Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Duke of Devonshire Cleans Out His Attic

Snuff Box with
Georgiana and Little G

When Peregrine Cavendish, the present Duke of Devonshire, inherited Chatsworth, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire, five years ago, he discovered that the attic of the manor house was stuffed to the gills with centuries of accumulated bric-a-brac. Crates of china, glass and silver, lanterns, lacquered screens, paintings, rocking horses, train sets, globes, a pram, stuffed animals and birds were among the attic’s treasures. According to His Lordship, “It was scarcely possible to open doors, let alone to store anything else.” His response was to contact Harry Dalmeny, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, and to conduct “the greatest attic sale ever held.”
Duke of Devonshire

Sotheby’s estimated that the three-day sale in early October of 20,000 items would raise £2.5m. The final total was closer to £6.5m. The 400 people in attendance competed with 1,000 more registered remote bidders. The highest price was £565,250, almost twice the top estimate, paid for a 1735 white marble fireplace designed by William Kent for Devonshire House, the family’s enormous London home that was demolished in the 1920s to make way for the Green Park tube station. The fireplace had been dismantled into 30 pieces and stored in a building once used to repair tractors.

Another fascinating piece was a mahogany bookcase that was actually a secret door used by George IV to facilitate meetings with his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. According to Mail Online, “When the Prince of Wales approached the mahogany bookcase at Devonshire House, reading was usually the last thing on his mind. For the elegant piece of furniture was in fact a secret door which led to an adjoining bedroom where the future George IV would meet his mistress. Its historic role in a royal affair makes it one of the star items in a Sotheby’s sale...”

Other notable items included:

A Japanese lacquered table with legs covered in monkey fur bought by the 6th Duke at the Great Exhibition of 1851 - £22,500

A ruby and diamond bow-shaped brooch with the words “L’amour en fait le lien” (“love binds together”) - £8,500, more than 100 times the pre-sale estimate

An American Silverball Mania pinball machine, valued at about £400 - £1,875

1915 Humber touring car known as the Yellow Peril - £42,500 - ten times its estimate

According to the current duke, “The funds raised have exceeded our expectations and will allow us to accelerate a number of projects at Chatsworth and our other estates, including improvements to buildings, new visitor experiences and green initiatives.”

For more pictures from the sale, click on the Mail Online link above and here.


  1. What a great post Mary.

    My attic is full of my children's toys. We've never thrown any away over the years. I think I should hold an attic sale. What did you say the Duke of Devonshire got for his? £6.5 million was it?
    I'll be lucky if I get £6.50


  2. Tony, You got that much from your kids' toys! Seriously, I am surprised that the Duke auctioned off the snuff box with the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughter on it. I would have kept that one. I liked the Humber too.