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Charity shop set for windfall after mystery object turns out to be designer gem from 1881

Posted on 28/11/2019 in Press Coverage

An eagle-eyed charity shop worker thought an unusual item might be something extra special – and she was right.

Larraine Calnan, 68, a volunteer for the last eight years at the Cancer Research UK charity shop in Merthyr Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff, is set to spark an auction windfall for the charity after spotting an old object which turned up in a general box of household goods donated to the store.

Larraine, from Gabalfa, Cardiff, said: “It was tucked away on a top shelf at the back of the shop. I thought it looked quirky so got it down to have a look. It was black apart from the dome. I watch all the antique programmes and research things all the time. I thought it might be something special and could help raise lots of money for the charity’s life saving work.

“I watch Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, on the telly and had seen an advert for a Hansons valuation day with Kate Bliss at Bishops Cleeve in Cheltenham. I spoke to my husband and we decided to make a day of it and take it along. I spent hours and hours cleaning it to show Kate.”

Luckily, the three-hour, 144-mile round trip from Cardiff to Bishops Cleeve proved fruitful. Larraine was thrilled to discover she’d uncovered an important collector’s item which is set to go under the hammer in Hansons’ December 12 Fine Art Auction.



Larraine Calnan, a volunteer at the Cancer Research UK charity shop in Whitchurch, Cardiff.

The mystery object was identified as a letter rack potentially worth £800-£1,200. It’s the work of renowned designer Dr Christopher Dresser for Hukin & Heath of Birmingham and dates back to 1881. Popular with collectors, Dresser objects can sell for thousands of pounds.

“I hoped it was by Christopher Dresser and I was really excited to find out it was,” said Larraine. “It had been in a box for many, many years. Now it’s been found it can be loved again and hopefully it will gain a substantial amount for a very good charity.”

Gaynor Williams, assistant manager at the Cardiff Cancer Research UK charity shop, said: “Larraine is brilliant at spotting gems like this. We always aim to make the most of items kindly donated to us and ask Larraine to look at items we think have real potential. She checks costume jewellery donations and has previously discovered a 22 carat gold bracelet, which raised £659. But this latest find is extra special.”



Silver expert and Hansons consultant Kate Bliss identified the object.

Adrian Rathbone, associate director at Hansons who identified the object together with consultant Kate Bliss, said: “It’s a wonderful object by a renowned designer who was way ahead of his time. Christopher Dresser was born in Glasgow in 1834 and died in 1904 and yet, more than a century after his death, his work is still inspirational thanks to the simplicity and cleanliness of his designs.

“The letter rack appears as modern today as it has ever been. Objects like this were made for the forward-thinking Bohemian elite of Victorian Britain. Dresser also designed ceramics, textiles and glass with the influence of Japanese aesthetics, known as the Aesthetics Movement. He was a master of his craft.

“Kate Bliss and I were hugely excited to make this find. I hope it goes on to make a substantial amount for Cancer Research UK. Last year, a Christopher Dresser toast rack sold for £2,000 at Hansons and sparked an intense battle between internet and phone bidders.”

The Christopher Dresser letter rack will be sold on December 12 at Hansons’ Christmas Fine Art and Library Auction at Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge, Staffs, ST17 0XN. To find out more or to arrange a free valuation for Hansons Spring Fine Art Auction, email [email protected].

Hansons experts will be returning to Gloucestershire in 2020 with regular valuation events planned at Fossway Garden Centre, Stow Road, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0DS, starting on February 25. To find out more, email [email protected].