The most important collection of porcelain snuff boxes assembled in the 20th century sold for a total of £1,700,000. The collection was formed by Helmut Joseph and comprised some 80 boxes covering the history of European Snuff Boxes.
The top lot was a magnificent made for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. With an intricately detailed depiction of a Dresden landscape on the inside of the cover, painted after an engraving by Bernardo Bellotto, the box had attracted a pre-sale estimate of £100,000-150,000. After a protracted bidding battle on the telephones the hammer finally came down on the staggering price of £860,000. This is a world record price for a porcelain snuff box at auction.
Pictured right: A magnificent Meissen gold-mounted Royal snuff box made for Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, circa 1755 -Superbly painted with views of Dresden and Warsaw and Saxon royal palaces, depicting: on the cover, Dresden seen from the right bank of the Elbe; on the front, Schloss Hubertusburg; on the right side, Schloss Pillnitz; on the left side, Groß-Sedlitz; on the back, Wermsdorf; on the base, Schloss Moritzburg, the inside cover with a view of Warsaw seen across the Vistula from Praga, the inside painted in purple monochrome with a diamond pattern enclosing AR monograms, the wavy gold mounts with an elaborate floral thumbpiece mounted with garnets and rubies and incised numeral ‘102’, 8.2cm across; 4cm high
Nette Megens of Bonhams Ceramics Department comments, “We are absolutely thrilled with the results of this sale. It was a fantastic collection that attracted the global interest it deserved – evident by the fantastic prices achieved.”
Other remarkable results include lot 8, a Meissen gold-mounted oval snuff box from the toilet service for Queen Maria Amalia Christina of Naples and Sicily, Princess of Saxony (£78,000), lot 13, a gold-mounted circular snuff box with a portrait of Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony and Queen of Poland (£56,400) and lot 36, an important Ellwangen or Schrezheim gilt-metal-mounted oval snuff box with a portrait of Fürstprobst Anton Ignaz Josef Graf von Fugger (£52,800).
Comprising 80 boxes, the Helmut Joseph Collection gives a comprehensive overview of the history of European ceramics in snuff boxes, with examples from all major factories including Capodimonte, Meissen, Fulda and Sèvres. These exceptional and exquisite objects were considered the pinnacle of refined 18th-century court culture at its most luxurious, and the collection has been exhibited in the world-renowned institutions of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (1972-2000), alongside the Gilbert Collection in Somerset House (2003-2008) and most recently at the Bowes Museum, Co. Durham. The jewel-like objects are immensely tactile and widely varied in design and style.
The boxes offered today at Bonhams come from what is without doubt the greatest collection of snuff boxes in the 20th century, formed by Helmut Joseph. Joseph began collecting boxes following the example of his father, who already had a substantial collection before WWII. A real connoisseur of early Meissen porcelain, he had a profound and intimate relationship with his subject, and a deep knowledge of the field. Helmut Joseph generously made his collection available to the public; he always showed an interest in sharing information, and indeed supporting the development of knowledge on ceramics, be it by funding museums, or publishing his own collection.