Market for exoticism

14th January 2022

Furniture buyers have indicated an increased interest in the unusual and the exotic at the first auction of 2022 at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury.

“While the best prices are still achieved for good and early furniture in original or near original condition, some of the sale’s best results were for pieces made of more unusual or exotic materials,” explained Furniture specialist, Mark Yuan-Richards.

Furniture made in the manner of objects from what would then have been faraway exotic places also attracted competitive bidding, with the auction’s top lot a mahogany display cabinet in the ‘Chinese Chippendale’ style (lot 526). The cabinet had been purchased from L L Harfitt, a house furnishing company in Salisbury, back in 1951. It surpassed expectations to sell for £13,750.

Less obviously exotic, but still outperforming its estimate, was a George III chest of drawers made of padouk (lot 188) – an exotic wood from Asia and Africa. “The majority of Georgian chests are made of mahogany – also a tropical hardwood, but in far more plentiful supply at that time. More unusual woods such as padouk or satinwood will usually command a higher price,” continued Yuan-Richards. The example included in the sale on 12th January sold for £12,500.

The second day of the 613 lot auction included an Indo-Portuguese cabinet on stand (lot 592) mounted in tortoiseshell and ivory and fitted with an arrangement of 13 drawers, selling for £10,000; while a six-fold Chinese black lacquer screen fetched £4,750 (lot 556).

Closer to home but ticking the box for unusual pieces was a George II painted pine chest on chest from the Channel Islands (lot 31). The decoration of tulips and carnations on a painted green ground represent love and marriage and show the European influences on Channel Islands craftsmen in the mid 18th century. Bidders happily chased it to its top estimate and a final price of £10,000.

Also unusual was a 19th century square table made of ‘Parrot’ coal (so-named for the chattering noise it makes when burned). Examples made of this rare alternative to the more traditional wood were on display at the Great Exhibition in 1851. This table (lot 414) surprised bidders by selling for £7,500 – tenfold its conservative estimate.

“As with all areas of the furniture market, quality and condition still have a major influence on price,” explained Yuan-Richards, “but it is interesting to see how private buyers in particular are seeking out objects that are that little bit special or out of the ordinary.”

The two-day auction concluded with a sale total of £573,000 and a selling rate of 82%.


*Prices quoted include buyer's premium.

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