Inspired by Nature

A pair of Victorian novelty silver owl salt and pepper, London 1879, by Thomas Johnson II, height 6.5cm © Toovey’s 2021

As lockdown eases and the busyness of life begins to return I am making conscious punctuation marks in my life to continue to walk and be. To shut out the white noise of the demands of life, to inhabit the landscape and my garden and be truly present giving thanks to God for these blessings. Nature seems to have taken on an abundance and grown in our imaginations in these times. The delight in nesting Goldfinches, a Thrush busy tidying our garden of snails, the pickly Blackbirds flicking the soil from the borders onto the paths and terrace as they search for food, and the proud Robins at play in the bird bath as the Woodpecker taps out his tune against the old Weeping Pear.

The Victorians shared this fascination and delight in birds, wildlife and nature, made popular by Queen Victoria. Nature inspired their decorative arts and artists as it does today.

I love the expressions on the faces of the late Victorian novelty silver salt and pepper modelled as a pair of owls. Their glass eyes gift them with such life and character, they remind me a bit of E H Shepard’s wonderful depictions of Owl in Winnie the Pooh. As they stand looking at you their finely engraved plumage shimmers in the light. These fine objects were made by Thomas Johnson II who was well known for his novelty silver birds and animals. Hallmarked in London in 1879 they bear the mark of the Bond Street retailers, W. Thornhill & Co. If you fancy a pair of novelty silver owl condiments they and will be offered for sale in Toovey’s specialist silver auction on 12th May with an estimate of £800-£1200.

A pair of Elizabeth II novelty silver duck sauce boats, London 1973, By Asprey & Co Ltd, length 21.5cm © Toovey’s 2021

The pair of Asprey & Co Elizabeth II silver novelty sauceboats and stands are modelled as a pair of ducks and sold for £2200 earlier in the year highlighting the continued appeal of silver inspired by nature. They seem to glide as if on water, their finely cast and chased plumage giving them light and life. The oval stands are engraved with simulated water adding to the effect. And the matched silver ladles, engraved with feathers, are by Roberts & Belk.

There is a danger that as we return to our cars in our increasingly urbanised lives that we will once again be separated from the joys and importance of nature. I hope that our MPs and newly elected local politicians will use their positions and power to honour and maintain the rural, agricultural nature and needs of Sussex and her farmers with the undoubted need for more homes, and that the new developments will be designed to allow us to live and flourish with nature.

An Actor, Auctioneer and a Vicar

Rupert Toovey taking to the rostrum for post lockdown live and online auctions

I will never forget the first auction I ever attended. It was the mid-1980s and with Margaret Thatcher reinventing the nation’s economy there was considerable unemployment especially amongst graduates. Against this backdrop I had turned down my place to read history at Sussex with no real idea of what I was going to do. Mum and Dad had packed me off to see my Grandpa. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. We sat at his George V oak dining table as the light from his town garden lit up the bees-waxed surface.

“So Rupert what are you going to do?” he said. “I have no idea.” I replied. “Well it seems to me you have three choices. You love people, you love art and history, and you’ll have to own a sense of theatre. You can be an actor, an auctioneer or a vicar!” I paused to think for a moment, as the eldest of five I didn’t think I could really put my parents through the drama of acting. I knew what vicaring was but auctioneering? “What’s auctioneering?” I found myself saying. “Let’s go and see, there’s a sale on today, come on.” Grandpa responded.

It was a crisp spring morning, bright with a nip in the air as we walked through the Morth Gardens onto Horsham’s beautiful Causeway, past the Horsham Museum and Old Town Hall and into the Carfax. In those days cars still circled through the town. We dodged the traffic by the King’s Head as we crossed the road. The alley way between the pub and the newsagent was cast in shadow. As we walked up past the saleroom office we could hear the rise and fall of the auctioneer’s voice and crack of his gavel. We were greeted by a huge pea green door hung on rusty sliding hinges with a smaller door cut into it. We pulled hard on the smaller door and it swung open. The crowd was gathered amongst the furniture around a towering oak rostrum. The light came from a window set high above in the wall like an artist’s studio bathing the audience in a warm light and causing the medullary rays in the oak to shimmer. The auctioneer, Jack Ash, who would later teach me to sell, had worked at Churchman Burts in Steyning and sold livestock as well as antiques before the war. His voice filled with excitement called the bidding increments at great speed “£220, 20, 20, 40 now, £240 any advance £240?” as the gavel fell.

