If you’re after a rare object, look no further than the next Works of Art & Furniture Auction at McTear’s on 20 July. An intriguing Edwardian table vesta in the form of a genuine cow hoof will go under the hammer. Estimated at £300–400, lot 1689 is sure to gain attention due to its eccentricity.
In general, vesta cases are very collectable with particularly detailed or novelty examples being the most desirable. Those with enamelled decoration or in the form of unusual objects such as railwaymen’s lamps, rugby balls, animals and fish, are also popular, and those incorporating a function such as a whistle. Cases in silver plate, gunmetal, brass, and tinplate were common, often in novelty shapes. The production of vesta cases dates from c.1870 and reached its height at the turn of the century. Around this time, hunting and taxidermy were extremely popular. An article published in 1895 by William G. Fitzgerald in the Strand magazine titled “Animal Furniture” identifies this trend and in particular, the use of dead animal carcasses in furniture design. One could find an extraordinary taxidermy monkey modelled as a candlestick in an Edwardian home and in the next room, a strange chair with the legs of a taxidermy horse or zebra.
Whilst the vesta case is unsigned, it is certainly reminiscent of one company in particular, Roland Ward Ltd of Piccadilly, who famously produced fashionable items of furniture from animal parts during the Victorian era. The expansion of the British Empire along with new found wealth for the middle classes from the industrial revolution created an international market. The British elite were venturing further to new domains and Roland Ward were the only taxidermist to kept detailed records of the trophies acquired. They gained high profile clients from other nations and achieved much success internationally. Thus, the company gained attention and a positive reputation with their designs that became known as ‘Wardian furniture.’ Today, Roland Ward is considered one of the most successful taxidermists of the late 19th century. If you would like to get your hands on a design like this, lot 1689 has your name on it. The item is silver mounted, giving the item intrinsic value which paired with its novelty, indicate this object will be popular with collectors.