Railroad tycoon's Florentine fireplace up for auction at Bonhams New York

NEW YORK — When Benjamin Thaw, son of Pittsburgh's Thaw family patriarch and railroad tycoon William Thaw, decided to build his Steel City mansion in 1899 he felt his parlour needed a centrepiece befitting a member of one of America's most prominent families – and so he settled on the monumental fireplace from the Palazzo Gondi in Florence. Designed by Giulano da Sangallo – the preferred architect of Lorenzo the Magnificent – Giorgio Vasari called the fireplace, ".....so varied and beautiful in its components that nothing similar has yet been seen."

Unfortunately for Thaw, the Gondi family declined to part with their extraordinary hearth. However they did allow Thaw's Italian agents to sketch the masterpiece, which was then reproduced in Italy and shipped to Pittsburgh for the enormous sum of $15,000 – over thirty times the average annual salary of the day. Thaw's version is in fact a mix of the Gondi model and an entirely new aesthetic invented by the stone carver he employed. Bonhams will offer the Thaw fireplace on April 24 in the April 24-25 Fine Furniture, Silver, Decorative Arts & Clocks auction (est. $25,000-35,000). A true gem from the fabled mansions of Pittsburgh's titans of industry, the fireplace would have been a gathering spot for America's most prominent citizens.

As the perfect compliment to any turn-of-the-century fireside party, Bonhams will also offer an exceptional private glass collection from a Florida gentleman in the April 25 section of the auction. Comprised of more than 170 lots, the decanters, tumblers, tankards, beakers, and goblets on offer (as well as the vases, bowls, bottles and candlesticks) primarily date from the late 19th and early 20th century. Straight out of PBS' "Downton Abbey®," the collection features fine examples of rare forms, many etched with exotic Arabian or Oriental scenes, culminating in a massive English Chinoiserie engraved glass stemware service from Stevens & Williams, circa 1900 (est. $10,000-15,000).

"The service was executed by a very good maker and is in excellent condition. It features the English "Rock Crystal" style – wherein glassmakers imitated the look of the carved mineral. It's as beautiful as it is unusual," said Victoria Ayers, Bonhams Senior Specialist in Silver, Porcelain & Decorative Arts.

Fine and rare clocks will also be up for auction. "Practical and accurate domestic clocks were first made in the mid 17th century in the Netherlands," explained Jonathan Snellenburg, Bonhams Director of Fine Watches & Clocks. "The technology was quickly adopted in England and France where, during the last decades of the 17th century, clocks developed into an art form. Clocks from this developmental period were expensive luxuries and today are among the most desirable objects for collectors and connoisseurs."

Of these clocks, those made in the London workshop of Thomas Tompion (1639 – 1713) are of unsurpassed quality and remain the standard against which all subsequent English clocks are measured. Bonhams will offer a fine and rare Charles II ebony quarter repeating timepiece from Thomas Tompion, circa 1685, on April 24 (est. $100,000 – 120,000). The clock was made as part of a small series of timepieces that do not strike every hour in passing. Rather, they incorporate a mechanism of Tompion's design with which the owner can activate the striking at will. This feature, known as "repeating", was devised to tell time at night in the absence of artificial illumination.

Bonhams auction of Fine Furniture, Silver, Decorative Arts & Clocks will take place on April 24-25 in the New York. It will preview at Bonhams April 20-23.

A fully illustrated catalogue is available at www.bonhams.com/auctions/20942/


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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