Vintage view: Racing coupes and more

Kya deLongchamps shares her secrets on some fabulous antique and vintage finds including the DB2 UMC 65 racing coupe c1947, vintage coins and lamps.

Beyond picking up that useful garden bench or snagging a cheap late Victorian Scottish chest, piracy is at the heart of much collecting and auction attendance.

Rooting around a boot-sale in Cork last month I stood by while an English dealer bought a very nice lidded copper pan, before sliding over to a huddle of buddies to giggle unattractively that he could get hundreds more for it.

Buying something worth its price and that you can afford — boring. Bagging a treasure through wit and chance — goose bumps. The stories of the rare, wildly valuable find, stokes that inner fire. This year provided some fascinating headlines in unexpected recoveries of treasures lost in the chaos of human events.

Oriental antiques are mysterious objects in the booty heap, and given the flood of good and lesser imported ware from the 17th century to the present day, fabulous examples of ceramics, some fashioned for an imperial household, have been lost in market porridge.

Well-heeled travellers and members of the colonial elite from the West, brought back some amazing and important take-away Chinese. With the turning of generations, the splitting of inheritance, and pure human tragedy and occasional indifference, some ancient and antique collections trailed off to the shadowy back corners of mixed sales. Sometimes these highly desirable pieces go unrecognised — going to ground for decades.

In 1953, a couple from North Wales attended a run of the mill country house auction where they bought what they only knew to be an large lump of decorative Oriental porcelain. Its vertical shape invited conversion to a lamp base, a common act of hapless vandalism at that time. The rather ungainly marriage sat for the next 50 years under a hideous cream fringed Edwardian shade in a hallway.

Finally, the lamp was sold on and last year was identified by Christie’s auction house in London as a Nine Dragons enamelled hat stand made during Imperial China’s Qing dynasty. With its yellow-ground famille rose and pierced bulbous top intended for scenting the room, and surviving foliate gilt-decorated base with ruyi-form feet, it was an exciting find for Chinese collectors, now repatriating top museum level works of art.

Hat stands are rare and this one, despite not being extremely old (c.1821-1850) in terms of Chinese porcelain was a masterwork, and made an astonishing £600,000 at sale this year. According to Christie’s expert Ivy Chan, it was deemed likely to have been made for the Emperor Daoguang, because of the inclusion of brightly coloured dragons churning in clouds and flames, symbolising divine power.

What sort of difference would that equivalent money have made to a young Welsh couple struggling in the post-war slump of 1953? At least the family were not openly preyed upon by old-fashioned ‘knockers’.

Another lucky little boy of the 20th century was gifted a Queen Anne coin by his widely travelled grandfather and this one really does have a fascinating, seafaring legacy of battle, politics and spoils. On the 23rd of October 1702 a British naval ship monitoring French and Spanish traffic returning from America, intercepted a Spanish vessel. They cheerfully pillaged some 7-8lbs of bullion in the encounter at Vigo bay off the North coast of Spain. The gold was melted down and made into a collection of magnificent gold five guinea coins by the Royal Mint, part of the propaganda campaign by the British, smarting at their loss at the Battle of Cadiz.

The mint put the world VIGO on the coins as a poke in the eye to the Spanish crown. A century and half later, a large coin arrives at Bonnington’s auction house for appraisal.

Vintage view: Racing coupes and more

The owner, a 35-year-old labourer remembered his grandfather giving him a bag of coins to play with around 1986, and as he grew disinterested, the coin was tossed into a box of toys, shovelled into drawers over the years, forgotten and re-gifted to the vendor’s four -year-old son as ‘pirate treasure’.

Dug out of a pocket and casually handed over a desk, expert Henry Tong at Bonnington’s in Essex, recognised it as one of only six examples to ever come to sale, of 15 gold Vigos known worldwide. It sold just last month for over €314,000.

Loved, stolen and re-discovered after death, one heartbroken owner would never see his find make a mint. In 1949 a green DB2 racing Aston Martin came over the line in a worthy 7th place. Registered UMC 65, this touring coupe was an important car, one of a clutch of prototypes for the manufacture of the DB2 from 1950-1953. It was the only one of three DB2s competing in the 24-hour race to actually finish.

The fluid lines of this car might have fallen to the scrap heap of history, but after working its way down the ranks to modest racing meets in the UK, it was bought in 1965 by an English businessman Christopher Angell.

As Angell aged over the next 40 years, the condition of the car would deteriorate in parallel, but its value remained considerable. Original condition is the Holy Grail for many present-day car collectors hunting the World for barn-finds.

In 2002 UMC 65, a linchpin in the history of the Aston Project, was stolen from Argyll’s Herefordshire garden, and shipped to the Netherlands where it sat (relatively safe, but to the acute suffering of its rightful owner) for the next 14 years, its Le Mans seals intact on the radiator cap.

Found by chance this year in a storage facility in Holland, the vehicle’s log book was reissued to Angell’s heirs and this fabulous survivor sold for just under €790,000 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June.

It will take hundreds of thousands to restore this connoisseur’s marquee vehicle, but I think Christopher Angell wherever he is placed on the race track of eternity, would be pleased.


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