HAVING been an auctioneer for more than 45 years, I have seen many items go under the hammer so it is a good marker for me if I come across something I haven’t seen before – or, at least, something I can’t remember ever seeing before.

It must, therefore, be a rarity.

My lot of the week is an excise rule which is marked “COOK. MAKER TO THE EXCISE. CROWN COURT. SOHO”.

It is made of boxwood and of square section with four sliding rules and dates from the 1860s.

The excise man had the unenviable task of calculating the duty payable on alcoholic liquor. In the 19th Century there were many illicit distilleries purposely avoiding the tax and, in some cases, producing a better product.

The excise men were known as “gaugers” as their unpopular job was to gauge the amount and value of spirits produced.

I doubt many of us are even aware of how much excise duty we pay when ordering a glass of wine today but the evolving of taxes in the 18th and 19th Centuries made it very unpopular.

The estimate we have placed on the excise rule is £100-£200 as, to be honest, I have little idea as to the value of such a rarity.

This is certainly where the internet comes into its own as I’m confident we’ll get requests for additional information and photos from many different countries.

It is the social history side of auctioneering that I love so much, and so my eye is also drawn to a more common lot: a pair of mechanical shoe trees.

The Northern Echo:

The shoe trees bear the makers stamp of Peal & Co, 487 Oxford Street, London and date from the 1920s.

Peal & Co produced bespoke footwear for 174 years from 1791 to 1965 and their customers included such notables as Fred Astaire, David Niven and Theodore Roosevelt. The company moved from Duke Street, Grosvenor Square, to Oxford Street in 1886 and traded there till 1958 before relocating for its final years at Wigmore Street.

A great difficulty in replacing skilled craftsmen who had retired or left led to extended delivery times and the end of the business. Can’t quite see anyone using these to keep their trainers in shape today!

The sale begins at 10am on Tuesday.

Peter Robinson, Thomas Watson Auctioneers, Northumberland Street, Darlington