Mystery envelope It will cost you pounds 800-pounds 1,200 to discover t he said-to-be explosive contents of a sealed letter from Queen Victoria to her favourite grandchild, the Empress of Russia Sotheby's Russian sale, Thursday

AUCTIONS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The bicentenary of Josiah Wedgwood's death is upon us and the Americans are in town - at least, they are in the small town of Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent, home of the Wedgwood factory, where commemorations are in full swing. There, Bonhams has scooped its rival auctioneers by laying on a live video link which will convey over-enthusiastic bids to the Wedgwood auction at its Knightsbridge office on Friday (2.30pm).

Christie's South Kensington is pitching in with its first dedicated Wedgwood sale on the previous day, Thursday (2pm).

This is clearly not a good time to buy. London auctioneers have been hoarding Wedgwood for nearly a year, ready for the bicentenary, so there is a lot of pent-up demand here at home, too.

And other London dealers, who are desperate for stock, have been invading provincial auctions waving wads of banknotes.

Early black basalt and Fairyland lustrewares, designed by Daisy Makeig Jones from 1915, are American favourites. Will South Ken raise its hoped- for pounds 13,000-pounds 15,000 for a Fairyland Ghostly Wood charger? Estimates for damaged goods are as low as pounds 50. More fairy tales.

There will be lots of scurrilous fun, as usual, at Phillips' thrice- yearly sale of autograph letters and books, Thursday (1pm).

The Royal Household's "Private and Confidential" letter to the then editor of the Times, G E Buckle, about his coverage of the baccarat affair of 1891 - in which "dear Bertie", the future King Edward VII, was forced to give evidence in court about alleged cheating at cards - is lotted with Buckle's replies and other letters, with the ridiculously inadequate estimate of pounds 80-pounds 120.

Buckle's entire collection of letters (1884-1912) from royalty, prime ministers and celebrities, is in 33 lots.

This is the first such sale since the controversy over the purchase of the Churchill archive and Churchilliana prices are expected to be pushed high by private buyers. An early Winston Churchill letter is estimated at pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000.

It is a matter of taste, of course, but if you have a few hundred pounds to spend, exquisite, colourful, mid-19th century Russian porcelain figures of peasant types at Christie's Russian sale, Wednesday (10.30am) and Sotheby's, Thursday (10.30am), look at least as fascinating as Wedgwood wares.

Examples from the Moscow factory of Franz Yakovlevich Gardner (who was born in Britain) are est pounds 500-pounds 700 at Sotheby's and pounds 200-pounds 400 at Christie's.

Ever-fascinating are the multitude of complex factors that determine the value of collectables. A lead figure of the Queen on her Coronation Throne is in Christie's South Kensington's sale, Thursday (2pm).

It is still in its original box (hooray) but was made not in 1953 but in 1993 (groan). One mace is bent and one is missing (even more groans), but it was presented at a centenary dinner of the famous toy soldier manufacturer Britains (hooray), and the mould it originally came from was destroyed after only 85 copies were made (hooray, hooray). Estimate: pounds 500-pounds 800.

For a full list of countrywide auctions and fairs coming up next week, see page 15

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