Head to Durrow for the family silver and jewels

Sheppard’s auction features diamond brooch given to woman in 1859


Anyone attending the auction viewing that opens at Sheppard’s in Durrow, Co Laois, on Saturday should make a beeline for Lot 406. At first glance, the bottle-green leatherbound album, estimated at €500-€800, doesn’t look much. But it opens to reveal five jewel-like, individually framed, oval family-portrait miniatures embedded in velvet.

The album is labelled Lafayette, the famous Grafton Street photographic studio that flourished from 1880 and was the photographer “by appointment” to the viceroy and royal visitors to Ireland, including Queen Victoria herself.

The portraits depict members of the Bowen family, big landowners and members of the Protestant gentry, who lived at Kilnacourt, Portarlington, Co Laois. Each is contained in a gilded silver frame, hallmarked for the renowned silversmith George Elisha Sumner, and are in superb condition.

Take a closer look at the matriarch of the family, Mrs Emily Anne Bowen, who is dressed in classic Victorian style. She was the daughter of Richard Wordsworth Cooper of Longford Lodge, Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), Co Dublin, a house that later became the well-known Protestant girls’ school Glengara Park, which in the 1970s was merged into Rathdown School, an institution that is still going strong.

In 1860 Emily married Capt Charles Hartpole Bowen, a British army officer, and moved to Co Laois. In the photograph, Mrs Bowen can be seen wearing a diamond brooch. And, quite remarkably, this very jewel has also survived, and has been consigned to this auction. Lot 67 is her “Platinum and gold, old mine-cut diamond brooch glittering with no fewer than 84 assorted diamonds weighing in total 7.68 carats”, and the estimate is €1,500-€2,500.

But for collectors and prospective bidders, the news is even better. The proof that the brooch is the one seen in the photograph is not just visual, because Lot 67 is being sold with the original receipt for its purchase by Capt Bowen in 1859. It was probably a Christmas (or engagement?) present from him to his future wife. The receipt is dated December 17th and he paid £100, a huge sum of money at the time, notwithstanding the fact that the receipt shows he got a discount of £5. The brooch was purchased from Lambert & Rawlings, a London “Goldsmiths, Jewellers & Silversmiths To Their Majesties and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent” with premises at 10, 11 and 12 Coventry Street, Piccadilly. The diamonds seem to have worked their magic, as the couple married a few months later.

The provenance here is impeccable, and reuniting the brooch with the original photograph would probably appeal to collectors of antique jewellery, but that would mean bidding successfully on both lots 67 and 406.

Auctioneer Philip Sheppard says that further research is required to determine the ultimate fate of the Bowen family, but confirms that Mrs Bowen’s son – pictured in a Scots Guards uniform adorned with medals – was Charles Edmund Hartpole Bowen. He was born in 1862, educated at Harrow School, joined the army, and saw action as a lieutenant in the Anglo-Egyptian war of 1882, for which he was awarded the medals visible in the portrait (the Egypt Medal with Tel-El-Kebir clasp and the Khedive’s Bronze Star). He died, tragically, on December 1st, 1884, while on home leave in Ireland, where he apparently took his own life in the gate lodge at Kilnacourt.

Tantalising glimpse

There are a few other lots in the auction which offer a tantalising glimpse into the world of the Bowen family and their affluent lifestyle in the Irish midlands in the mid-19th century. They have been consigned from the estate of a descendant of Mrs Bowen’s, who is now deceased, and are in pristine condition.

Among them is Lot 384, a Victorian walnut games compendium from Asprey of London, dated 1869, and estimated at €300-€500. The interior is fitted with a leather games board, boxwood and ebonised chess pieces, boxwood and ebonised draught counters, two dice, an ivory inlaid cribbage board and markers, a set of bone dominos, Bezique counters and playing cards. Also of interest is Lot 753, a collection of silver flatware – 123 pieces of gleaming cutlery in mint condition that contains 6.6kg of solid silver – estimated at €2,000-€3,000.

Overall, there are more than 1,300 lots in this two-day auction, entitled Classical Convergences, and viewing continues throughout the weekend and on Monday. A two-volume catalogue can be viewed online at sheppards.ie, where the auction will be broadcast live on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting at 10.30am each day, with online bidding available subject to advance registration.

Among the furniture highlights is Lot 392, a very large early-19th-century Irish mahogany side table made by the Dublin firm Mack, Williams and Gibton, estimated at €15,000-€25,000, which was among the very few unsold lots at last year’s big auction of the contents of Loughton House, Co Offaly, the former country home of Fine Gael’s deputy leader, Dr James Reilly.

Among the paintings is Lot 506, a classic, attractively framed Victorian oil-on-canvas depiction of Horse and Greyhounds by the English artist John Emms, estimated at €12,000-€18,000.

As usual in Sheppard’s auctions, there is a big selection of Chinese porcelain lots, including Lot 678, a Kangxi Famille-Verte water vase, estimated at €10,000-€15,000.

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