One of the most important factors affecting value at auction can be the historical significance of an item – copies of the US Declaration of Independence are among the best examples of this. Often overlooked, however, are those seemingly unimportant pieces of ephemera that cast light on largely forgotten episodes from our past.
I was reminded of this by a news article about two small sheets of paper consigned for auction that recall the 1740 frost fair on the Thames. Each expected to fetch around £1500, they detail all sorts of activities on the ice as the river froze over: football, horse racing, ox-roasting, merry-go-rounds, skittle alleys and puppet shows.
It’s hard to imagine the Thames freezing over now – in fact since the building of the comparatively modern set of bridges with their pontoons, this has been made much more unlikely. No one alive now can remember these events, so even the faded memory is lost, which makes these written records so much more important.
One of my favourite examples of this is a 15th century French illustrated manuscript that appears to show an early game of cricket. The known history of the game dates back to the late 16th century in south east England, although it is thought to have its origins in Anglo Saxon times. What if another document appeared that forced us to re-attribute its invention to another country?