Furniture, Antiquities and Collectors’ items on view to the public once more

Beautiful things, wonderful people and the theatre of a sale day, I was captivated. That thrill of a sale day, the theatre, the people and the objects has never left me which is why I am so delighted to see the salerooms beautifully laid out and to once again and be able to welcome people by appointment to Toovey’s specialist auctions over the coming weeks – many of the sales catalogues are online already.

Looking back it’s fascinating to reflect how much Horsham and our county has changed. An actor, an auctioneer and a vicar – I have certainly fulfilled the last two of Grandpa’s suggestions and perhaps with the theatre of the sale day all three. So exciting!

Spring and the easing of lockdown

Bonnie enjoying the delights of the Sussex Downs in the chilly spring weather

Is it my imagination that spring seems to have arrived a little later this year?

The frosts and nip in the air do not seem to have deterred our magnolia from producing the most wonderful array of flowers and the brilliant white Blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows is especially fine this year against the backdrop of the deep blue skies.

Like our gardens and the countryside around our Sussex towns and villages we too are tentatively emerging after lockdown.

Monday 12th April brought the first day of steadily easing Covid restrictions. People gathered safely and happily outside pubs with British forbearance in the face of the chilly weather. Life began to slowly return to our county’s High Streets.

Bonnie and I were on appointment as we have been throughout lockdown. Our week took us from Arundel to Amberley, Steyning to Worthing, Brighton and Wimbledon. The weather seemed to improve throughout the week and as the blossom bravely emerged so the numbers of people steadily increased.

My little dog Bonnie really enjoyed rediscovering her favourite walks on top of the Sussex Downs which punctuate our days between valuation appointments. And we’ve been popping into our favourite shops across the county to support them.

Rupert Toovey on a valuation appointment in Arundel, West Sussex

It’s funny how quickly we have adapted to a new routine. As I arrive at people’s homes I am still ringing the doorbell running 2 metres back from the door and turning to greet them. It’s important to see a smile and exchange a greeting safely before putting on a face mask and disinfecting my hands. Once inside we perform a Covid dance as we seek to honour one another with social distancing and old fashioned good manners. We move around enjoying each other’s company and the treasures, the windows flung open to the crisp spring breeze.

The online auctions at Toovey’s have been very successful but I have missed gathering the collectors and dealers whose passions for art and objects I and my colleagues share. So I am excited to report that we have successfully reopened Toovey’s auction rooms to the public. We’ve refreshed our reception and valuations spaces for the public to bring their treasured possessions to Toovey’s for auction. For our live auctions next week we’ve put in place hand sanitizers, direction signs, queuing and viewing point mats to ensure social distancing. The numbers of people viewing our sales at any one time will be limited with timed slots available by appointment with masks. Listen to me being excited by Health and Safety but it’s at its best when it’s practical, empowering and keeps people safe!

Providing valuations, viewing and attendance for our sales by appointment is once again proving really popular whilst keeping people safe. And there has been strong demand for our home visit valuation service throughout.

I hope that lockdown will continue to ease and you will join me in supporting our local businesses, theatres, museums, art galleries, churches and newspapers who add so richly to the life of our community. If we do then there will be much cause for hope and optimism.

HRH Prince Philip

The Naval officer, HRH Prince Philip

Rarely has our nation’s common story, our long island history, our values of duty and service been as eloquently upheld as through the lives of HM Queen Elizabeth II and her husband HRH Prince Philip.

The Queen and Prince Philip have been bound up not only with the nation’s life but with our own lives as individuals. Together we have shared their joys and sorrows as they have shared ours. Together, here in Sussex and across the United Kingdom, we hold The Queen and her family in our hearts and our prayers as we mourn the loss of Prince Philip.

HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh has been the longest serving Royal Consort in history. His strength of character enabled a life of service supporting The Queen throughout her long reign and his family, at the heart of the nation and the Commonwealth.

Separated from his family in his youth through revolution and his mother’s illness he came to live with his Mountbatten relatives in England. He studied under the Jewish educational pioneer Kurt Hahn in Germany and then in Scotland at Gordonstoun after Hahn had fled the Nazis. He later claimed that Hahn was the inspiration for the remarkable Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme which continues to encourage young people to challenge themselves and grow as individuals.

