Thursday, 22 March 2012

Vathek

I may be the proud owner of these two little 18th century pistols by this afternoon - but only if I can get them for a very small amount of money. I never normally go for antique firearms, but these are particularly cute and would make a nice little restoration project for profit. They have been mis-described, so I may be in luck.

I have a couple of things in the same sale, so they may be paid for out of them. They are the sort of pistol that would have been acquired by a young gentleman traveling Europe on a 'Grand Tour' before settling down to marriage or business, and would only have been effective at close range - the other side of a gambling-table, for instance. You need a barrel of over 10 inches for any real accuracy.

Over the years, I have been involved in all sorts of things associated with 18th C. 'Grand Tours', mainly collections of minerals and fossils incorporated into the other 18th C. obsession - grottoes.

The wealthy gent would return home and commission a grotto to display his huge collection of shells, crystals, obsidian (usually from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius - very active at the time) and fossils - these man-made caves were the fore-runners of museums to show off curios acquired during the 'gap-year' a wealthy son would take whilst sowing his wild oats.

You had to be extremely wealthy to build a grotto - the last one I restored was built in 1790, at a cost of £40,000. I wonder what £40,000 would translate to in today's money. Most people had a single cabinet on display, as well as a host of stories to entertain their guests over dinner.

In the late 18th century, Bath was home to one of the wealthiest men in England, Sir William Beckford. A rather eccentric sort of bloke, he built a massive wall around his estate purely to prevent the hunting of foxes - something he abhorred. He then built a massive belvedere tower overlooking the city which still exists today, and he also built a fake abbey near Chilmark which had the highest tower in Southern England - not very well though, as it collapsed a short time after completion. It eventually burnt down, and it is said that he saw the glow of the fire from the top of his tower in Bath, about 30 miles away.

After his return from a Grand Tour, he wrote a book called 'Vathek' and pretended that he had merely translated it from the original Arabic. I don't know if it was intentionally supposed to be funny, but it is hilarious in the extreme - and I mean extreme. You have to read it to appreciate how the murder of hundreds of innocent children can be a laughing matter, but - believe me - it can.

Beckford was reputedly living with his sister in an incestuous relationship, so traveling the world obviously didn't widen his horizons in the way you might have expected in a young man.

Bang bang. Actually - bang, bang, bang. One of the pistols is double-barreled.

28 comments:

  1. Interesting post Tom, particularly the bit about bring home shells etc. I didn't know that and it may go a long way to explaining an item in Tennant's Catalogue Sale this week at our local (very posh) auction house.
    There were thousands of shells, all laid in neat rows on trays - some of them very beautiful.
    Hope you get the pistols.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I was restoring grottoes, Weaver, I would be on the hunt for shells of all description, because - quite rightly - the gathering of them is now widely restricted in most areas. They got around this though, by simply lying about where they were gathered and how old they were. Some of them still had traces of the original occupants. Not good.

      Delete
  2. They look good. My late mother collected boxed pairs of duelling pistols by Manton or Egg. Many had NEVER been fired.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your mother must have had some serious disposables, then. I missed a matched pair of Purdeys at a farm sale a while ago. They went for £300.

      Delete
    2. P.S. The last fatal pistol duel in England was held on a hill at Bath. The winner had to leave the country for fear of a murder conviction.

      Delete
  3. Handsome pistols (and an interesting post). Do let us know if you are successful at the auction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not successful. I didn't even get a look-in.

      Delete
  4. What a fine pair Tom.....I used to work opposite Purdeys, in Mount Street.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Was that 'Purdey's' the Lingerie shop, Jack@?

      Delete
  5. Well, they went for about £120 more than I was prepared to pay (and exactly what they were worth), so I didn't even bid. No harm done.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Haha .... you've been peeping !
    Actually, there was a great deal of lingerie around that area, especially in Shepherd Market !

    ReplyDelete
  7. Replies
    1. I'm reaching for a non existent delete button now. I have my standards...

      Delete
  8. When I saw the title "Vathek", I thought that you have a new Ukrainian friend.

    ReplyDelete
  9. And when I saw the picture of the pistols, I thought that you had shot him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't afford to shoot any of my friends, Iris - despite what John says.

      Delete
  10. iris
    tom has so many friends
    there MUST be at least 2 living in the Ukraine!

    ReplyDelete
  11. and before you slag me off tom... have a look at your posts and see how many start with
    "I have a friend....."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right. I've looked, now I'm going to slag you off... No, not really. I probably have friends in the Ukraine that I don't even know about, such is my innate attraction. Looking at my stats, two people read my blog more than all the others. You are number 2, John. Can you guess who number 1 is?

      Delete
    2. Talking of stats Tom, I glanced at mine, the bit showing 'search keyword' and found that most folk alighted on my blog after searching for;

      'woman eating balls'
      'shaved cat looks like long johns'
      'keep calm the welsh are coming'

      All probably searches by John Gray.

      Delete
    3. The unmistakable traces left by a sick chicken-fancier and pig-murderer.

      Delete
    4. that's a double OOOOCH!
      XXX

      Delete
  12. Dearest Tom
    I often poke fun at you, make jest and etc but you should know...I really do love your blog. I learn so much and am a classier dame because of your efforts

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How could you get any classier, Donna? What with building a ballroom and all?

      Delete
  13. Such sweet little killing machines ... how could one resist trying to acquire them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By setting a price above which one will not go, that's how. The little killing machines we make these days are not nearly so pretty.

      Delete