AUCTIONS

Innocent looking tiepins become bestsellers if their settings depict blood sports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Collectables with a touch of violence seem to appeal to the British. Innocent-looking tiepins, for example, not only have a reputation as quick- thrust spy weapons but become bestsellers if their gem settings depict blood sports. A collection of 135 of them, "property of a gentleman", at Sotheby's on Thursday (10.30am) has plenty of foxes, hounds, huntsmen and game. Four fox pins, decorated with rose diamonds and cabochon rubies for eyes, are estimated pounds 400-pounds 600. There are also jockeys, a motor car, a champagne bottle, a monkey, and two diamond aeroplanes est pounds 300-pounds 400 the pair.

The earliest tiepins prevented the knots of 18th-century stocks (neck- scarves) and 19th-century cravats from unravelling. After the invention of the more stable Windsor knot they were used to pin tie to shirt, rescuing Victorian and Edwardian clerks from their worst nightmare - accidentally trapping their tie in a drawer.

Sotheby's auctioneer Alexandra Rhodes, author of the definitive Hatpins and Tiepins (Lutterworth, 1982) points out that they also legitimised the 19th- and early 20th-century male's urge to wear jewellery. Tiepin fashions closely followed women's jewellery fashions - the 19th-century cameo, for example. Sixties psychedelic ties finally swamped them, but the London silversmith Hancock's reports that young men are buying them again.

And what sort of tribal art appeals most to the bloodthirsty British? Weapons, of course. At auctions strong in tribal weaponry, a surfeit of British bidders will push up the prices of even Fijian fishing spears from their usual pounds 75 to pounds 750 each. Non-belligerent carved wooden figures can fetch astronomic prices, far higher than weapons - but it is the Americans, Belgians, Swiss, French and Germans who compete for them rather than Brits.

In Edwardian times, when London tribal art sales were dominated by the British, you could buy an early 19th-century Raratongan figure for about pounds 3 and a New Guinea wooden war shield for 15s - not that much difference in price. Now, Continental and American refinement of taste and greater buying power has pushed the price of Raratongan figures up to pounds 500,000 , while New Guinea shields - mostly for the Brits - have stuck at pounds 1,000- pounds 1,500.

The Art of Africa exhibition at the Royal Academy did little to spur the British into buying tribal art. Unlike Paris, London still has no walk-in tribal art shop. Here, the two or three dealer/collectors trade from home. The dominance of foreign money at London tribal art auctions became most visible in December, when a rail strike in France dissuaded American and Continentals from including London in their traditional round trip. Takings at London tribal art auctions took a dive.

Among the more exotic offerings at Tuesday's tribal art sale at South Kensington (10.30am) is a pair of goose breast britches from the Arcuna Indians of Chile, estimated pounds 200-pounds 250 and a pair of Australian aborigine feather shoes (pounds 600-pounds 800). Australian collectors are expected to bid them up. Most rapidly rising prices are for the tribal art of South and East Africa. Wooden head-rests from there, worth pounds 10 10 years ago, now sell for pounds 300-pounds 400 - due to racial reconciliation and guilt.

Three antiquarian book collections full of curios at Sotheby's, Thursday and Friday (both 10.30am): Borneo, Napoleon and agriculture. Markham's "Master-piece" of 1668 advising the smith, farrier and horse leech (pounds 200- pounds 250) shows that the 17th century farrier could teach his modern counterpart a thing or two.

Best of the rest: former trade union leader Clive Jenkins's collection of commemorative ceramics, Phillips, Monday (10am): collection of dogs and cats in art of Count Alarico Palmieri, Christie's Thursday (11am): Victorian pictures, Sotheby's Wednesday (11am), Christie's Friday (10.30am): modern Brits, Christie's South Ken, Thursday (10.30am): applied arts from 1880, Sotheby's Friday (10.30am).

John Windsor

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