He first met the young Princess Elizabeth at the Britannia Royal Naval College where he was charged to escort both her and Princess Margaret.

With the war looming his family encouraged him into the Royal Navy. He played an important role as the officer in charge of HMS Valiant’s searchlights at the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941 and was mentioned in dispatches. By the October of 1942 he was one of the youngest lieutenants in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Wallace.

Prince Philip was invited to stay with the Royal Family on a number of occasions. He and Princess Elizabeth corresponded and their affection for each other grew. In 1946 Prince Philip asked George VI for his daughter’s hand in marriage. They were married in 1947 at Westminster Abbey.

He was given his first command of the sloop HMS Magpie in 1950. In 1951 he took leave from the Royal Navy to support his wife as the King’s deteriorating health meant increasing Royal duties.

Elizabeth acceded to the throne upon her father’s death in 1952 and was crowned in 1953.

HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH Prince Philip with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1957

Photographs can give such an insight into a moment in time. The portrait of HRH Prince Philip in naval uniform provides a glimpse of the energy and vigour which would define his life. The photograph from 1957 of The Queen and Prince Philip with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne shows a family happy and at ease.

Prince Philip’s passion for creating opportunity for individuals, conservation, his ability to embrace and lead change, his excitement in science, technology and industry remained undiminished.

Throughout his life he pressed on regardless of undoubted challenges serving his Queen, his family and the nation with unswerving service and duty born out of faith. And it is to this example that we must look as our nation emerges from the challenges of Covid-19.

The Art of Victorian Jewellery

A Victorian gold, diamond set brooch of floral and foliate spray design, circa 1880

From the mid-19th century an increasingly affluent middle class combined with a growing supply of gold and precious metals from California and Australia creating an explosion in demand for jewellery.

From the 1840s the classical world, Renaissance and the natural world continued to inspire jewellery designs which evolved to adorn the fashion of the times.

A mid-19th century circular gold, garnet and diamond brooch by the Neapolitan jeweller Giacinto Melillo, circa 1860

The small mid-19th century circular gold, garnet and diamond brooch is by the Neapolitan jeweller Giacinto Melillo. Melillo trained in the workshop of Alessandro Castellani. The Castellani workshop was famous for its copies of ancient jewellery. An inch in diameter this brooch was modelled on a typically classical design and realised £2200 at Toovey’s.

A Victorian gold and coral pendant brooch, circa 1860

From the 1860s, influenced by the fashion for décolletage neck lines, many brooches changed from horizontal to vertical axis designs. Coral was particularly fashionable between 1845 and 1865. The Victorian gold and pendant brooch measures some 3 ¼ inches. It, too, is classically inspired with its vertical design, classical amphora pendant drop and delicate applied wire work.

In contrast to the earlier corsets and crinolines from the late 19th century women’s fashion sought to enhance rather than alter the wearer’s figure employing softer materials. As a consequence brooches became smaller and lighter.

The Romantic Movement of the 1840s had stimulated designs in the forms of flowers and foliage. These designs remained popular throughout the second half of the 19th century. The late Victorian diamond set brooch is a typical example with its beautifully conceived scrolls. You can imagine it moving in a spring breeze as the light moves across the diamonds. It measured 2 ¼ inches.

Late 19th century Fin de siècle brooches of smaller, delicate design became popular. They were worn pinned to the lace and tulle draped around the décolletage. It did not matter whether the brooches matched, the fashion was for wearing numerous brooches at the same time.

A Victorian diamond and half pearl set pendant star brooch, circa 188

The late Victorian gold, diamond and half pearl set pendant brooch with its detachable brooch fitting measured just 1 ¾ inches. Its delicate design and scale is characteristic of the late 19th century.

Jewellery at its best adds to the beauty of the wearer and speaks across generations of love and precious moments in our human lives. These examples sold for £700, £1000 and £550 respectively. The appeal of jewellery is timeless.

Online has been an incredible blessing in these times with strong interest and prices for jewellery and across all the specialist auctions throughout lockdown. But nothing beats real life human encounters and we are now excitedly making preparations so that, ‘R’ number willing, we will be able to welcome you once again at the salerooms for valuations and auctions from the 12th April by appointment. Until then I look forward to seeing you for valuations online and at your homes.