STANSTED MOUNTFICHET, England – The Out of the Ordinary auction at Sworders on April 13-14 is its largest to date, numbering close to 600 lots. The sale brings together the weird and the wonderful, from an original Dalek from the Doctor Who television series to a sword presented by Catherine the Great to a cossack who helped put down a rebellion to ‘the Smallest Show On Earth’ –the UK’s last surviving flea circus.
Flea circuses were a hugely popular form of fairground entertainment in both England and Germany between the 1830s and the 1960s. In its heyday, the Professor Len Tomlin Flea Circus attracted the crowds in Manchester and later formed part of the Ribchester Museum of Childhood. It is believed to be the last example in the UK. Bidding for the two miniature swing trapezes, a chariot, two bicycles, a windmill, a garden roller, a carriage, and dueling pedestals is expected to reach £1500-£2000, but it may leap higher.
The Daleks first appeared in 1963, but they remain the most famous of all of the Doctor Who villains. Standing 1.6m (five ft, two in) high, Sworders’ example (estimate £15,000-£18,000) is made to the specifications of the modern run of the show, and has recently been fitted with a motor so it can be driven around. Unlike most Daleks, this one had a name: Dalek Sec. It appeared in three episodes of the BBC series, alongside Matt Smith in Asylum Of The Daleks and with Peter Capaldi in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.
No Out of the Ordinary sale would be complete without a conversation-starting piece of taxidermy, a role amply filled this time by a unicorn–a full-size rearing horse with mounted wings and horn. It carries an estimate of £8000-£12,000. Another must-have is a few lots focused on dark magic. The Incantation, a pen and ink drawing of a naked witch with a snake curled around her waist and an owl on her shoulder, is signed and dated 1898 by Arthur Wallis Mills (1878-1940). It is expected to bring £800-£1200. Sharing that general theme is a set of 10 French photographic postcards titled Sorcieres Au Sabbat and dating to circa 1910. They depict a group of naked young witches setting off to a sabbath on broomsticks, and carry an estimate of £500-£800.
Among the most historically important items in the Out of the Ordinary sale is a Russian 18th century presentation saber fashioned as a Persian shamshir. The curved steel blade is inlaid with an image of Catherine the Great in gold, and its cyrillic inscription translates to: “By the grace of God, I Catherine II, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias, grant this sabre to the Cossack Ivan, son of Vassily Lukianov of the village of Don Cherkz army for his faithful service, May 15th 1774.”
The inscription indicates that the sword was awarded during the Pugachev Rebellion (1773-75) — also called the Peasants’ War or the Cossack Rebellion — the principal revolt in a series of rebellions that took place in the Russian empire after Catherine II seized power in 1762. The sword carries an estimate of £20,000-£25,000.
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