Rare Victorian table carved from Fife ‘parrot coal’ bought for £6000

The occasional table was acquired by an unnamed buyer at Woolley and Wallis Furniture’s sale earlier this month.

Rare Victorian table carved from Fife ‘parrot coal’ bought for £6000 Woolley and Wallis Furniture
Parrot coal: The occasional table was acquired by an unnamed buyer at Woolley and Wallis Furniture’s sale earlier this month.

A rare Victorian table carved from coal mined in Fife has fetched £6000 at auction.

The occasional table, which was made from parrot coal, was acquired by an unnamed buyer at Woolley and Wallis Furniture’s sale in Salisbury earlier this month and had been given an initial £500 to £800 guide price.

Parrot coal, or cannel, was mined largely for industrial use in the Wemyss area and was given its name because of the crackling and chattering sound it made in burning.

Most similar pieces of furniture are attributed to West Wemyss stonemason Thomas Williamson (1817-60), whose commissions included a table and two chairs inscribed Wemyss Parrot Coal made for Wemyss Castle in 1855 – which is now in Kirkcaldy’s Museum and Art Gallery – and furniture for the Fife Coal Company offices in Leven.

At the Great Exhibition in 1851, he exhibited a parrot coal garden seat which now sits in the grounds of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

However, the William IV table sold at auction earlier this month was signed and dated to the underside of the top ‘R Martin 1836’.

Large-scale parrot coal pieces rarely appear for sale but tend to attract huge interest when they do.

Christie’s New York sold a worktable with a foliate carved pedestal in 2008 for $6500, while Mallams of Cheltenham took £7500 for an occasional table in February 2011.

And back in 1996, Phillips in Edinburgh took £19,000 for a similar table.

The table was sold as part of Woolley and Wallis Furniture’s January auction, which also featured more than 600 lots of English and continental furniture, sculpture, carpets, lighting, treen, tea caddies and other collectable items.

By local democracy reporter Craig Smith