Billed simply as 'a country house sale', bidders were mostly anonymous and often competed over the telephone. The sale began at Aske Hall near Richmond in north Yorkshire, the private home of Lord and Lady Zetland, who are selling an abundance of furniture, paintings, rare Japanese porcelain and some of the family silver.
Asked yesterday why he was selling so many things, Lord Zetland said: 'Well, I'm tempted to say over cash but there are a few sides to it. We have accumulated a great many things over the generations and we are really selling anything which is surplus to requirements.'
He added: 'We do need to raise the cash to restore many of the items still in the house. This can prove to be hugely expensive and items can become something of a liability.'
The owners of large private houses and stately homes have, like most people, felt the recession and have had to raise funds either to renovate their buildings or improve them.
The sale is expected by tomorrow afternoon to have raised well over pounds 1m. The Zetlands joined other sellers, including Sir Tatton Sykes, Woburn Abbey and many who remained anonymous so as not to make it known they were selling off a little of their own family silver.
Included in yesterday's sale were two rare and important Japanese Arita figures from the early 18th century. Each figure holds a vase and is decorated in enamels and gilding. No similar figures are known and it is apparently rare to find Japanese figures of this type which prominently display their hands. The bidding for the two items lasted barely four minutes and raised pounds 30,000.
A Chinese bottle vase was sold for pounds 25,000. A collection of glassware, ceramics, including numerous vases, dinner services and works of art together raised thousands of pounds by mid-morning.
Lord Zetland is planning structural and decorative work at the hall and is to create a fund to restore many of the works of art still housed there. He said: 'I've kept a whole collection of furniture and paintings my predecessors bought. These have to be maintained.'
Jane Gray of Tennants, the auctioneers dealing with the sale, said yesterday it was a particularly large auction and was brought about by many country house owners having 'a late spring clean'.
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