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A Rare Tea Set, A Roman Cameo Of Emperor Claudius, And A $2 Million Transcontinental Railroad Spike


The country’s premier applied and decorative arts auction concluded on January 27, and the news in terms of the reserves and estimates was bright. Collectors were out in force. The leading lots were for the most part healthily bid, and the 29-lot sale brought in $5,589,240. Pictured above, the extremely idiosyncratic gold-and-silver-clad commemorative Transcontinental Railroad Spike, actually used in the ceremony of the railroad being joined in May 1869 and in impeccable shape for a chunk of festooned iron, drew a bracing $2,220,000 from a clearly history-obsessed bidder, just a little over four times its upper estimate of a half million dollars. It was the night’s leader among some truly fine examples of the decorative arts.

The star lots of the show included a Roman cameo of Emperor Claudius (above), formerly part of the renowned 18th-century gem collection of the Dukes of Marlborough (otherwise known as the owners of Blenheim Palace). Estimated at $300,00-to-$500,000, it went for $352,800.

The Emperors of Prussia, in the form of an extraordinary late-nineteenth-century Hohenzollern family tea set, fared almost as well, as its high end estimate was a bargain at $150,000 but it rang in just about three times that, at $441,000. It was commissioned for the wedding of Prince William II of Prussia (later Emperor of Germany), and then the (formerly royal) family put it up for auction in the 1950s in postwar Berlin.

Guns by the renowned 18th-century Florentine armsmaker Michele Lorenzoni don’t come on the market that often, and this impeccable pair was, also, among the earliest repeating designs — which is to say, it wasn’t necessary to load through the barrel, the loading mechanism was modern, and fitted into the weapons. Which is just one reason that the set was substantially estimated by Christie’s at $400,000-$700,000. Despite the fact that it was among the higher estimates in the sale, the bidding was not brisk enough to meet its reserve and the pair went unsold.

Down in the sale’s less pricey regions, some cinephiles scraped up a deal: A boxed print of Andy Warhol’s 1968 Lonesome Cowboys film, starring many of the Factory stars in a Warholian/dystopian Western manque, sold for $25,900, right in the middle of its estimate range of $25,000-$30,000.

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