Antiques: Quirky but collectable

PUBLISHED: 10:18 17 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:43 20 February 2013

1. Two 'Black Forest carvings'.

1. Two 'Black Forest carvings'.

Modern tastes veer to the sleek and simple but there is a strong market for carved wood, marble and alabaster, says Gerry Berwyn-Jones.

The current trend is towards sleek, simple linear designs and interiors that are uncluttered, so it may come as a surprise to Warwickshire Life readers that there is a strong market for carved wood items. Most of the creators for these late 19th century carvings were anonymous, as it is rare to discover a signature on such a piece.
Until fairly recently the blanket description Black Forest carving was assigned to any product of this type. A recent book, The Art of The Black Forest by Arenski and Daniels, has largely dispelled the belief that these wares were German. The world-famous cuckoo clock cases were carved in Brienz, Switzerland, by (mainly) German carvers who had moved from their Black Forest centres. Their former home region has stuck as a generic label for their goods and can often be seen in the auction catalogue.

All manner of carvings were made in Brienz, from the well-known and popular bear-form stick stands, to benches, chairs, mirror frames, tobacco jars and desk accessories. Most carvings were aimed at affluent tourists, which is why so many examples appear at auction far from their place of manufacture. These mementos were handed down from generation to generation and given the resultant dilution in sentimental attachment are often consigned for sale by the final owner.
The larger of the items illustrated (1) is a wall bracket and is 39cm high. It is impossible to attribute a carver to this piece and as such it is expected to sell for 300-400. The smaller piece is much more interesting. It only stands 18cm high, but is a scroll holder and, most importantly, is in the form of an owl! It is likely that this was made by Arnold or Rudolf Ruef, borther who were based in Brienz and who specialised in owl subject matter. It is estimated at between 200 and 300, but is likely to go higher due to its novelty value.
The Belle Epoch style carved marble figure of a classical maiden (2) will probably have an equal number of detractors and supporters. This figure by the Italian L. Felli is estimated at 1,000-1,500. The 1920s alabaster carving of a Dutch boy (3) should sell for 200-300. Alabaster is very soft and easy to carve and it is for this reason that circa 1900 alabaster figures tend to make less than their counterparts in marble.

These items are entered in Bonhams furniture and works of art sale on the 7th of September in Knowle.

Gerry Berwyn-Jones BA(HONS) MRICS is a senior valuer and auctioneer for Bonhams International Fine Art Auctioneers and can be contacted on 01564 732966 or e-mail

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