On a Tuesday night, I find myself at Dunbar’s in Auckland. The catalogue for this sale hadn’t been particularly spectacular and I wasn’t going to go. Dunbar’s Auckland sales are never as strong as their Wellington ones – in part because they are forever having to offer works in sun-damaged Georgian and borer-riddled Victorian that have been wrenched from the estates of sub-tropical Auckland.
It had been a long drive from Napier and lounging around in my room waiting the first episode of Downton Abbey seemed a tempting alternative to venturing out. However there were a small group of daguerreotypes of departed Nineteenth century gentlemen, complete with lustrous gold frames and velvet-lined cases, at Dunbar’s and so I went.
The temperature in the room was flat – with almost every lot selling well under the low end of its range. This of course is dangerous territory, as things you haven’t viewed properly becomes a very tempting – all potential bargains. The mood was sullen, almost morose, despite the porter’s best efforts to add some humour into the proceedings. As so often happens at antique sales these days everyone seemed to get what they want after a bid or two. Except of course when it’s me – a lovely majolica teapot had caught my eye at the viewing and so I bid – but the other bidder held on tenaciously and now has a lovely Wedgewood majolica teapot for her efforts.
The scenario on the daguerreotypes is similar. I came away with one, the one I most wanted but that too most eyes was the least attractive (being damaged and not pristine) and a small miniature – not on my original list but something I’d seen pre- auction. It is of a sailor, Andrew Macredie, drowned at sea 1804. He is rugged rather than handsome but I’m happy to have rescued him from a neglectful family whose whole history, in miniatures, silhouettes and daguerreotypes was on the block tonight.
Most of the night was spent texting friends and reading forward in the catalogue. A friend who figures out where I am, suggests “perhaps you have a problem” and offers to find me “a counsellor.”
The Oriental part of the sale seem stronger. I mark a few things and decide it’s worth staying. I end up with two blue and white late 19th century Japanese chargers. They cost me $40 the lower estimate was $200 and so they seem a bargain – for something I didn’t look at closely. However this time it turns out they are – rather lovely and of good scale. I’m already thinking about how I might use them at home.
As the sale only has 30 or 40 lots to go and one of the last is one of those tempting unloved dinner services – this time Hamilton by Burgess & Leigh’s Middleport Pottery, Burslem. Created in what they called ‘semi-porcelain’ it is in a glittering sub nouveau pattern edged with gold and … well lets just say I add this to my auction cart and proceed to checkout.
Back in my hotel room I’m watching the second half of Downton Abbey, wallowing in its decor. I realise how particularly bland my hotel room is this time. The hotel is full – I can tell this from the car park, and they’ve put me in a ground floor room obviously specially designed for the disabled – I can tell this from the bathroom. It is rather a disheartening thought, as the room is less than less than charming. There are, I notice, no pictures on the walls a weird omission that somehow feels a little unfair to the disabled.
I have been known to take pictures down from the walls of motels and put them in the cupboard, if looking at any length of stay. Particularly ones with religious or new age overtones of which motelliers seem to have a ready supply. This time I’m doing the opposite – I arrange my Japanese chargers against the wall of the kitchenette – next to the plastic jug and the free sachets of tea. I prop my daguerreotype against the bedside table and then I look to hang my miniature. Without a picture hook to hang it on I am stumped.
How here’s a McGyver-style tip – when looking for a drawing pin in a crisis – check the soles of your shoes – it just so happens my boots have picked up a bright red headed map pin. With my rescued sailor on the wall – my dinner service awaiting a wash and my blue and white chargers propped up behind it, I have turned a bland hotel room into a home away from home, a little Downton Abbey in Ponsonby and I can at last relax.