Resembling a storyline from TV’s ‘Lovejoy’, the recent discovery of a West Midlands house crammed with rare and valuable treasures from the orient is the stuff of dreams for any Auctioneer.

It all started with a phone call to Richard Winterton Auctioneers based in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Adrian Rathbone, Chief Valuer/Associate was asked to visit a property in Wolverhampton to undertake what was initially deemed a routine visit to a deceased estate to advise on the clearance and auction of the contents. What he was not expecting in this normal inter-war period semi-detached house was literally a treasure trove of works of art from China and Japan. The front sitting room was packed with oriental ceramics on chests, tables, inside cabinets and antique Japanese woodblock prints covering the walls. The real ‘wow’ factor was when Mr Rathbone was shown into the back room where display cabinets crammed with hundreds of antique ivory figures, netsukes, tsuba, inro, scent bottles, lacquer and more prints lay untouched.

The intricately carved ivory figures, (okimonos) are all different showing natives in single and group form pursuing everyday activities such as collecting wood and crafts with most dating from the latter part of the nineteenth century. A netsuke is a small toggle device for hanging on the cord of robes or inro. These are carved in ivory to form a whole host of interesting and sometimes novelties such as a hatching chick or a man with a gourd. Inro are small boxes with divisions, usually made of lacquer for containing trinkets/medicines and are designed to be carried around on the person.

It emerged that the deceased owner had a passion for researching and collecting ivory and other oriental works of art at a time when such things were affordable. Nowadays it is a different story with the East experiencing great wealth the market is booming for all things oriental. One could call it a craze. Auction records are being smashed each week up and down the country for antique Chinese porcelain, jade and other works of art. Mr Rathbone comments:

‘Such discoveries are a dream for a Valuer and are a once in a lifetime experience. We are regularly used to handling antique ivory and oriental works of art of high value but to see so much in one place is astonishing. The collection has been thoughtfully amassed over many years with an emphasis on quality with a keen eye for detail. It showcases the ivory carver’s talents and there is a good cross-section of figures in various poses to suit all tastes. We have seen the prices for such works escalate over the last few years with strong demand coming from the new rich in the East as well as collectors and investors in the USA and UK. A special viewing day and sale will be a fitting tribute to the collection’.

Due to the high value concerned the house was promptly cleared by Richard Winterton’s own haulage team and the exciting task of cataloguing and photography has now begun in preparation for a special auction devoted to the to collection, (to be held on 19th October at The Lichfield Auction Centre). Illustrated and online catalogues will be available a week prior to the sale in October. Contact Richard Winterton Auctioneers for further details on 01543 251081

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