Delight in a gorgeous Georgian garage sale

Mayfair antiques dealer Ronald Phillips is making room for fresh stock with a fascinating Christie's auction.
Aside from their beauty and often astonishing quality, antiques have mystery. How many generations of faces have admired themselves in those gilded 18th-century mirrors with their smoky mercury glass? How many hands held heavy Regency carafes, played cards at open demilune tables, slept in romantic fourposter beds or sat on fine mahogany? These items cannot be compared with today's mass-produced furniture — antiques were handmade, with endless hours of skilled work.

In the big Ronald Phillips sale coming up on July 2 at Christie's, the 300 pieces on offer include a Windsor chair in mahogany with a pagoda top-rail and horseshoe seat, possibly sat in by Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë. Because of its probable provenance, this fireside chair, lot 31, has a high price tag at £3,000-£5,000.

Lot 37 is a stunning pair of George III cockpen armchairs with fretted trellis chinoiserie backs and caned seats in a Chippendale pattern, dated 1754. The master craftsman considered them "very suitable for ladies", and they are estimated to fetch £7,000-£8,000, but there are seats for all pockets. Lots 45, 46 and 47 are all Georgian armchairs, two pairs and one triple. Lot 46 is two splat-back beauties for £500-£800.

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Lots 234/235, left: two sets of hand-coloured bird lithographs, £2,000-£3,000; lot 248, right: a verre églomisé Regency mirror, early 19th century, £600-£1,000
Near the end of the sale, Phillips is getting rid of items that need upholstering. These ghostly presences are good value for novice collectors — and, let's face it, old upholstery is a bore, so choose whatever you like and put it on instead. It's like tricking out a thoroughbred in your own colours. Lot 312 is two 18th-century chairs, one needing upholstery, that surely could have been the inspiration for Philippe Starck's Ghost chair. The estimate is £600-£800.

So who is Ronald Phillips? An esteemed dealer, mainly in high-quality, 18th-century pieces, Ronald started out 60 years ago, and it is his son, Simon, who has cleared out the vast old warehouse of stock, some hugely valuable, some less so, much of which had been there for decades.

The family business continues in Mayfair's Bruton Street, so this is a grand garage sale. As Simon says, some things are very good for first-time buyers and some "are an absolute steal". Particularly abundant are chairs, mirrors, and carafes. There are several exquisite pairs of gilded pier mirrors, and a spectacular oval rococo one that's likely to sell above £20,000.

Bargains include lot 120, two fairly plain but beautifully shaped mirrors suited to a modern interior, one a George II walnut dressing mirror, the other even older, Queen Anne, both for £500-£800. Lot 248 is a gorgeous rectangular Regency parcel-gilt mirror with a delightful verre églomisé scene at the top, estimate £600-£1,000. Other glassy delights include a "Kentian" wall lantern, late 19th century, quite masculine , for £800-£1,200. At a whopping 34in high, this is a good price. Or, solve your wedding present dilemmas for ages with lot 153, seven glittering Regency decanters at £1,500-£2,500.

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Lot 255, left: a north European metamorphic desk and tub chair, £500-£800; lot 101, right: a George III satinwood and amaranth crossbanded demilune card table, £500-£1,000
The sale is fascinating because there are plenty of genuinely useful things, including a Regency line-inlaid circular dining table that seats eight and would be ideal for a smart City flat, at £1,500-£2,500 (lot 196); a George III demilune card table of crossbanded satinwood and amaranth, a steal at £500-£1,000 (lot 101), and even a roomy four-poster, complete with hangings (lot 104). This is the real thing, George III, gilded and painted, for £4,000-£6,000, and anyone who wouldn't feel romantic in that is probably dead.

Fascinating items include a nine-carat solid gold, 23-piece toy dinner service for £1,000-£1,500 (lot 171). Or there's the grown-up version — a dozen George III solid silver dinner plates (lot 129) together weighing more than a stone and estimated at £6,000-£8,000. That's only about 50 per cent above the cost of bog-standard bullion. Imagine eating off those. The most fun item is lot 255, a north European metamorphic desk and tub chair topped and upholstered respectively in sage green leather. Connected at one side they push together to make a sort of drum. This ingenious — and handy — conversation starter is estimated at just £500-£800.

Just like all garage sales, there appear to be items from every room of a house — in this case a fabulous one — and several distinct historic periods. But far from being a distraction, the wide mix is what gives this sale its appeal.

* Ronald Phillips: Making Room is at Christie's South Kensington on July 2. For full details visit Christies.com

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