Coleridge Collar: Baron sues Sotheby's over gold chain

The Coleridge Collar
Image caption The rose and portcullis designs were conceived by the Tudors

A Devon peer is suing Sotheby's auction house claiming it undervalued a family heirloom.

Lord Coleridge, fifth Baron of Ottery St Mary, sold the solid gold "Coleridge Collar" for £35,000 in 2006 after being told it was a 17th Century copy.

But two years later it was identified as the Tudor original and resold at Christie's for £300,000.

Sotheby's insists the collar is a copy and its valuer Elizabeth Mitchell was not negligent in her assessment.

Lord Coleridge is suing Sotheby's for the difference between the money he received and its resale price.

'Special deeds'

Judge Mark Pelling QC, at London's High Court, is now being asked to rule on the collar's authenticity.

When it resold in 2008, it was described by Christie's as a "fascinating piece of history, both as a work of art and also as a rare Tudor relic".

Henry VIII is thought to have awarded only about 20 of the chains to loyal subjects for "special deeds".

The Coleridge Collar - thought to be the only known surviving chain - was given by the King to one of his closest advisers, Sir Edward Montagu, in 1546 on his appointment to the role of Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas - one of the highest judicial officials in England.

The role of Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was merged with another title in 1880 to create the Lord Chief Justice of England and the chain of office became superfluous.

It is believed the collar became the personal property of the Coleridge family when it was given to John Duke Coleridge, who served as the first Lord Chief Justice of England from 1880 until 1894.

Image caption Independent experts say the chain is made from 20 carat gold

In court, Joshua Munro, for Lord Coleridge, said there was "fascinating" evidence and academic debate about the "remarkably beautiful" Coleridge Collar.

"However the heart of the case is relatively simple," he said.

"It is about whether Mrs Mitchell's remarks about the collar were careless, as in my case, or made with reasonable care and skill which is Sotheby's case."

Mr Munro told the court that, having received advice on valuation from Sotheby's that the collar was a 22 carat gold 17th Century replacement for the original, Lord Coleridge sold it privately in 2006 for £35,000.

The purchaser sold the Collar at Christie's in London on 6 November 2008 for more than £300,000.

Mr Munro said independent experts who examined the gold content of the collar noted that it consists of 20 carat gold and not 22 carat gold.

Troops' wages

Until 1798, the gold standard in England was 22 carat, apart from the five years between 1546-1551 when the standard was deliberately lowered to 20 carat.

The gold content of the Coleridge Collar dates it to the final years of the reign of Henry VIII, Mr Munro said, arguing that it was most likely that it was passed down to Lord Coleridge from his ancestor John Duke Coleridge.

Richard Edwards, for Sotheby's, will argue that the collar definitely dates from the 17th Century, and is a copy, absolving Mrs Mitchell of blame.

He will submit that the original collar is unlikely to have survived the English Civil war when most English gold was melted down to pay the troops' wages.

The hearing, which is set to last five days, continues.

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