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Out of the Ordinary sale by Sworders of Stansted: Over 600 lots include an original Dalek from Doctor Who, a life-size 'unicorn' and the UK’s only surviving flea circus



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More than 600 weird and wonderful lots will be up for auction in Stansted next week – including an original Dalek from TV's Doctor Who, a sword presented by Catherine the Great of Russia to a Cossack and ‘The Smallest Show on Earth’, the UK’s only surviving flea circus.

The online two-day Out of the Ordinary sale at Sworders on April 13-14 is the largest hosted by the Cambridge Road auction house to date.

Flea circuses were a hugely popular form of fairground entertainment in England and Germany from the 1830s to 1960s. The Professor Len Tomlin Flea Circus, which in its heyday attracted crowds in Manchester, is believed to be the last example in the UK.

Bidding for the two miniature swing trapezes, a chariot, two bicycles, a windmill, a garden roller, a carriage and a duelling pedestals is expected at £1,500-£2,000 but may leap higher.

The Daleks are almost 60 years old – they first appeared on our TV screens in 1963 – but they remain the most famous of all of the Doctor Who villains. Standing 1.6m (5ft 3in) high, Sworders’ example (estimate £15,000-£18,000) is made to ‘new series’ specifications – principally of wood with fibreglass, metal and plastic elements – and has recently been fitted with a motor so it can be driven around.

It appeared in three episodes of the BBC series, alongside Matt Smith in The Asylum of the Daleks in 2012 and Peter Capaldi in The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar (2015).

This Dalek appeared alongside Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in three episodes of Doctor Who
This Dalek appeared alongside Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in three episodes of Doctor Who

Also from the world of entertainment is a large, early 20th-century ventriloquist dummy (estimate £1,200-£1,500).

No Out of the Ordinary sale would be complete without a conversation-starting piece of taxidermy – a role amply filled by a 'unicorn' (a full-size, rearing horse with mounted wings and horn) that is guided at £8,000-£12,000 – or a few lots focused on dark magic.

A full-size, rearing horse with mounted wings and horn is guided at £8,000-£12,000
A full-size, rearing horse with mounted wings and horn is guided at £8,000-£12,000

The Incantation, a pen-and-ink drawing of a naked witch with a snake curled around her waist, an owl on her shoulder, is signed and dated 1898 by Punch magazine artist Arthur Wallis Mills (1878-1940). It is expected to bring £800-£1,200.

Two Victorian albumen prints of well-known pre-Raphaelite muse Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson) – the mother of author Virginia Woolf and painter Vanessa Bell – are expected to bring £500-£800.

Julia Jackson, aged 11, with her sister Mary Louisa Fisher
Julia Jackson, aged 11, with her sister Mary Louisa Fisher

The original supermodel, Calcutta-born Julia Jackson was deemed one of the most beautiful women of her age.

She attracted many suitors among a circle of family friends that included the good and the great: Benjamin Disraeli, Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson and artists such as Dante Gabriel Rosetti. She sat for sculptor Thomas Woolner and painter William Holman Hunt – who both proposed marriage when she turned 18.

After the death of her first husband, Herbert Duckworth, a barrister and member of the Somerset landed gentry, she refused to contemplate remarrying for many years. However, in 1878 she accepted the proposal of writer and critic Leslie Stephen, with whom she would have four more children – all of them influential members of what would be known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Among the most historically important items in the sale is a Russian 18th-century presentation sabre fashioned as a Persian shamshir. To the curved steel blade is the inlaid gold image of Catherine the Great and the inscription in cyrillic ‘By the grace of God, I Catherine II, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias, grant this sabre to the Cossack Ivan, son of Vassily Lukianov of the village of Don Cherkz army for his faithful service, May 15th 1774’.

The inscription indicates that the sword was awarded during the Pugachev Rebellion of 1773-75 – also called the Peasants' War or the Cossack Rebellion – the principal revolt in a series of popular rebellions that took place in the Russian empire after Catherine II seized power in 1762. The sword, that belonged to Lord Alistair McAlpine and then passed into the collection of Australian businessman Warren Anderson, carries an estimate of £20,000-£25,000.

The full catalogue is available to view online at https://www.sworder.co.uk/auction/details/A940-out-of-the-ordinary---two-day-sale---live-online/?au=933



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