The spectacular Guinness Sale at Elveden concluded on Thursday, September 14, 2023. This single-owner auction for Lord Iveagh comprised inherited furnishings with Guinness family connections from several properties, including Elveden, Suffolk, and Farmleigh, Dublin, reaching a total of £918,476, including Buyer’s Premium.
Following a reception staged in the Mughal-inspired Main Hall built for the estate’s most famous occupant, the Maharajah Duleep Singh, the sale itself took place in the walnut-paneled Dining Room. Bidding for the 438 lots began at 10 am and concluded at 7 pm.
Fittingly, it was a marble bust of Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun (1840-1915), that garnered one of the sale’s highest prices. This 89cm high portrait, along with a Siena marble column, was signed by Sir Thomas Farrell (1827-1900), the most successful sculptor in Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. He was responsible for many public statues in Dublin, including the bronze statue of Sir Arthur (the great-grandson of company founder Arthur Guinness) placed at St Stephen’s Green, Dublin in 1891, upon which this bust is based. Once on display at the Guinness Brewery, it was sold to a London dealer for £39,000.
The present-day Guinness baronets descend from Baron Ardilaun’s younger brother Edward Cecil Guinness (1847–1927), the 1st Earl of Iveagh and Viscount Elveden. He served as the managing director of the Guinness partnership from 1868, and by the age of 29, he had taken over sole ownership of the Dublin brewery as it enjoyed unprecedented success. He purchased Farmleigh in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in 1873 and Elveden Hall after the death of Duleep Singh in 1893.
Two large late 19th-century pale blue ground wool carpets, bought for Farmleigh at Harvey Nichols in September 1894, provided the top lots of the day. Both were made by Ziegler and Company of Manchester at its factory in Sultanabad. At the time, the firm used the best artisans from the region and local techniques but also hired British designers to modify Eastern designs and colors for the more restrained Western taste.
Both carpets, retaining the cotton labels that documented their purchase, had been used at Farmleigh, one in the Entrance Hall and the other in the Nursery Dining Room. They were bought by the same US phone bidder for sums of £44,200 and £42,900.
Edward Guinness remained chairman of the board for life and the company’s largest shareholder. It was another transatlantic buyer who purchased his boardroom chair, a handsome Hepplewhite-style mahogany armchair from around 1890, with a sterling silver name plaque and an inlaid family crest. It fetched £7,150 from an American private collector who bid via mobile phone while walking around his farm.
Topping the furniture at £24,700 was a George III rococo giltwood mirror, which had formerly hung in the Entrance Hall at Farmleigh. Probably made in Dublin around 1760, it followed a design by Thomas Chippendale. It was followed by good examples of Chinese porcelain (an extensive 18th-century famille rose export dinner service sold at £7,800); fine country house furniture (a pair of early 20th-century 'Bridgewater' armchairs by Howard & Sons of Berners Street took £14,300); and the occasional curiosity. An Edwardian traveling octagonal tented clothes closet by Robinson & Son, Ilkley, Yorkshire, took £5,850, while the Earls of Iveagh’s red velvet and ermine Coronation robes, worn to the coronations of Edward VII, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II, made £3,380.
Leading the pictures was a handsome Victorian oil painting of a hunt by Samuel Henry Alken (1810-1894), which sold for £41,600. A nod to Elveden’s unique connection with the Indian subcontinent was provided by a set of 24 lithographs depicting Portraits of the Princes and Peoples of India. The artist was Emily Eden (1797-1869), who had journeyed to India in 1836 with her sister to join their brother George, Lord Auckland, who was Governor-General between 1835 and 1842. These portraits were worked up from her sketches on her return to England in 1842 and were privately printed. One of the few surviving sets with contemporary coloring, they sold for £9,750. An Indian School late 19th-century gouache on paper depicting a ceremony with ten Sikh gurus and attendants was purchased by a Sikh historian who traveled to Elveden to buy it for £13,000. The buyer said, 'the date of the work suggests it could have been purchased by Duleep Singh when he was living at the house.'
And, of course, there was the Guinness memorabilia. A series of original advertising posters were eagerly contested, led by the classic "My Goodness My Guinness" with an image of a zookeeper and sea lion, making £2,600 and "Opening Time is Guinness Time" with a toucan removing the cap from a bottle of the black stuff which reached £2,860.
Although its unique and impressive architecture and surrounding landscapes are a popular venue for film and creative industries, Elveden has been closed to the public since 1984. Experiencing the sale in such a unique setting was part of the appeal for the many people who viewed and the attendees on sale day.
Lord Iveagh said, 'It’s been a joy seeing Elveden Hall furnished once again and looking so good. And wonderful to have so many visitors appreciating both the building and the items in the sale.' He added: 'I sincerely hope all our successful bidders enjoy their purchases. The Guinness family has treasured these objects for many years, so it’s a source of great personal satisfaction to know they will continue to be appreciated for generations to come.'
Two grand vehicles concluded the bidding. Sold at £52,000 was a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Shooting Brake (registration number YV 9253) with a full history that included a Buckinghamshire funeral director and the MP Alan Clark. It was acquired by the Guinness family in 2007 for use on the estate as an up-market 'gun bus,' ferrying up to 12 guests to their pegs in grand style. Rather more up-to-date was a 2011 Bentley Continental GTC Speed A. Finished in onyx black with a cream leather interior, the 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged W12 engine had seen relatively little use. As the car had only done 9,982 miles from new, it looked like good value at £46,800.