Downton Abbey's return to TV screens last weekend, with an opening storyline about a country-house auction, provided the perfect curtain-raiser to Sheppard's two-day auction of the contents of Capard House in Co Laois this week.
And big spenders, who hadn’t quite all been diverted to the ploughing, in nearby Ratheniska, were out in force. A couple who had travelled from Beijing to Ireland, especially for the auction, successfully bid €560,000 for Lot 143 – a pair of large Chinese “Qing period” powder-blue vases, each 2.5ft high and on individual carved giltwood stands – trouncing the estimate of €30,000-€40,000. The result was greeted with warm applause. The price is the highest ever paid at auction in Ireland for Chinese porcelain.
Earlier in the sale, Lot 117, a pair of unremarkable Chinese blue-and-white bowls, estimated at €6,000-€8,000 and about which auctioneer Philip Sheppard remarked "you might eat your corn-flakes out of" sold for €40,000. Sheppard's has been courting Chinese bidders in Beijing and Hong Kong – even publishing its catalogue and broadcasting its auctions online in Mandarin – and has also attracted attention from major dealers in Chinese antiques in London and New York. The strategy is paying off handsomely.
Capard House was, until recently, the country retreat of Dublin jeweller John Farrington. Sheppard's had said this week's auction of its contents – Mr Farrington's huge collection of art, antiques and jewellery – would be the firm's "most-important ever".
In the event, some 3,000 people attended the viewing and Mr Sheppard said “very heavy bidding” in the saleroom and via telephone and online from around the world had “exceeded all expectations”.
Overall 82 per cent of the 1,160 lots were sold. The auction was the highest-grossing in Ireland of 2015 so far.
Among other interesting results were: Lot 1, a 19th-century cast-iron garden urn in the style of the ancient Roman "Warwick Vase", €2,000 (€1,500-€2,500); Lot 153, a 19th-century painting, Neo-classical scene of Grecian girls swimming by English artist John Whitehead Walton, €2,600 (€3,000-€5,000); Lot 54, "a monumental George III period carved giltwood framed mirror", €8,500 (€15,000-€25,000); Lot 147, a late 18th/early 19th-century French gilt bronze mantel clock, €2,800 (€3,000-€5,000); Lot 180, a 19th-century hunting horn in a leather case, €300 (€50-€80); Lot 204, an (indoors) bronze sculpture of a centaur, €3,400 (€2,500-€3,500); Lot 208, a 19th-century rosewood grand piano by Collard & Collard with the trade label of Henry Bussell, Westmoreland Street, Dublin, €650 (€200-€300); and Lot 311, a Georgian carved giltwood Chinoiserie overmantel mirror, €14,000 (estimate €8,000-€12,000). Lot 657, a top-hat (miscatalogued as a "bowler hat") "made by Lincoln Bennett & Company – trade label R. Tison, Dublin", enclosed in a leather carrying case, made €110 (€50-€80).
Among furniture that failed to sell was: Lot 75, “a large Irish George III period three-pillar mahogany dining table” – large enough to seat 24 for dinner – which had been estimated at €40,000-€60,000.
Among the jewellery, Lot 661, a 1950s ruby and diamond cocktail bracelet made €18,000 (€20,000-€30,000); Lot 662, a 1960s diamond cuff bracelet, €29,000 (€35,000-€45,000); and Lot 667, an Art Déco sapphire and diamond brooch, €17,000 (€22,000-€28,000). Lot 684, a 3.01-carat, F Colour, VS1 clarity diamond ring made €54,500 – also below the estimate of €60,000-€80,000.