Posted on: October 14, 2019

Antique Tennis Collection brings ‘Ace’ results at Trevanion and Dean!

Trevanion & Dean’s October auction proved to be a very exciting spectacle for bidders in the room and online, as they watched the sale of a consignment of Victorian tennis ephemera sell for over £35,000. 

The highly sought after items had been found by the auctioneers in a summer house in the grounds of a Cheshire country house.  The most sought after piece from the collection was a Sphairistike Lawn Tennis set which sold for a whopping £21,000 to a UK based private collector who battled hard to secure his purchase against a determined American online bidder. Christina Trevanion, auctioneer and managing director of Trevanion & Dean, oversaw the bidding for the set and despite only being a part set and in very poor condition, still drew international interest from the tennis community. “The Sphairistike set has certainly been an exciting addition to our October auction” said Christina. ‘In the build up to the sale we have spoken to a great number of impassioned collectors who could not stress how rarely an original Sphairistike set comes up for auction and just how much of an impact that this game had on tennis as we know it. Moreover its creator, Major Walton Clopton Wingfield, hailed not too far from us in Wrexham, so in many ways it was as if the set was coming home!”

Prior to the Sphairstike’s invention, tennis was played on specialized indoor courts which were expensive and troublesome to erect, and by the mid 19th-century the games popularity was in decline. Wingfield, (who was a life-long tennis enthusiast), envisioned a version of a tennis court which could be easily erected on outdoor croquet lawns, which had been the preferred past-time of the English upper-class up until this point. After experimenting with the idea throughout the 1860’s, Wingfield secured a patent in 1874 for what he described as the ‘New and Improved Court for Playing the Ancient Game of Tennis’ which he coined ‘Sphairistiké’ a Greek term which roughly translates to ‘ball-game.’ Complete Sphairistike sets consisted of vulcanized rubber balls, a net, poles, court markers, rackets and an accompanying instruction manual.

Sphairistike Lawn Tennis box and Contents – sold for £21,000

Sphairistiké was a hit with the upper classes, many of whom replaced their croquet lawns with more permanent ‘lawn tennis’ courts. In 1877, the All England Croquet Club in Wimbledon decided to stage competitive Lawn Tennis games for the very first time, and thus began The Wimbledon Championships. Major Wingfield achieved his ambition of restoring the noble game of tennis to its former glory, transforming a once strictly indoor game into the outdoor version we are so familiar with today.

Other highlights from the collection included a lawn tennis box by prolific 19th century games manufacturer F.H. Ayres which sold for £3,200, three Victorian tilt-headed tennis rackets which amassed a total of £6,440, and two canvas tennis ball wells, which sold for £3,840. One collector commented on the rarity of the wells, saying that he had only ever seen them illustrated in books and had never come across an existing one; to find two in such good condition really was remarkable. 

The excitement didn’t stop with the tennis however, as Christina moved straight on to a consignment of historical costume, amassed over the centuries by the resident family of Edge Hall, Malpas. Comprising of over 50 lots, some of the pieces dated back as far as the early 18th century, and attracted the attention of fashion collectors across the globe for both their rarity and exceptional condition, eventually grossing over £37,000 for the collection. Some of the top results came from a pair of late 18th-century plush bicorn hats, which reached a staggering £5,200, followed by a vibrant early 19th century sleeved waistcoat at £4,700, and rather unusually, a rare pair of circa 1820’s men’s breeches which achieved £1,900. 

Elsewhere in the sale, diamonds continued to dominate the jewellery section as a 2.80ct diamond solitaire fetched £5,300 and a fabulous Art Deco diamond pendant sold for over £1700. Another noticeable trend amongst jewellery was the resurgence of the brooch, which drew some of the top prices of the day, including a diamond set crescent brooch which realised £1600 and a ruby set example which reach £1200. “The brooch is back in a big way” says jewellery specialist Helena Waudby. “Both in retail and at auction, the sales of brooches seem to be on a steady upward trajectory. We have seen them struggling for a while, as they fell out of fashion and weren’t as sought after with a younger generation of buyers. However the brooch is quite a diverse accessory, and now they are often bought to be turned into pendants. This is a really easy and inexpensive way to give new life and longevity to an accessory.”

This sale was also the first time on the rostrum for new auctioneer Elizabeth Oliver. Elizabeth joined Trevanion & Dean in 2018 as photographer and saleroom assistant, and is now Trainee Valuer. Following the mentorship of seasoned auctioneers Christina and Ashley Jones, Elizabeth oversaw the sale of the coins in Saturday’s auction. Of her debut on the rostrum Elizabeth said ‘It was amazing, I can’t compare it to another experience – there’s nothing like it!’

Mentor Christina said ‘I was very proud of Elizabeth on her auctioneering debut, it is an incredibly daunting task getting up there for the very first time and her calm and collected attitude to the task in hand was a great credit to her, I look forward to watching her blossom into the fantastic auctioneer I know she will be’.

All prices quoted include buyers premium at 20% + VAT