐engraved issues is of equal importance to any collection formed in at least the past 50 years. These issues date from 1841 to 1870, with the penny and two pence stamps issued in 1841 replacing the famous 1840 first issue. Important examples include a rare Postal Notice sent to all postmasters with samples of the new stamps and postal stationery (lot 868, est. £3,000‐4,000); a magnificent and exceedingly rare mint block of the ‘abnormal’ Plate 23 1d. red‐brown issue (lot 1058, est. £10,000‐12,000); the Small Trial Plate of 12 impressions of the two pence stamp (lot 861, est. £12,000‐15,000); a 2d. blue Imprimatur (lot 869, est. £6,000‐7,000); and a Plate 4 2d. violet‐blue unused (lot 952, est. £10,000‐12,000, one of the rarest unused regularly-issued stamps of Great Britain, almost unobtainable in this exceptional condition). Later line‐engraved stamps include the iconic, unissued 1½d (lot 1326, 1860 Three Halfpence, The Unissued Plate 1 rosy mauve Imprimatur, est. £3,000‐4,000).
The surface‐printed issues form a further highly distinguished section in the sale. A formidable array of the 2s. value stamp, first printed in 1867 in blue and later in brown, includes – among the blue series – rare Die proofs, Specimen stamps and Imprimaturs. The 2s. brown is represented with a block of 8 overprinted ‘Specimen’, the largest known multiple with a specimen overprint (lot 1563, Plate 1, est. £15,000‐16,000); a mint pair (lot 1564, est. £30,000‐35,000); and a single stamp used on a cover to India (very few survive on cover, lot 1565, est. £15,000‐18,000). The 1881 1d. lilac includes an Imperforate strip of four (lot 1622, est. £4,000‐5,000).
The ‘Jubilee’ series
Towards the close of the nineteenth century, a majestic series of stamps issued between 1887 and 1900 was named the ‘Jubilee’ series, since the first stamps were issued in the same year that Queen Victoria celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Accession. Lady Mairi’s study of this issue is the finest ever formed, including extremely rare Imprimaturs; the ½d. vermilion Doubly printed (lot 1697, est. £8,000‐9,000, a major rarity of Great British philately); the 2½d. Imperforate (lot 1743, est. £3,000‐3,500) and 3d. Imperforate (lot 1746, est. £2,000‐2,500); and exquisite hand‐painted essays of several values (lot 1711, 1887‐1900 Jubilee Issue 1½d. Hand‐painted Essay, est. £2,500‐3,000).
King Edward VII
The issues of King Edward VII are comprised of an award‐winning collection for which Lady Mairi was famous. Outstanding in its completeness, these issues include hand‐painted essays, preparatory proofs and colour trials; and a Die Proof of a proposed £5 value which was never issued (lot 2035, est. £6,000‐8,000). Rare shades and some exceptional varieties are notable highlights among the issued stamps.
King George V to Queen Elizabeth II
From the period between King George V to Queen Elizabeth II, many fine examples will be on offer. These include a rarely seen 1929 Postal Union Congress £1 stamp in a half sheet of ten (lot 2097, est. £4,000‐5,000); a 1935 Silver Jubilee 2½d. Prussian blue (lot 2102, est. £5,000‐6,000); the 1941‐41 2½d. in an Imperforate block of four (lot 2117, est. £4,000‐5,000); and the many Queen Elizabeth II colour omissions (the 1963 Paris Conference 6d. green printing omitted (lot 2126, est. £2,000‐2,500) and the 1965 Post Office Tower 3d. with the ‘tower omitted’ (lot 2128, est. £3,000‐3,500).
