Scotlands oldest auction house Lyon & Turnbull
are to sell a very important part dinner service dated circa 1775 belonging to the renowned William Alexander, Earl of Stirling. The service will be a highlight lot in their upcoming sale for Fine Asian Works of Art taking place close to London as part of the prestigious inaugural Asian Art in London.
Bearing the coat-of-arms of Alexander quartering MacDonald, the motto "Per Mare Per Terras" is surmounted by a semi-nude man holding a club on one side of the shield and a mermaid on the other. The set for sale comprises 6 side plates, 10 soup plates and 13 dinner plates, totalling 29 pieces in all. The grouped lot is modestly estimated at £5000-8000, however, as single plates from the service have previously achieved prices into the thousands, it is likely the part set will achieve far beyond its estimate. Market research suggests that multiple pieces of the service have never been sold as a group on the open market, particularly of this size. In addition to this, the collection has excellent provenance coming directly from descendants of William Alexander who have lived for many years near the family seat in Stirling, Scotland.
William Alexander, born in New York 1726, had an impressive military career as Major General in the American revolutionary war, later claiming the title Earl of Stirling. Because of his actions on the battlefield against the English, a newspaper named him "the bravest man in America" and he was said to be directly praised by both George Washington and the British for his bravery.
Off the battlefield, Alexander married Sarah Livingston, the daughter of statesman Philip Livingston and sister of the governor William Livingston, and was a socially prominent gentleman having inherited a large fortune from his father. He began building his grand estate in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township, New Jersey. President Washington was a guest there on several occasions during the revolution and gave away Stirling's daughter at her wedding. In 1767, the Royal Society of Arts awarded Lord Stirling a gold medal for accepting the society's challenge to establish viticulture and winemaking in the North American colonies by cultivating 2,100 grape vines on his New Jersey estate.
In 1757 William Alexander travelled to England to claim the disputed title Earl of Stirling and despite contest by the House of Lords, Alexander used the title until his death in 1783. Shortly after 1770, it is believed Lord Stirling must have ordered a dinner service in anticipation of his claim to the Earldom of Stirling. When it arrived in London on its way to New York, the War of Independence had commenced and all trade had ceased. It is almost certain he never saw the service, and it is believed the set was sold in England because many pieces have been found there in unused condition.
The set will be hotly anticipated at auction this December, particularly appealing to collectors of important Chinese export and those interested in notable historical American figures.