Shanghai silver stored on Achill Island by Russian noblewoman for sale in London

Islander who married Russian nobility bought silver while living in China

A collection of silver carried in trunks from Shanghai which have been stored on Achill Island since the end of the second World War will be offered for sale at the forthcoming Sworders Asian Art sale on Friday, November 5th. The live online sale of 430 lots can be viewed in advance at the company’s London gallery at 15 Cecil Court.

The collection was assembled by John James Sheridan who was born on Achill Island off the west coast of Co Mayo in 1881. The son of a local farmer, he left to seek his fortune as a wine merchant in Shanghai in the first years of the 20th century where he met and married the daughter of a Russian noblewoman, Anna Dobershansky.

Despite enjoying a prosperous life in Shanghai, where the couple had four children, Sheridan died during the second World War and Anna was incarcerated in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre in Shanghai, one of the internment camps established by the Empire of Japan for American and European citizens. One of the most famous residents of the camp, built on a 42-acre site with almost 2,000 people incarcerated, was English novelist and satirist JG Ballard, whose novel and subsequent film Empire of the Sun was based on his experiences there.

Achill Island

After her release, Anna Sheridan with her children and three ornately carved hardwood trunks containing all the family’s possessions – which included the pieces of silver – came to Ireland. She returned to the house on Achill Island that her late husband had built in preparation for the family’s return from the Far East before his untimely death.

Apart from some items which were dispersed to family members, the contents of the trunks remained intact, according to the auctioneer. Described as "typical export ware", the 24 lots have been consigned to the sale by a family member and include two cocktail shakers "synonymous with the life of westerners in early 20th century Shanghai". One is embossed with Taoist dragons with bamboo and bears the mark of silversmith Tu Mao Xing of Jiangxi province, while another is marked for Zee Wo, a silversmith who was located at 120 and 370 Henan Road in Shanghai. Both pieces are listed with an estimate of £400-£600 (€474-€712).

Also bearing the mark of Zee Wo, is a half fluted kettle on a stand shaped as bamboo canes (£600-£800). A silver statue of the rotund Budai (Laughing Buddha or Fat Buddha as he is also known to distinguish him from his masters) who is reputed to have lived in the 10th century, also features. His name translated means cloth sack and he is known for his jolly nature and sense of humour. He's depicted in a 15cm high model, seated holding a pearl in his left hand with his cloth sack in his right. Traditionally these pieces were seen to be mascots which brought good luck, contentment and abundance to one’s life (£800-£1,200).

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