LONDON – A Portuguese astrolabe bought for £450 in a junk shop over a half-century ago is expected to fetch £40,000-£50,000 in Charles Miller’s April 30 auction. LiveAuctioneers will provide the Internet live bidding.
The story of how the astrolabe was discovered dates back to 1956, when the father of the astrolabe’s consignor dates was on vacation in Madeira. He spotted the astrolabe through the window of a shop, but the establishment was closed. On the last day of his vacation, the shop was open, but having spent all of his money, he had to borrow from his friends in order to buy it. It hung in his kitchen ever since.
There are only 100 known astrolabes in the world, and it is exceptionally rare to find one in such good condition that had been signed and dated (1595) and not recovered from a shipwreck.
Another surprise find — a very rare mariner’s compass that was bought for £5 in Scotland last year is estimated at £600-£800. The compass, encased in a wooden bowl with its original wax features, was standard at the time, but few survived. It is still magnetized and is unlikely to have been used since 1805.
The auction comprises more than 300 lots, and many are significant items of maritime history that have been found again after hundreds of years.
Rare lots from the Napoleonic Era that have been rediscovered after almost two centuries will be highly sought after in this sale. For Hornblower fans, a lost model of the Lively Class 38-gun frigate (circa 1800) is expected to fetch £8,000-£12,000 A set of three telescopes made for Nelson’s comrade Captain Preston when he commanded the “Sea Fencibles” (a crack naval militia which, in conjunction with the network of Martello Towers, provided the second line of defense against invasion by the French, should they break through the first line) is estimated at £1,500-£2,500. A graphic depicting General Sir Thomas Graham’s expeditionary force coming ashore near Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar, in February 1811 is estimated at £200-£300.
Exactly 100 years after it was made for the Imperial Russian government, a rare builder’s model of stationary suction dredgers Alexander Konstantinov and St. Petersburg delivered to the Tsar in April 1914 carries an estimate of £6,000-8,000. Similarly a model made for the Italian government of the Venezia is estimated at £7,000-9,000. Other models include the Cutty Sark in sterling silver (£6,000-£8,000) made by a retired silversmith in 2012.
World War 2 artefacts include a seaman’s photo album of live action shots of direct hits of warships, German paratroops, crew preparing ammunition and air attacks on Malta (£250-£400); a German chart of England that shows the location of all the minefields running up the North Sea (£150-£250); a collection of signals and papers connected to Operation “Pedestal,” the British operation to re-supply Malta in 1942, and a wartime copy of The Times of Malta (£200-400); a wartime submariner’s sword presented to C.A. Dawe (£700-£900). In addition, a rare, possibly unique 18th-century mahogany and brass 6ft telescope (£1,500-£2,000) and a ship’s badge from the submarine Wastwater (£600-£800) will also be offered for sale. Wastwater is the only German submarine that was taken on by the British Navy rather than sunk.
Two lots relating to the sinking of the Titanic will also be included in the auction. The first comprises three signals sent from the Olympic the day after Titanic hit the iceberg (£3,500-£5,000). They include “YAMSI on CARPATHIA ” – Yamsi being a code word to indicate that Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line had saved himself aboard the Carpathia ahead of the some of the most vulnerable passengers on board. It also includes the message relayed from the Carpathia saying that any further rescue attempts were “futile.” A poster for one of the liners caught up in the dramatic sinking of Titanic, the S.S. Virginian (circa 1905) will be offered for £400-£600.
A selection of lotus-pattern bowls and saucers (£150-£200) recovered from the wreck of the Tek Sing, nicknamed “The Oriental Titanic,” on which 1600 passengers died in 1822, will also be included in the sale. Salvor Michael Hatcher discovered the Tek Sing, and he and his crew subsequently raised an astonishing 350,000 pieces, making it the largest haul of Chinese porcelain ever recovered from a wreck.
A fascinating insight into the building of the Royal Yacht Britannia will be offered in the form of an official photo album issued by John Brown & Co. Ltd (circa 1953). The dated photographs include pictures of His Royal Highness Prince Philip’s study, Her Majesty The Queen’s private study, and the State Dining Rooms (£1,200-£1,800).
Rare pictures from the forgotten Arctic expedition that was funded privately by British-born yachtsman and explorer Benjamin Leigh-Smith are estimated at £400-£600. Leigh-Smith (1828-1913) earned a Masters certificate to allow him to sail his own ship for the five oceanographic polar expeditions he undertook. Although Leigh-Smith’s expeditions were perhaps overshadowed by Scott and Shackleton, his findings were no less impressive, and he had geographical features named after him, including Ostrov Li-Smita (Leigh-Smith Island) in Franz Josef Land.
An early surveying instrument used by naval explorer Capt. Thomas Graves (1804-1856) carries an estimate of £1,800-£2,500, while a clock from Capt. Scott’s Discovery is estimated at £1,000-£1,500.
For additional information on any item in the auction, call 011 44 207 806 5530.
View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
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ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE