Famous antique and arts shop beloved of Alexander McCall Smith auctioning off its treasures

It was a favourite haunt of bestselling Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith, a treasure trove of the eclectic, the beautiful and the quirky.

By Gary Flockhart
Thursday, 10th December 2020, 8:18 am

But today (Thursday, December 10), the contents of antique and arts shop The Thrie Estaits – in business for half a century until its closure in October – will be auctioned live online by Lyon & Turnbull.

The old curiosity shop, which featured in McCall’s 44 Scotland Street, was based in Edinburgh’s Dundas Street until four years ago when its founder, Peter Powell, moved the operation to Fenton Barns in East Lothian.

Peter, now in his 80s, studied at The Glasgow School of Art and worked at groundbreaking Glasgow interiors store Elders, before moving on to Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh to work on its range of tiles.

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Thomas Williamson, a stonemason from West Wemyss, Fife is known for the parrot coal pieces he created during the mid-1800s, including these carved boots.

He started buying Victorian tiles and this led to him setting up The Thrie Estates, named after a 16th century Scottish satirical play by Sir David Lindsay.

The Thrie Estates soon became known for its eclectic and unusual array of objects. Indeed, in the words of McCall Smith, the items were “very whimsically arranged and described”.

Peter said: “Over the years, I’ve met a wide range of amazing people from all walks of life and from all over the world. I’ve been privileged to have had a career selling weird and wonderful pieces which have given others great pleasure.

"I’m delighted that, with Lyon & Turnbull’s help, my remaining stock will find new homes and new a lease of life.”

More than 150 items are on sale, including a pair of carved Victorian boots, designed for display only. They were made from parrot coal, so-called because when burning the substance makes the sound like a parrot’s beak clicking. The boots were made by celebrated Fife-based stonemason, Thomas Williamson, in the mid-19th century.

A collection of life-size painted marble fruit, complete with blemishes, is a particular favourite of Peter, who associates them with having to draw artificial fruit as a child at school.

John Mackie, Head of Decorative Arts at Lyon & Turnbull, said: “This is a really exciting auction which gives prominence to the beautiful, quirky and distinctive – a real cornucopia of delights.

"Every object tells its own story and now others can be part of that.”

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