The Dunrobin Castle Attic sale14 April 2021 The sale of the contents of the attics and cellars at Dunrobin Castle, family seat of the 25th Earl of Sutherland, promises to be the auction event of the spring in Scotland.
A genuine ‘upstairs and downstairs’ county house sale of the old school – with all the dust and cobwebs that entails – the auction takes place at Bonhams Edinburgh on April 20.
Writing about the Dunrobin sale in the winter edition of Bonhams Magazine, author Mary Miers gives a flavour of the thousands of objects offered in 416 lots: “They represent a fascinating time capsule of domestic operations on a Downton Abbey scale.
“Maids’ bedrooms tucked into the eaves of the earlier ranges had been reconfigured to become porcelain stores, with rows of footbaths, floral jugs and washbasins, chamber pots and piles of crested dinner services, all jostling for space with meat domes, tiered oyster holders and untold numbers of copper vessels and glass carafes.”
The auction follows the 25th Earl of Sutherland’s decision to declutter some of Dunrobin’s 189 rooms after he inherited the property following the death of his mother, Elizabeth, in 2019.
Pictured here is a small selection of lots that provide flavour of what’s on offer.
This oil on canvas signed and dated W[illiam] Cheesman, 1903 is the opening lot of the Dunrobin sale. It depicts Millicent, a French bulldog that was the Duchess of Sutherland's first pet. Estimate £1000-1500.
No contents of a Scottish country house would be complete without examples of Wemyss pottery. This pair of fireplace cockerels by the Fife factory carry marks for Thomas Goode, the London retailer that sold many Wemyss products. A scarce form, here decorated in naturalistic enamels, they stand 31cm high. Estimate £1500-2000.
An early 19th century Scottish school oil showing Dunrobin with harvesters in the foreground. Estimate £100-150. The view was painted during the peak of the Highland Clearances. Between 1801 and 1827, George Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth Sutherland, the 1st Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, removed between 6000-10,000 people from their estate to new coastal settlements.
From the kitchen at Dunrobin comes this collection of Victorian pewter ice cream moulds modelled as fruits and vegetables offered as a single lot. Estimate £80-120.
One of many George III mahogany chests in the sale, this example has a retailer’s label for Dunedin Antiques of 4 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh and a handwritten invoice for the Countess of Sutherland. Estimate £400-600.
This 27-piece part toilet set by Minton features the Sutherland interlaced 'S' cypher within pink borders. Unusually large it includes pairs of candlesticks and candle snuffers alongside the more typical jugs, basins and chamber pots. Estimate £400-600.
A typical country house curio, this burr walnut case includes a collection of Victorian telegraph cables run from England to Bombay via Egypt. Nineteen cable samples are accompanied by an inscription that reads, Submarine Telegraph Cables to Connect England and Bombay via Egypt made by Gibraltar & Malta Telegraph Co. Ltd, The Anglo Mediterranean Telegraph Co. Limited and the British Indian Submarine Telegraph Co. A similar case can be found in National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Estimate £800-1200.
This Victorian needlework sampler is titled A Song of the Sutherland Election and dated November 1885. Following the Representation of the People Act the previous year, the General Election in 1885 was the first the Marquess of Stafford had to fight against a rival candidate (he had previously stood unopposed).
The song is sung to the tune 'A Hundred Pipers', a well-known Jacobite song from 1745, with words that extol the reasons why crofters, fisherman and soldier should vote for the Marquess. Ultimately, however, despite this early example of political canvasing, he would lose to Angus Sutherland of the Crofters' Party. Estimate £200-300.
The mammoth exercise in decluttering at Dunrobin yielded items in rooms unfamiliar even to current occupants. The opening of a locked room yielded a hitherto unknown array of cobwebbed plaster and white marble busts of Victorian dignitaries and family members.
This 78cm high portrait bust of Prince Albert in classical robes by John Francis (1780-1861) is signed and dated 1852. Estimate £2000-3000.