Antiques - People of character immortalised

PUBLISHED: 17:08 23 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:56 20 February 2013

Antiques - People of character immortalised

Antiques - People of character immortalised

A cast iron money box and a Copeland parian figure have interesting tales to tell, says Gerry Berwyn-Jones.

This rather unusual cast iron money bank (1) depicts a late 19th century gentleman, possibly a banker, and seems the perfect model for a money bank depicting honesty, integrity and dependability. It is, in fact, modelled on William Tweed, a 19th century American politician, who was indicted, convicted and imprisoned for fraud. In the Hollywood film Gangs of New York Tweed is played by Jim Broadbent.
Tweed, and his associates the mayor of New York and the controller of public expenditure, embezzled $40-$200 million of New York City taxpayers money. Selected contractors multiplied their bills to the city by five, ten or a hundred-fold. The cheques were paid to a go-between, who then paid the contractors and divided the balance between the co-conspirators. Some eye-watering examples included a carpenter submitting an invoice for $360,751 (approximately $4.9 million today) for a months work on a building that involved little woodwork and a plasterers bill for $133,187 ($1.82 million today) for two days work.
The plot was exposed to The New York Times, Tweed was convicted in 1873, but escaped from custody and fled to Spain where he worked as a common seaman on a Spanish vessel. He was recognised in Spain from cartoons in the press and deported to New York in 1876. He died in Ludlow Street Jail in 1878 from pneumonia.
This cast iron piggy-bank conveys these nefarious acts perfectly and very simply, for when the child puts his coin in Tweeds hand, the hand pockets the money into his own jacket pocket. He also sits on a chair, which is stamped Tammany, which alludes to Tweeds leadership of Tammany Hall, the seat of the Democratic Party in New York. This box dates to circa 1890 and is expected to make between 100 and 200.
In sharp contrast is the Copeland parian figure (2) of the illustrious Romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) who wrote the Waverley novels and Ivanhoe and commissioned the Gothic style house Abbotsford. Sadly, in 1825 he went bankrupt and was forced to write more novels in order to pay his creditors. This model was produced in 1850 and depicts Scott seated with pen and book in hand and his favourite hound, Maida, at his feet. It is 33cm high and taken from the original marble centrepiece of the Scott Memorial of 1846 in Princes Street, Edinburgh, by John Steell. It is estimated at 200-300.
Diametrically opposed in terms of what each character contributed to society, irrespective of what each piece represents they share one thing in common. At the height of their powers they were the equivalent of multi-millionaires, but both their fortunes subsequently waned.
Bonhams bi-annual toy sale on 13th April includes the cast iron money bank, while the figure of Sir Walter Scott is in the specialist ceramics and glass sale in Knowle on 27th April.


Gerry Berwyn-Jones BA (Hons) MRICS is a senior valuer and auctioneer for Bonhams International Auctioneers and can be contacted on 01564-732966 or e-mail gerry.berwynjones@bonhams.com

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