Contemporary with the first stamps in the world was the issue of penny and two pence printed postal stationery envelopes and letter sheets. The postal stationery would be addressed and sent without the need for postage stamps (though these could be added if the weight exceeded that allowed for within the purchase price of the envelope or letter sheet). William Mulready, a famous and popular artist at the time, was the designer of the stationery. Lady Mairi collected a wonderful range of his work, examples of the penny envelope and letter sheet, each uprated with the addition of a penny black adhesive. One of the finest examples of an uprated two pence Mulready using an 1840 two pence adhesive is lot 540, 1840 Mulready 2d. envelope uprated with an 1840 2d. blue Plate 1, est. £10,000‐12,000. Mulready’s work was, sadly, much ridiculed and lampooned by the public, resulting in the production of caricature envelopes and letter sheets that had no postal validity, and therefore if being sent required a prepayment in cash, in which case a manuscript endorsement was added, often in the form of a figure ‘1’ sometimes prefixed by the word ‘paid’, or the addition of a penny black or penny red postage stamp. Many of the cariacture productions are extraordinarily rare, and Lady Mairi acquired several examples, including Hume’s Comic Envelope Number 2 the ‘Balloon Mail’ (lot 68, est. £8,000‐9,000) and Number 3 the ‘Elephant in a Kilt’ (lot 69, est. £12,000‐14,000).
One of the great rarities of the entire pictorial series – and the finer of the two known – is Hume’s Musical Envelope Number 1 the ‘Robert Burns’ Envelope, with a black Maltese Cross cancellation (lot 71, est. £8,000‐10,000).
Prior to the introduction of the penny black post, members of the Houses of Parliament could send and receive a certain number of letters without charge. The privilege would soon be withdrawn. Specially printed envelopes were made for use by members, and a standout item in the sale is a ‘Houses of Parliament’ penny envelope sent by Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel (lot 1, 1d. envelope printed in black, S.G.PE1, est. £10,000‐12,000).
Infamous historic events
Lady Mairi’s collection casts a light on a number of infamous historic events, including the attempted murder of Queen Victoria, the trial of Madeleine Smith, the Dr William Palmer poison case, and the iron‐paddle steamer Nemesis’ role in the First Opium War.
The attempted murder of Queen Victoria
The year 1840 saw not only the inception of postage stamps but also the attempted murder of Queen Victoria. Lady Bury’s collection includes an envelope with Penny Black (lot 110, GD Plate 1A 1d. grey‐black, S.G. AS2, est. £300‐400), whose original letter of enclosure refers to the attack made on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at 6 o’clock on 10 June 1840 as they rode up Constitution Hill in a low, open carriage. Edward Oxford, who was nineteen years of age, drew a pistol and fired at the queen, and in quick succession drew another pistol and fired again. The public was quick to react, and immediately overpowered and disarmed him amid shouts of “Kill him! Kill him”. Oxford was committed for High Treason, but sent to an asylum and released 27 years later. Estimated at £300‐400, and sent within London on 13 June 1840, the letter was written on 12 June by Mary Hallam to her friend, Anna Deacon, just two days after the attack.
Rallying sympathy and support for Queen Victoria – who was four months pregnant with her first child – was a welcome outcome of the attack. Parliament was duly reminded that without offspring, Her Majesty’s uncle, Ernst August, King of Hanover, would inherit the throne. Formerly the Duke of Cumberland, the scandals of his former years were still vivid in their minds. A Bill was hastily introduced into Parliament, appointing Prince Albert “Regent” in the event of the Queen being survived by their child. Mary Hallam intuitively anticipated that mercy would be shown towards Oxford and she was convinced that the Queen’s life would thereafter be at risk: “It is really quite shocking to think of the late attack upon the Queen; this is one of the consequences of their misplaced mercy in remitting the first punishment due to rebels & murderers; if this man is not lieing (sic.) the Queen will be murdered ere long.” At the trial, Oxford elicited a degree of compassion because of his tender age and doubts as to whether the pistols he used were in fact loaded. Flourishing under captivity, and dispelling any notions of insanity, he was released in 1868 with the proviso that he emigrated. It has been alleged that he changed his name to Cambridge.
Hume’s ‘Nemesis’ Envelope
Printed envelopes were held in high regard by Lady Mairi, and Sotheby’s sale will present a major rarity of its kind. Hume’s ‘Nemesis’ Envelope is the unique used example, with only one other recorded mint condition unused example in the Royal Collection. The present envelope (lot 70, est. £15,000‐20,000) was used from Edinburgh to Bothkenna on 23 August 1844, postage paid by an 1841 1d. red‐brown stamp. The illustration depicts the Nemesis, an iron‐paddle steamer custom‐built by the East India Company to fight in the shallow coastal waters, estuaries and rivers of China. It became the star of the First Opium War, prized for its unique ability to venture where no sailing ships dared go.
