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The Mountbatten family's Indian treasures go under the hammer

An upcoming Sotheby's auction in March features heirlooms such as a pair of jewelled gold and enamel elephants made in Jaipur, which Lord Mountbatten gifted his wife Edwina on their 24th wedding anniversary

A pair of jewelled gold and enamel elephants, Jaipur, 1946 (est. £2,000-3,000) (Sothebys)

On 18 July 1946, the year before he was appointed the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten gifted a pair of bejewelled gold and enamel miniature elephants to his wife Edwina to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. This exquisite pair, made in Jaipur, will be going on sale in an upcoming Sotheby's auction in March, along with a plethora of family heirlooms belonging to the late Patricia Edwina Victoria Mountbatten, daughter of Lord and Lady Mountbatten.

Patricia Mountbatten, titled the 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma, married John Knatchbull, the 7th Lord Brabourne, in 1946. Among the couple's mutual inheritances was Mersham le Hatch, an elegant house by built Robert Adam in the Kent countryside, where the Knatchbull family settled in the 15th century. Handsomely furnished by the great Thomas Chippendale in the 1770s, it is a repository of priceless objets d'art, furniture, books and paintings.

On 24 March, some 400 lots from Newhouse, the 18th-century residence of Patricia Mountbatten and John Knatchbull, will go up on sale in London. The items include a Fabergé silver-gilt inkwell, most probably a creation of Julius Rappoport, St Petersburg, circa 1900 (est. £4,000-6,000), a gem-set gold mesh purse in the shape of a large pig made by Lacloche Frères, Paris, circa 1905 (est. £2,000-3,000) that belonged to Lady Edwina, and a rare TM (Masudaya) battery-operated Radicon Robot, 1957, in its original box (est. £4,000-6,000).

David Macdonald, the Head of Sale at Sotheby's, spoke to Lounge about some of the highlights of the collection.

The Imperial Order of the Crown of India.
The Imperial Order of the Crown of India. (Sotheby's)

The collection has an impressive range and diversity of objects. How would you define its overall character?

A sale like this doesn’t come up very often, and so it is a really special moment. The collection is rich and eclectic, with a strong biographical feel that tells the story of great characters over the centuries, whilst also giving an intimate look into one of the most important and well-known dynasties of our time. I would say the character is a head mix of history and glamour!

Is the projected valuation of family heirlooms determined by the material worth of the objects or their historical significance?

It is very difficult to put a price on provenance, as how do you value history? What we have tried to do is base the estimates on the objects themselves, rather than where they have come from. There are many things in there that Sotheby’s would be delighted to sell regardless of the ownership! That has given us an estimate of over £1.5 million, but we do expect a great deal of interest.

‘Tutti Frutti’ style jewels: A gem set and diamond wreath of carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires (est. £40,000-60,000), together with other Tutti Frutti style pieces, including dress clips, earrings and a ring.
‘Tutti Frutti’ style jewels: A gem set and diamond wreath of carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires (est. £40,000-60,000), together with other Tutti Frutti style pieces, including dress clips, earrings and a ring. (Sothebys)

Could you tell us more about the highlights of the India-related lots?

The Mountbattens were family that had very close ties to India—and in fact, Patricia’s father-in-law, the 5th Lord Brabourne, was also a former Viceroy of India. When they got married, Patricia and John chose to spend several months honeymooning in India. Among the India-related lots are a pair of exquisite gold and enamel elephants made in Jaipur, a gift from Lord Mountbatten to his wife Edwina on their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. Perhaps honouring the fact that they actually got engaged in India in 1922.

Are there any rare books, objets d'art, silver and ceramics you'd like to draw our attention to?

There are just so many discoveries within one catalogue, it is hard to pick out just a few! When the Brabournes were in India in the early 1930s, they were gifted a silver model of an airplane, which is really quite a fascinating object. There is also a pair of striking silver equestrian figures depicting ‘The Viceroy’s Bodyguard’, a regiment with a distinguished history, which continues today as ‘The President’s Bodyguard’. These were models commissioned to mark Lord Brabourne’s period of office as Viceroy. Last but not least is a watercolour caricature of Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, wearing his cricket whites.

An Indian silver presentation document case in the form of an airplane, circa 1934 (est. £1,000-1,500).
An Indian silver presentation document case in the form of an airplane, circa 1934 (est. £1,000-1,500). (Sothebys)

What kind of interest are you expecting or have received already? Is it mostly from individual collectors or institutions?

None of these items were known to the public before, and so the announcement has caused a great deal of excitement. It is too soon to say who the buyers are, but with almost 400 lots, there really is something for everyone!

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