‘ANTIQUES ROADSHOW’ APPRAISER NICHOLAS DAWES TELLS WHY THESE 5 PIECES ARE EXTRAORDINARY
IF YOU ASK ABOUT MY PASSION, I typically say ceramic art, which has always been part of my blood. I grew up in the English Midlands in an antiques dealing family. My father worked in the “heavy clay” industry and the unique dry smell of kilns and baking clay is part of my childhood memory. Today, I collect 18th century English porcelain. It’s difficult selecting my favorite of the many remarkable pieces I’ve handled at Heritage Auctions, a bit like naming your favorite friends. I am sure to adjust this list as things bubble up from HA.com’s marvelous Auction Archives.
Lalique Amethyst Tinted Glass ‘Victoire’ Mascot, circa 1928
I became intrigued by René Lalique over 35 years ago, and have devoted much of my career as an auctioneer, dealer and author to his work. The incredible automobile hood ornaments he designed in the 1920s provide a special draw. This amethyst, tinted glass “Victoire” mascot realized $21,250 at a November 2012 auction. I purchased my first “Victoire” in 1983, and since then I have owned several. The finest I ever owned came from an old collection I bought in 1987 when my son was 1. Twenty years later, the mascot helped pay for his tuition at Duke University.
1928 Ahrens-Fox N-S-4 Fully Equipped Fire Truck
At roughly 24 feet, this is undoubtedly the largest item I have sold at auction, and to me one of the most enjoyable to work with. There is something majestic in any fire engine, and this 1928 model, lovingly restored to its authentic original state by mechanical model enthusiast Glenn Reid and his team in Michigan, infused that majesty with elegance, power and a uniquely honest brand of Americana generically referred to as “Norman Rockwell.” Sitting in the driver’s seat, you can feel the spirit of the machine, the men who manned it, and the souls they saved. How many auction lots give you that? It sold for $125,000 at a May 2014 Heritage auction.
Artistic Daum Glass Orchide Vase, circa 1900
The best art nouveau glass was made in Nancy, France, during a twinkling window in time when the modern world backed into the old and taught it some of its tricks. I have handled many outstanding examples from this beautiful period, but none more exquisite than this one, boldly capturing the evanescence of an orchid in full bloom, and preserving it for evermore. Discovery is perhaps the greatest thrill in our business.
I unwrapped this object in Washington, D.C., packed in the 1940s newspaper that had protected it for decades. It was a pleasure waking the orchid from her long sleep. It realized $34,655 at a November 2011 auction.
Aster Live Steam Scale Model Lner A3 ‘Flying Scotsman’ and Tender
The auction of items from the Reid Museum Collection of Mechanical Models in 2014 yielded unique treasures. While I could have chosen many from this collection, the “Flying Scotsman” rises to the top for personal reasons. My boyhood in the Midlands of England was traumatically interrupted by two railway-related events. Firstly, the so-called “Beeching cuts” closed more than 3,000 miles of British regional rail lines between 1963 and 1969. My steam trains were eliminated almost overnight, relegating most of them to the scrapyard. As the axe was falling, my beloved Uncle Ernie perished along with two co-drivers as he was driving an express passenger Pullman near Birmingham. Ernie Morris was a hero in my family and beyond as he had driven the mighty “Flying Scotsman.” This superbly made, live steam “garden” model reminds me of him, and a long-lost age of steam. It sold for $4,375 in May 2014.
George IV Carved Oak Upholstered Armchairs, circa 1828
I fell for these from the moment I spotted them in the entrance hall of a spectacular Palm Beach home in a kind of “admiration at first sight,” if you know that feeling. There is something uniquely British in these superbly made chairs, commissioned to grace the library of Eshton Hall, a stately home in Yorkshire comparable in many ways to the fictional Downton Abbey. Designed in the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars, and several years before the Reform Movement took root, they represent a pivotal time in British political, social and economic history. The overall design reflects the spirit of optimism drawn from fresh military victory and a rapidly expanding international, commercial and governmental empire where the sun never set. They realized $11,950 at a May 2010 auction.
NICHOLAS DAWES is vice president-special collections at Heritage Auctions. He appears as a ceramics, glass, silver and decorative arts appraiser on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. His latest book is Bespoke Mascots – Automotive Jewelry, Volume II (Coachbuilt Press, $100). He can be reached at NickD@HA.com.