Arts & Culture

Vintage treasures go under the hammer in online auction

Sally Hopman11 November 2021
Ornate piece of furniture with (inset) newspaper clipping.

What is believed to be a rare Waratah bedroom suite will be auctioned this weekend at Wagga. Inset: A Farmer’s Department Store ad for such a suite. Photo: Supplied.

It was the status symbol back in the early 1900s – the Waratah bedroom suite, carved in the arts and crafts design by Robert Prenzel and only available in the equally fancy department store of the day – Farmer and Co.

Advertised for the princely sum of 350 pounds, the suite was made from the finest Tasmanian fiddleback blackwood. Such was its beauty, it was displayed in the front window of Farmer’s famous Pitt Street store in Sydney next to less impressive furniture to enhance its beauty.

Furniture believed to make up a Waratah suite will take pride of place in an online clearing sale this weekend by David G. Smith auctions.

The clearing sale, featuring more than 800 items, is the lifetime collection of a Wagga businessman who has put his treasures on the market because of ill health.

Auctioneer David Smith described the collection as one of the largest and most diverse he has worked on.

Grey wooden rocking horse.

This wooden rocking horse is tipped to canter off to a new home after the auction. Photo: Supplied.

“You could say he was an avid collector from birth,” David said.

“It is a pretty huge collection,” he said.

“We’ve gone through and picked out the most valuable items in the collection for the internet sale this weekend but there’s still a lot of stuff in boxes that we haven’t got to yet. There could be anything in them.”

Although it is hard to determine definitively if the Waratah suite in this weekend’s sale was created in the Prenzel factory, the original owner has done significant research on it and believes it to be the case. A yellowed newspaper clipping from The Sydney Morning Herald of the day links it to Farmer’s.

In his research on the piece, the owner writes: “Was this suite carved in Robert Prenzel’s workshop, built by Friedrich Sapel, Walter and Rudolph Prenzel and drawn by Johann Tweede and then marketed and sold by Farmer and Co from its Pitt Street store in Sydney?”

“This is my opinion after many hours of research – yes it was.”

He then goes on to list reasons why – such as the style and quality of the carving, timber, brown marble and hardware used. He also bases his belief on the view of the time that “Farmer’s claim to sell the best of everything in Australia”.


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Some of the items to go under the virtual hammer in this weekend’s clearing sale include Chippendale furniture, a collection of walking sticks, a period cedar what-not shelf to store your what-nots, a cedar ballot box which may be useful in the first weekend of December, Bentwood high chairs, old Singer treddle machines and Kriesler radiograms.

Additional items which have already drawn bidder interest include a collection of wooden rocking horses, a Cardiff tin flour sign, cedar panel door from the Wagga Court House, a long river red gum table from a Sydney restaurant, a high-backed ladies chair circa 1900, an American chestnut servery circa 1810 from Vaucluse House, brass luggage racks from NSW Railways, a pine gothic church cabinet and a collection of Asian material including an oriental dragon chair and a four-panel Japanese silk screen.

The collector also had a penchant for quirky pieces in general and the colour orange specifically with the sale including a set of orange suitcases, an orange fibreglass table and lamp as well as a Speedie mid-century food warmer, Parker coffee table with hand-made titles and something called a plastic work station that looks like it belongs on The Jetsons.

He also had a thing for drawers with a plethora of furniture designed to hold everything from sewing cottons to “printers’ stuff”.

The online auction starts at 10 am this weekend, November 13 and 14.

There will be an old-school auction the following weekend, November 201 and 21, with no online bidding.

More information is available on the auction website.

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