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Good Doctor's Suits of Armour Make 782,508 in Sell Out Auction At Bonhams
A blackened Cuirassier three-quarter armour, circa 1630, probably Danish, estimated at £10,000-15,000 made £33,600. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams sale of Fine Antique Arms and Armour on July 20th at Knightbridge included the life’s work of a medical doctor, Peter Parsons, whose passion was armour. Proof of the good doctor’s eye for armour was evident in brisk bidding that saw some very strong prices achieved in some cases making many multiples of their pre-sale estimates. By the end of the 192 item sale just four lots remained unsold, but went in after auction sales.

Lot 189, a Cuirassier Three-Quarter Armour, circa 1620-30, probably French or German, estimated at £12,000-15,000 went for £50,400, the top item in the sale. Lot 187, a blackened Cuirassier three-quarter armour, circa 1630, probably Danish, estimated at £10,000-15,000 made £33,600.

Helmets from the 16lth and 17th Century from England Germany and Italy are fascinating conversation pieces and performed strongly in the sale. Lot 175, a rare spider helmet from the 17th Century, either English or French sold for £33,600 against an estimate of £4,000 to £5,000.

David Williams, Head of Antique Arms and Armour at Bonhams, said after the sale: “We are delighted with the result which is just the latest indicator of the strength of this part of the art market, the interest in a private collection fresh to the market and a group of enthusiastic international armour collectors who made their presence felt.”

The collection was perhaps a 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 was Lot 191, 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 was estimated to sell for £8,000-12,000 but made £28,800. This item was 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.

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