The Nemesis was long, sleek and narrow in design, and able to move freely backwards and forwards. Well‐armed and with an extraordinary shallow draft of only six feet even when fully loaded, she was built in 1840 specifically for the conditions anticipated in the First Opium War, which had just started. Her successful exploits at the time led to the terms of the Chenupi Convention, and the ceding of Hong Kong to the British in 1842. The challenges to be overcome in her design included the conundrum of how to get a compass to function reliably in an iron‐ship – masterfully solved by the Astronomer‐Royal, Professor George Airy, in 1839 – and the unique specifications of building an iron ship large enough to sail to China round the Cape of Good Hope. The Nemesis gained celebrity status – prompting the production of these illustrated envelopes. What gave the story its potential to capture the public’s imagination, is that she was an experimental vessel at the cutting‐edge of technical innovation at the height of the Industrial Revolution, neither commissioned under the articles of war, nor classed as part of the Navy of the East India Company.
The Madeleine Smith Cancellations
Lady Mairi’s collection includes a matched set of Madeleine Smith cancellations from 1857, estimated at £1,000‐1,500 (lot 1207). Madeleine Smith went before a trial in June 1857 for the poisoning of her lover. The case provoked a media frenzy and it documented an illicit affair recorded in over 100 letters written by Madeleine, the 22‐year‐old daughter of a very successful Glasgow architect. The letters were often not dated and the ‘Madeleine Smith postmarks’, as they came to be known, were instrumental in unlocking the chronology of the affair. The prosecution placed considerable reliance on the letters, but the defense challenged their ploy by raising doubts about the original order of the letters, questioning every half‐rubbed postmark. The judge even made pointed remarks in his summing up as to the desirability of legible postmarks from this time forward. The verdict of “Not Proven”, an inconclusive judgment unique to Scotland, allowed Madeleine to walk free from the court, and yet she was unable to escape from speculation over her culpability for the remainder of her life. It is the postmarks on these letters that have continued to fuel the enduring legacy of the trial.
“Lady Mairi’s Eccentricities”
What is perhaps unique about the collection is that Lady Bury’s endeavour not only encompassed seminal examples of the finest extant stamps, but fascinating “eccentricities”, a description that lends itself to the final instalment of the sale, “Lady Mairi’s Eccentricities”. These items were rarely, if ever, placed on view; they remained her ‘private’ holdings which she alone enjoyed. Among the items are a rare 1910 Queen Alexandra unstamped mourning envelope (lot 2152, est. £300‐400), The Wonderland Postage‐Stamp Case Invented by Lewis Carroll (lot 2174, est. £100‐150) and an interesting range of German stamps and covers issued primarily between the two World Wars, (lot 2181, est. £400‐600).
Dr William Palmer, The Rugeley Poisoner
The theme of sensational Victorian crimes continues with the inclusion in the sale of a letter of 26 September 1855 from J. Parsons‐Cook, the last victim of Dr William Palmer, the Rugeley Poisoner, together with the original envelope, franked with the 1854 1d. red‐brown (lot 2145). Estimated at £1,000‐1,500, this letter was sent just seven weeks before the young Parsons was murdered by Dr Palmer. The 12‐day trial in 1856 was one of the most notorious of the Victorian age and was avidly followed by the population in daily newspaper coverage. Dr Palmer (pictured right) had been a respected member of the medical profession before giving up his practice to become a racehorse owner and serious gambler. Running up debts worth £25,400, or £2.5m in today’s money, he attempted to defraud his race‐going friend John Parsons‐ Cook, and when this failed, he poisoned him. Dr Palmer was publicly hanged the following year outside Stafford Jail, an occasion which attracted a crowd of some 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. Conan Doyle clearly followed the trial as he mentions Dr Palmer in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Speckled Band”, a mystery involving snake poison.
*Pre‐sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium
Monday, November 8, 2010
[A Penfold Hexagonal postbox. This was the standard design for UK Post Office boxes between 1866–1879.
This example is on King's Parade, Cambridge beside the main gate of King's College.
Traditionally UK post boxes are marked with the initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation. In this case, the post box carries the initial VR for Victoria Regina, indicating Queen Victoria]
By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day.