As country houses in the UK go, the Grade I-listed Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire looks every inch the stately Palladian mansion from the outside. Take a stroll within, however, and you’ll be confronted at every corner by sights that, in Lewis Carroll’s words, get curiouser and curiouser.
The family home of James Perkins and his wife Sophie is enchanting, replete as it is with objects that range from the ostentatious to the downright outlandish. Think chairs with antlers, a chest of drawers moulded into a rhinoceros, a lamp made with chocolate resin and ostrich feathers, a model of the 1959 Le Mans-winning Aston Martin DBR1 and even the skull of a triceratops.
The contents of Aynhoe Park – some created by historic house restorer Perkins himself – are up for auction via Dreweatts, which will host an online sale on Wednesday and Thursday, January 20 and 21.
Grand pianos, Greek god busts, requisite mahogany cabinets, ornate lights, chandeliers and candlesticks are all part of the sale. However, here we pick out some of the quirkier items from the auction, fitting to bid on if you want to own a piece of the place described as “Downton Abbey meets Narnia”.
Scroll through the gallery above to see some of the other lots up for grabs.
What better objet d’art to start with than a unicorn? Measuring 140 centimetres by 220cm, and estimated to sell for £5,000 to £8,000, the Aynhoe Unicorn (lot 15) is composed of a preserved model of a horse, complete with a horn, and is modelled lying down.
In the auction catalogue, the beast takes pride of position on an AC Bechstein grand piano, but we envisage setting it down at a home’s entrance or in a verdant garden.
Where unicorns graze, giraffes can fly. The estate’s famed Flying Giraffe (lot 320) is another example of its owner’s penchant for taxidermy and, one imagines, a hit at the star-studded parties Aynhoe Park has hosted, from Kate Moss’s birthday bash to Jade Jagger’s wedding.
Suspended as it is from five large glass balloons, the tallest animal in the world (this one measures 220cm even with its head bent low) seems weightless and is an example of the playful paradoxes that Perkins is known for. It is expected to fetch between £10,000 and £15,000 at auction.
Moving from the imaginary and the imaginative to the extinct, lot 135 is a resin-cast dodo skeleton.
The flightless bird from Mauritius was last sighted in 1662, and only about a dozen complete skeletons are known to exist. This specimen is modelled in the manner of those held in museums, and is perched within a mahogany and glazed case. It is estimated to sell at auction for between £1,200 and £1,800.
A far cry from the unicorn, flying giraffe and dodo, but no less fantastical, is a large model of Tintin in a space suit, sold together with a model rocket (lot 421).
Based on the sketches in Belgian cartoonist Herge's Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon comics, the acrylic duo measure 176cm and 252cm respectively, and are estimated to sell for between £3,000 and £5,000.
If you’re more of a traditionalist, perhaps the mid-20th-century Punch and Judy booth (lot 510) will appeal.
The protagonist of the slapstick puppet show, which has its roots in 16th-century Italy, Punch is based on the prankster figure often found in folklore. The painted wood and fabric booth comes with six puppets and props including a “Next Performance” sign. It is expected to sell for £700 and £1,000.
Sticking with the folklore and fairy-tale theme is the larger-than-life Golden Egg Nest (lot 168) hand-built with gilt resin, willow and moss, and estimated to sell for between £1,000 and £1,500.
For this, Perkins sought inspiration from The Goose That Lays the Golden Egg and Jack and the Beanstalk, both of which fables feature enchanted birds. Perkins's idea was at once to play on memories of childhood stories as well as send a message about the golden opportunities available in life. With a nest egg like Aynhoe Park and an opportunity to auction its playful yet precious contents, he is well placed to know.