Burges Brooch set to shine in sale

A historically significant brooch bought at a market in the 1980s for less than £20 is to be sold at auction with a guide price of £10,000-£15,000, following its recent appearance on BBC One’s Antiques Roadshow on Christmas Eve.

The silver, coral, lapis lazuli and malachite brooch was designed by the great Victorian Gothic Revival designer and architect William Burges, who is best known for designing Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch in South Wales. Acquired at a Midlands antiques market in 1988 by jewellery enthusiast Flora Steel, the brooch will be sold by Gildings Auctioneers in Market Harborough, Leicestershire in spring 2024.

The Christmas episode featuring Ms Steel’s brooch marks the third chapter of an extraordinary story linking brooches designed by William Burges with Gildings Auctioneers and the Antiques Roadshow jewellery expert Geoffrey Munn.

In 2011, while watching Antiques Roadshow, Market Harborough-based pensioner Jill Cousins happened to see Munn reveal his decades-long search for any of three brooch designs by Burges, who he described as “really, the greatest genius of 19th-century design.” The designs featured on a sheet of sketches held in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archive. His quest was inspired by their significance as rare personal commissions as bridesmaids’ gifts for two weddings, rather than in the modest value of the jewellery’s constituent parts.

Recognising one of the designs as an unwanted item she had forgotten to take to the local market to sell just two days earlier, Mrs Cousins contacted Gildings, who were able to tell her that her silver, turquoise and garnet brooch was one of the Burges designs, probably made for the wedding of his friend and fellow architect John Pollard Seddon in 1864.

Later that year on Antiques Roadshow, Geoffrey Munn described the find as his ‘Tutankhamen experience’, estimating it could make £10,000 at auction. It went on to triple this figure when it sold at Gildings for £31,000 in August 2011.

Later in 2011, while watching an Antiques Roadshow Christmas special, another viewer realised they too had the same brooch. This owner also contacted Gildings, who arranged a private sale to the V&A, where this example is now displayed in the jewellery galleries.

Although it was a treasured possession, Ms Steel was unaware of her brooch’s significance until earlier this year when a chance viewing of an Antiques Roadshow ‘Most Wanted Finds’ clip led to her own appearance on the 2023 Christmas special.

“The brooch originally caught my eye for its strong design, strange lettering and unusual stones,” Ms. Steel explained. “I always loved it and thought that it was so particular in its design that sooner or later I would discover who had designed it.

“I’ve always adored the Antiques Roadshow, so when the clip popped up on my phone, I said to myself, ‘that reminds me of the brooch I found 35 years ago.’ So, I decided to have a better look at the V&A drawing and lo and behold there was my brooch! I practically fell off my chair!”

Following in the footsteps of the two owners in 2011, Ms Steel contacted Gildings, who were again able to confirm this brooch as another of the designs by Burges, this time for the wedding of an unknown individual named Gibson.

“It was clear this was another one of the designs on the page of sketches,” recalled Gildings director Will Gilding. “So, now a Burges brooch has again been discovered via a chance sighting via the Antiques Roadshow. For it to happen once, amazing. Twice, remarkable! A third time? Pinch me!”

On this week’s episode, a delighted Geoffrey Munn described the find as a “breathtaking discovery”, giving the brooch a valuation of £8,000-£10,000 as a “starting point”, due to the “huge precedent” set by the first example more than tripling its auction estimate.

“Whether this brooch reaches the heights of the first one we auctioned or indeed results in any more examples being unearthed remains to be seen,” added Will Gilding. “However, as a fascinating piece of jewellery with an even more intriguing backstory, we’re honoured to be playing a part in its continued history as we present it to the open market next year.”

The brooch will be sold at Gildings’ specialist Jewellery & Watches auction in the spring of 2024.