With a haul of heirlooms from Harewood House, the grand Georgian mansion near Harrogate in Yorkshire, country house auctions don't come much more majestic than this December sale.
Built in the mid-18th century, Harewood is famous for its Robert Adam interiors and Chippendale furniture, but the house has also been home to generations of avid collectors. And none was more enthusiastic than HRH Princess Mary (1897-1965), whose jade and Fabergé trinkets, evening gloves and ostrich fan come under the hammer at Christie's this month.
Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, was daughter of George V, great granddaughter of Queen Victoria, sister to Edward VIII and George VI and aunt of our current queen — which makes her blood as blue as indigo Quink and will surely bump up the value of bids.
To give an extreme example of the premium added by royal provenance: in 2006, the wedding tiara owned by Princess Margaret, Mary's racier niece, astounded the experts by fetching £926,400 after an estimate of £150,000 to £200,000. However, as a general rule of thumb, the more frequently photographed the aristocrat, the higher the value of her heirlooms. And Mary seems to have led a relatively quiet life, raising her two sons and pursuing charitable works and interests, from nursing to horse racing, the Red Cross to the Girl Guides, cattle breeding to the interior décor of Harewood. So it's possible that this auction, where estimates start at £300, could yield some royal bargains.
By the time she and her husband, Henry, Viscount Lascelles, moved to Harewood in 1929, Mary had already formed a large collection of objets de luxe — highly decorative, skillfully worked ornaments, in precious materials.
The first instalment of the sale, on December 5, Harewood: collecting in the royal tradition, will include highlights from her carved amber, jade and hardstone collection, and Fabergé keepsakes.
A jewelled and enamelled Fabergé frame holding a picture of her father, King George V (lot 613) is expected to fetch £30,000 to £50,000. For those on a less regal budget, it's worth checking out the furniture, pictures, textiles, silver and porcelain in the attic sale that follows on December 9.
Some of the personal items of costume have particular charm and would make pretty conversation pieces in a contemporary home. These include Mary's ostrich fan, with a gold-crowned M on its mother-of-pearl handle (£300 to £500), nicely framed. Or how about giving these lovely things for a Christmas present: a collection of 18 pairs of gloves, in a case bearing the same royal monogram (£400-£600). And again, well-timed for festive entertaining, the sale is strong on china, glass and silverware that, brought out for Christmas dinner will add majestic sparkle to your setting. Top tableware includes a pair of glass carafes and a dozen sherry glasses etched with Prince of Wales feathers ( £1,500 to £2,500) and a silver jug, marked "London 1755" and engraved with the coat of arms and motto of the Earl of Harewood (£400 to £600).
Harewood: collecting in the royal tradition and Harewood: the attic sale are on December 5 and 9 at Christie's, 8 King Street, SW1. Visit christies.com
The contents of Marcus, the shooting lodge and country home in Angus of the 27th Lord Mowbray, England's premier baron, are being sold at Bonhams in Edinburgh on November 29. The eclectic sale includes 17th-century portraits and even a coronation robe. Visit bonhams.com