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Rare 16th Century Helmet Used by Opera House as a Stage Prop for Sale at Bonhams
The collection is a perhaps strange interest for a man who spent his life dealing with damaged human bodies, but given that this stunningly beautiful material was designed to limit wound damage, not that surprising maybe. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams sale of Fine Antique Arms and Armour on July 20th at Knightbridge includes the life’s work of a medical doctor, Peter Parsons, whose passion was armour.

The collection is a perhaps strange interest for a man who spent his life dealing with damaged human bodies, but given that this stunningly beautiful material was designed to limit wound damage, not that surprising maybe.

Among the items in the sale is a 16th Century Saxon Electoral Guard Comb Morion helmet from Nuremberg, that bears figures of Mutius Scaevola and of Marcus Curtius leaping into the gulf, and the arms of Saxony and the insignia of the Arch-marshalcy of the Holy Roman Empire. It is estimated to sell for £8,000-12,000. This item is from the group of helmets made for the Trabantan guard of the Prince Electors of Saxony. A large number of these morions are believed to have been given to the Dresden Opera House in the 1830s to be used as stage props. They were subsequently acquired by astute dealers and many survive today in public and private collections.

David Williams, Director of Bonhams Antique Arms and Armour Department, comments: “It is increasingly rare to find antique armour of this quality. Besides the sculptural beauty and romance of the pieces, they are also of museum quality as Dr Parsons had the most discriminating eye and taste for this art form.”

Dr. Peter Henry Irving Parsons (1926-2010) was born in Abertillery, Monmouthshire. He began his medical studies at University College Hospital, London in 1944 and, on qualifying, carried out his National Service at various locations throughout the United Kingdom, attaining the rank of Captain. During this time he was immensely proud to have been part of the team caring for the officers and men of the Gloucester Regiment on their release from a Chinese prisoner of war camp. The regiment had been captured following the famous battle of the Imjin River, for his part in which their Colonel was awarded the Victoria Cross.

During the first half of the 1950s Peter served as Casualty Surgical Officer at the Royal Gwent Hospital, and as Orthopaedic Surgical Registrar in Cardiff from 1955 to 1958. In 1958 he moved to London and it was here, whilst serving as Surgical Registrar in Lambeth, that he met his wife Mary, a theatre sister at the same hospital. In 1960 Peter took up his post as Associate Specialist in the National Blood Transfusion Service and on his retirement in 1986, he was offered the position of consultant. This he declined, in order to be able to attend auctions and exhibitions devoted to antique arms and armour, and to enjoy the company of fellow enthusiasts as far afield as Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Peter’s interest in collecting European arms and armour started when he was a medical student and it was during this time, just after the war, that he came to know the irascible London dealer Percy German, from whom he acquired many of the pieces in this sale. However, prices asked for European weapons and armour were beyond the means of a medical student and as a result Peter started to collect the unappreciated and relatively inexpensive Japanese armour and weapons which could be readily acquired at that time. This was very opportune as some years later Peter accepted a generous offer for the majority of his Japanese collection, enabling him to concentrate on his true passion for European arms and armour.

Throughout his life Peter was a dedicated member of many learned bodies including The British Medical Association, The To-Ken Society, The Arms & Armour Society and The Meyrick Society, of which he was a member for over twenty-one years, serving as Hon. Secretary from 1991 to 2002. In March 2004 his researches into Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick and his contemporaries culminated in an article, written with Claude Blair, published in the Journal of the Arms & Armour Society.

Items from the sale include:
Three 16lth and 17th Century helmets from England Germany and Italy are fascinating conversation pieces. A Rare English Civil War Period Siege Helmet, mid-17th Century, is estimated at £2,000-3,000.

And a North Italian (Milanese) 'Spanish' Morion Or Cabasset, circa 1580, estimated to sell for £1,500-1,800.

Danish, French and Flemish suits of armour would make arresting statements in a stately home. A blackened Cuirassier three-quarter armour, circa 1630, probably Danish, is estimated at £10,000-15,000.

A Cuirassier Three-Quarter Armour, circa 1620-30, probably French Or German, Estimated at £12,000-15,000.

And a Composite Cuirassier Three-Quarter Armour, early 17th Century, the Close-Helmet Flemish, third quarter of the 16th Century, estimated at £10,000-15,000.

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