Curios galore at Bonhams’ Gentleman’s Library Sale

Time gentleman please! Set your watches to February 14 at 10am for the start of Bonhams’ wonderful and hugely anticipated Gentleman’s Library Sale

Sir Oswald Birley portrait of General Edward Clive, estimated at £1,000-£1,500
Sir Oswald Birley portrait of General Edward Clive, estimated at £1,000-£1,500

With sexual equality currently high on the agenda, events that are unashamedly biased towards men look set to become less common. But one event that deserves to prevail is the annual – and entirely innocent – Gentleman's Library auction at Bonhams in Knightsbridge.

Harry Houdini’s green canvas escape sack, which dates from 1915 and is expected to sell for £1,500-£2,000
Harry Houdini’s green canvas escape sack, which dates from 1915 and is expected to sell for £1,500-£2,000

Inaugurated in 2004 by the classic-car authority Simon Kidston during his time as boss of Bonhams Europe, this sale is aimed at the discerning man in search of essential pieces, artefacts and curios to adorn his study, office, den, man cave, shed – or, indeed, library.

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As the title suggests, the lots are chosen for their masculine appeal and range from the ubiquitous brown furniture, long-case clocks, suits of armour and scientific instruments to marine works of art, smoking paraphernalia and chess sets.

Late-Victorian Chesterfield sofa, £3,000-£4,000
Late-Victorian Chesterfield sofa, £3,000-£4,000

This year's 452-lot sale is among the most eclectic in the event’s 14-year history, fielding numerous intriguing offerings that include a fossilised dinosaur skeleton (£6,000-£8,000) of a Psittacosaurus (parrot lizard) dating from the early Cretaceous period – meaning it’s at least 65m years old.

William Brooker oil painting of Proms founder Sir Henry Wood, £4,000-£6,000
William Brooker oil painting of Proms founder Sir Henry Wood, £4,000-£6,000

The skeleton will be sold alongside a collection of four Yoruba tribal art figures (£500-£700) from Nigeria; an aesthetically pleasing collection of 15 milliners’ wooden and aluminium hat blocks (£2,500-£4,000) and a 4ft tall enamelled metal sign (£500-£800) advertising Girard's Special Three Crown Brandy.

Fossilised Psittacosaurus skeleton from the early Cretaceous period, £6,000-£8,000
Fossilised Psittacosaurus skeleton from the early Cretaceous period, £6,000-£8,000

Furnishings include study essentials such as late-Victorian Chesterfield sofa (£3,000-£4,000) in burnished, walnut-coloured leather; a William IV mahogany desk (£1,500-£1,800) that once served in the Whitehall Cabinet Office; plus several pairs of large and small terrestrial globes (6,000-£12,000).

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A selection of early-19th-century James Gillray cartoon prints (£1,000-£1,500 each) will add humour to any wall; while gentlemen with a bovine bent can bid for two lots of oil paintings depicting cattle (£2,000-£6,000).

Meanwhile, impressive portraits are catered for, such as two by Sir Oswald Birley (father of the late nightclub impresario Mark) that depict General Edward Clive and his son Lieutenant General Sir George Clive. Modestly estimated at £1,000-£1,500 each, they will be offered in the same section of the sale that includes a full-length William Brooker oil (£4,000-£6,000) of the celebrated British conductor – and founder of the Proms – the late Sir Henry Wood.

Among the most unusual lots is legendary illusionist Harry Houdini’s green canvas escape sack (£1,500-£2,000) dating from 1915. The lot comes with a poster for this “Metamorphosis” act, which involved Houdini being placed inside the sack with his hands tied behind his back, before being put into a box that was shut inside a cabinet. Houdini’s wife, Bessie, would then draw a curtain and clap three times – at which point an unfettered Houdini would pull back the curtain – and remove the bag from the cabinet and the box to reveal it now contained his fully bound wife. The question is: was that sexist?

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