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Largest number of full armours to be offered at a London auction in a century
John Woodman Higgins (1874-1961) was a prominent Worcester (USA) industrialist who’s passion for metalcraft and tales of chivalry led to a lifetime spent building a collection of arms and armour and associated objects.

LONDON.- There will be no less than 12 European suits of armour and 8 Japanese Samurai armours for sale, many of which are enriched with etching, gilding and embossing. Almost all were acquired during the first half of the 20th century, including a number with distinguished provenances of European nobility and famous dealers and collectors of the period such as Joseph Duveen, William Randolph Hearst and Bashford Dean.

John Woodman Higgins (1874-1961) was a prominent Worcester (USA) industrialist who’s passion for metalcraft and tales of chivalry led to a lifetime spent building a collection of arms and armour and associated objects. After ‘overcrowding his home and offices of the Worcester Pressed Steel Company’, where he was President, in 1928 he started the construction of one of the first all steel and glass buildings in America to house what became the second largest arms and armour collection in the western hemisphere. The Higgins Armory Museum opened its doors in 1931.

The sale comprises around 500 lots (from a collection of 4000 objects), and also includes paintings, sculpture, Japanese works of art and antiquities. It is a fascinating window into the collecting habits of wealthy Americans in the first half of the 20th century, when there was a great vogue for Victorian medievalism. Dr Jeffrey Forgeng (curator) says in the introduction to the catalogue that the objects in the sale...'offer a rare chance to tap into the market of Higgins's collecting days'.

Highlights include a composite German cap-a-pie field armour in the so called Maximilian fashion, circa 1515 – 30 estimate £20,000- £25,000, a composite etched North Italian cap-a-pie field armour, late 16th century, £20,000-24,000. Also a composite blued and gilt Western European cap-a-pie field armour, circa 1550- 1580, with later decoration, £14,000-£17,000. A steel strongbox, probably French, circa 1700, £3,000 - £4,000, a Spanish polychrome and gilt-wood relief of the Archangel Michael, 16th century £2000 - £3000.

Other fine objects include a Japanese Myochin model snake £2000-£3000, a rare pair of 17th century Mexican stirrups £4000-£6000, early stained glass window originally belonging to William Randolf Hearst £4,000-£6,000, a rare lance from the well known Eglinton tournment (reenactment of a medieval joust held in 1839 at Eglinton Castle in Scotland) is £350-£450.

Quirky items of the sale include an ancient chariot corner mount (300-600 BC), rare 17th century fuse ropes £200-£300, 19th century chastity belt, also thumb screws and leg shackles, a Solomon Islands hardwood club, 17th century tassets for a 6ft 8 inches man, a 17th century Spanish choir book 81 x 60cm, decorated manuscript on vellum.

Thomas Del Mar was formerly head of antique arms, armour and militaria at Sothebys, and in 2005 set up Thomas Del Mar Ltd, which continues to hold biannual sales entitled Thomas Del Mar Ltd (in Association with Sotheby's). In 2007 he founded 25 Blythe Road, an exciting, and growing, hub of specialist auctioneers.

Thomas says ‘The sale is remarkable in its breadth, not only are there some extremely attractive and well composed full armours which would suit old and modern interiors alike, but there are a number of charming smaller items ranging from ancient Greek Roman and Egyptian antiquities, Ottoman textiles, small intricate sculpture, and Japanese works of art. The sale illustrates a snapshot of the remarkably acquisitive nature of Higgins and the diversity of his collecting.’

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