One of my favorite places in Napier, where we live, is the local auction house – Maidens & Foster. It is, I suppose, a lot like the country auction houses that still survive in Britain – deliverers of treasure into the hands of canny dealer/collectors and through them suppliers to the larger auction houses in London. However in New Zealand small provincial auction houses are fast disappearing.
Maidens & Foster (called M&F) have a weekly clearance sale (called junk sales) from which many an obscure decor item have emerged. Then every six weeks they have an antique sale. These are fast turn around decor events – with only two days viewing before a Thursday night sale – so decisions (and any required research) need to be made quickly.
One of the first lots in the sale was an impressive alabaster lion of some size, who through his early life had amazingly escaped having his tail snapped off. He attracted my attention from the first viewing. Unfortunately, so did the chest of drawers on which he was standing. This made the whole financial picture (the auction being only a few days before Christmas) way more complicated.
The chest was one of five pieces of furniture i.e. a Victorian bedroom suite. Then to make matters worse, the bedroom suite, that had initially attracted my attention with its burl walnut front and ebony banding, revealed itself, via a discreet impressed stamp, to be the work of Maple & Co, of Tottenham Court Road, London (and Rue Boudreaux, Paris). Maple were prestige furniture makers – suppliers to Tsar Nicholas’ Winter Palace, and the Habsburg’s Imperial Palace in Vienna. Pretty much from then on the furniture started messing with my subconscious mind and charming its way into the house.
Accommodating a new lion was not going to be an issue and once acquired (against moderate bidding) and given a quick dust (revealing beautiful modeling) – he found a place on the library mantelpiece framed by two Sheffield plate candlesticks where he looks utterly splendid.
Finding a home for an entire bedroom suite of furniture, however, was a completely different challenge. Of course Option one – was NOT TO BUY IT! I moved on from that possibility quickly and acquired Lot 6: the suite (on reserve with no other bidder in play) – immediately after Lot 5: the lion (behavior of this sort bring you lots of bemused looks at M&F, as if you’ve lost your mind and intend to buy every lot in numerical order)
In the end I managed the arrival of the Maple suite quite efficiently – the M&F van taking away a wardrobe, chest of drawers, desk and a table or two – while delivering a far better wardrobe, chest of drawers, dressing table, washstand, and bedside table to take up the vacant positions.
My study now has a more coordinated look than I intended (I was going for attic bedroom Castle Howard aka Brideshead) but having had a good polish, the Maple pieces are settling in well. The little washstand with its aesthetic period tiled upstand and black marble top is fast becoming a favorite. Yes new curtains with sun block properties will be required to prevent fading but that’s all part of the fun.
One last irony – although I confess to ultimately falling for the furniture on the basis of its maker’s stamp. It wasn’t until the lion had been on the mantelpiece for a fortnight that I noticed a signature – N Torini [sp?] . There’s clearly a little research to be done but in the meantime Mr Torini’s lion occupies a commanding position – as befits such an imperial lion.