Charles Miller Ltd

Auctioneer of fine figureheads and other nautical treasures,

Charles Miller Ltd
Charles Miller
2008 saw the establishment in London of a new independent auction house specializing in the maritime world: from paintings, ship models and artefacts to Navigation and Scientific instruments, Charles Miller Ltd is situated in Blythe Road near the large Olympia complex at Kensington. Charles Miller is very much the Figurehead of this new company, the former head of the Maritime Objects department at Christies South Kensington with twelve years experience, his department set a number of world records most notable being that of an Admiralty Board Model of the 1703 Establishment which achieved £663,730 in the November 2003 sale.

Charles has brought with him a wealth of knowledge in this specialized sales area and a well-deserved reputation for bringing unique material to the attention of both British and International collectors.

CharlesMillerLtd3In his inaugural sale on the 17th July 2008, Charles had on offer two quite different maritime related carvings, the first and cover image was lot 55 An exceptionally rare and finely carved French chandler's emblem, circa 1750 depicted as a full-length figurehead of a young uniformed Chef de Marin sporting a cockaded tricorn hat, powdered wig tied with a bow, laced chemise, regulation red braided waistcoat with blue overcoat with red cuffs, gold braid and breeches, white stockings and buckled black shoes, holding and navigating via a model octant (later), mounted astride a prow-formed support with brass back brace for wall securing 52in. (132cm.) high. A carving of this style and quality is almost certainly the product of an experienced figurehead carver who appreciated the genre sufficiently to set the correct angles for it to work as a whole. The face, with one eye closed, is particularly delicately handled and painted, and it is remarkable for a carving of this age to retain its arms and much of the original finish. Only one other example of this type is recorded to date, and is located in a private collection, Parigi, Italy. Estimate £25,000-35,000 sold for a premium inclusive £26,400

CharlesMillerLtd4In the same sale lot 61 was a small Irish Figurehead from the early 1840's, depicting a young lady clad in an emerald green and red dress, laced over a chemise with hair parted and wearing flowers, terminating in a scroll form base with slot, with an estimate of £4,000 to £5,000, this charming Figurehead was an old friend and had been restored in my workshop in Yorkshire for owners in South Devon, prior to the sale, for many years she had been left outside in a garden and was rescued just in time, before restoration was deemed too expensive, with an estimate of between £4,000 to £6,000 on the day of the sale she was not placed.

2009 was a year of great extremes, on the 29th April Charles was able to offer two figureheads from quite different areas the first was what I call a ghost figurehead, it's CharlesMillerLtd5possible that this figurehead may have originated from a wreck and been in the sea for quite some time, before being washed ashore on the British Coast, this exposure to sea and sand has resulted is fine details of the carved work being worn away resulting in a ghost like appearance, lot number 145 a 19th Century Figurehead in salvaged condition, depicting a young lady with flowing hair, skirts and coat, terminating in a scroll flourish, some vestigial blue paint to coat much of the left side missing, estimate £700 to £900 on the day she sold for £1,320.

In the same sale a figurehead of exceptional artistic quality was on offer a Victorian Yachts Figurehead Circa 1870's lot number 159 finely carved by Shon Edwards in the form of a half-length Classical, or possibly Oriental maiden in flowing robes with fern leaves to front, removable CharlesMillerLtd6outstretched arm, flowing hair with crown, terminating in a scrollwork flourish, sympathetically returned to original colour scheme -- 39in. (99cm.) high Whilst it has been possible to identify the carver of this figurehead with some degree of certainty, the vessel's name has thus far remained obscure. Edwards worked between 1860 and 1880 from Portmadoc, Wales and was celebrated enough in his time to undertake commissions which were dispatched to the yards from there. This example holds a close resemblance in style and quality to another in the collection of the Royal Yacht Squadron from the yacht Mirage, a 196 ton schooner by Berthon Yacht Builders of Lymington. This company built some of the finest yachts of the day from about 1840 and enjoyed an elite client list with many aristocrats and royal families. It is very rare to find examples of this type retaining their original arm. These were designed to be removed when the yacht was in use, and returned when back at anchor, thus saving endless and expensive repair work. Estimate: 12000-1500 on the day she sold for £14,400.

The end of 2009 saw an outstanding sale on the 21st October with lot 218 an extremely rare and finely carved later 18th Century Boxwood allegorical figurehead model for the CharlesMillerLtd2Hope depicted as a full-length female stepping forward and dressed in a delicately carved wind-swept dress, necklace, curled hair with hat, holding an anchor supported over her knee with her left hand, her right holding the cable, set on a scroll-worked presentation bow with cut-away head rails behind, finished in original polychrome overall, secured to a later display plinth - 13¼in. (33.5cm.) high.

Although there are several Royal Navy ships of this name around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, none are of a suitable size to adorn with such a lavish figurehead. The strongest candidate is the Hon. East India Company who, in 1797, launched the Hope. Built by Thomas Pitcher of Northfleet for Alexander Hume, she registered 1,498 tons burthen, measured 144'3" by 43'10 and drew 17'5" of water. Captained by James Horncastle until 1804 and James Pendergrass thereafter, she served mostly on the China run until sold for break up in 1815. Another example of an East India Co. allegorical polychrome figurehead model may be viewed at Quex Park, Birchington, Kent as part of the Powell-Cotton collection. It was probably acquired by Charles Bowland Cotton who joined as a Midshipman in 1794.
The only comparable carving of this type to come on the market recently is the Queen Charlotte model sold by Messrs Bonham's: Nelson & The Royal Navy, 5th July, 2005, lot 28 (£50,000). Estimate: 10000-15000 Sold for £14,400.

Charles Miller has undoubtedly built up a wonderful reputation for selling fine and historic nautical items, if you have any kind of related material you are looking to sell it I would recommend that you contact him direct.

Richard Hunter
January 2010.

Charles Miller Limited,

25 Blythe Road, London W14 0PD.

Telephone: +44 (0) 207 806 5530

Fax: +44 (0) 207 806 5531

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WEBSITE: www.charlesmillerltd.com

Please mention you read about this auction house on the Figurehead archives site

(All prices quoted include a buyers premium of 20%)