John Parry’s collection of early English furniture

John Parry’s collection of early English furniture and works of art had not been long in the making.
It is only just under 13 years since he sold off his last collection at Christie’s King Street in what was then a benchmark sale for early furniture (especially walnut), netting just under £1.7m with all bar two of the 110 lots changing hands.
For this latest sale on March 25, again at Christie’s King Street (25/20/12% buyer’s premium), John Parry had extended his remit to yew as well as oak and walnut and was offering 122 lots, but it included more treen and smaller works of art. After all, even a collector of John Parry’s indefatigable energy can only find so many good pieces in a relatively short time if they are to maintain standards.
In fairness even the first collection, which had also been assembled over the relatively short space of around 20 years, contained pieces that were of recent acquisition and on some of those there might not have been much room for profit. But that first sale in 1997 took place in a different economic climate and there was a very different atmosphere, with enough demand and enthusiasm to push many prices to new levels and to take the total well past predictions of over £1m.
Spring 2010 is another story. Since 1997 walnut values have fallen back, with even blue-chip pieces plateauing, while oak prices have been erratic. So a new realism pervaded the air for the second Parry sale.
In 1997, the sale was led by a bachelor’s chest that realised a treble estimate £240,000; in 2010, however, there appeared to be resistance to breaking through the three-figure mark. Although there were some rallies and strong results, a few of them shown here, bidding didn’t overtake guides with the same frequency as before and there were probably more things on which the vendor broke even or suffered a loss.
Fortunately Christie’s, who said they had worked closely in consultation with Mr Parry, operated what they termed “a tailored reserve policy” for each lot. The result was that things were allowed to get away below estimate.
That said, the auction house had drummed up plenty of absentee interest to compete with the 20-30 strong mix of trade and privates who turned out to bid on the day. In the end they sold 98 of the 122 lots to net £984,630, which must count as a pretty solid result.

The purchasing was predominantly private, 80 per cent, but of international spread, according to Christie’s. The trade were present and bidding but didn’t actually come away with much, which is not surprising given the lack of potential bargains.
One exception was the sole piece of needlework, a Charles II period silkwork casket with mythological and biblical scenes that had come from Wilby Hall in Suffolk. Mr Parry had purchased it from Witney Antiques at the 2007 Grosvenor House Antiques Fair and here Witney’s Stephen Jarrett bought it back just under low estimate at £38,000.
The top price of the day was the £80,000 paid for a walnut writing desk. This was one of a handful of pieces that Mr Parry retained when he held his first sale and last month’s result represented a 100 per cent increase on the hammer price paid when he secured this at Phillips Chester in 1990. But this kind of performance was not the general rule.
The second highest priced lot of the sale, a well-figured George I period burr walnut bachelor’s chest, just 2ft 5in (73cm) in height and width, sold for £75,000. This was inside the £70,000-100,000 estimate and exactly the same hammer sum that John Parry paid at Christie’s in 1997, while a Queen Anne walnut kneehole bachelor’s chest which carried the day’s highest estimate at £100,000-150,000 couldn’t get past £65,000 and failed to sell.
This was notable for its narrow profile – just 131/2in (34cm) deep – and well finished, veneered reverse, but perhaps counterbalancing this were its later bun feet, associated handles and replaced escutcheons. It was also a recent purchase. Mr Parry had only bought it from Apter Fredericks in 2007.
John Parry has always bought from the trade as well as at auction and price comparisons there are more difficult. But looking at the Parry auction purchases, where ATG has managed to track down the prices paid, they showed mixed fortunes when it comes to making a profit.
For example, the sale featured a 2ft 10in (78cm) wide George II walnut and burr walnut chest of three long and three short drawers, on replaced bracket feet, dated to c.1730-40. This was another piece that John Parry didn’t let go at the first auction. It was purchased in April 1993 at Christie’s King Street when it cost him £32,000 (like all auction prices quoted here this would attract additional buyer’s premium). This time around it went over the phone for £70,000, mid estimate but over double what he paid 17 years ago.
But a William and Mary period dressing table, which had a replaced foot and side stretchers, acquired in the same rooms in 1997 from the collection of Mr and Mrs Melvyn Rollason, was bought in at just £18,000. That was well below an estimate that at £30,000-50,000 was itself well under the £70,000 that it cost 13 years ago.
That’s also a contrast to the performance of another ex-Rollason piece offered in the first Parry auction, a figured walnut reading table that had cost £17,000 at auction in 1983 and sold for £62,000 in ’97.
The small, 16-lot oak section had a proportionately higher casualty rate with half a dozen bought-in lots. Most of this had been purchased through the UK trade rather than at auction, but two exceptions were an early, late 16th/early 17th century, 2ft 4in (72cm) high food cupboard with pierced Gothic tracery acquired at Sotheby’s Olympia in 2004 for £8800 and a 221/2in (57cm) wide coffor bach from the Gower Peninsula carved with stylised tulips and birds purchased at Bonhams Chester rooms in 2005 for a multi-estimate £5500.
This time they sold at £5000 and £4500 respectively.