There’s avocado kitchen appliances, shag carpeting over hardwood floors, double-knit polyester leisure suits, my dad’s sideburns and now we can add drilling holes into a 1st century A.D. marble Roman funerary urn, putting a red shade on top and using it as a skeezy lamp to the list of grievances.
The urn was first acquired in the 1950s by scientist and bombmaker Sir Sydney Barratt. When he died in 1975, he left it along with his and his own father’s antiques and collectibles to his schoolteacher son, John Barratt. It was he, apparently, who had the brilliant idea of drilling two holes into the lid and base, threading a cable through them, putting a metal bracket with a lightbulb socket on top then dressing it all up with a tragic red lampshade (sadly not pictured anywhere; I looked).
John Barratt died last year and his niece put the whole estate, 30-acre Crowe Hall, near Bath, and more than 300 antiques collected over three generations up for sale. Christie’s staff identified the lamp base as an elaborate 1st century Roman urn used for holding the ashes of someone who had probably been a wealthy and important person in life. From description of the auction lot:
With decoration carved in shallow relief, the shoulder with garlanded bull’s heads, the body in two registers separated by a beaded relief border, the upper with floral motifs and fruit laden trays flanked by birds with outstretched wings the lower with radiating tongues, with twin handles in the form of bearded satyr heads, with fluting on the lid and foot, mounted as a lamp stand, restorations[.]
Because of the atrocious lamp conversion and the restorations, experts estimated its sale value at an extremely low £7,000 – £10,000 ($11,000 – $15,000). Its beautiful carving, completeness and the comparative invisibility of the damage, however drove bidders to far exceed that modest estimate.
A number of phone bidders pursued the urn before it became a contest between one of them and a European dealer in the room who successfully bid 370,000 pounds for it.
With the auctioneers’ fees added on the overall price paid was more than 445,000 pounds.
That’s $692,809, 10 times the low valuation.